Yahoo's Powerful New Approach to Webmail

Look out, Outlook: Yahoo Mail is beta testing a new interface that brings the look and feel of a desktop client to Web mail.

Goodbye checkboxes, hello preview pane. No more client refreshes, no more "Move..." button. Now you can just hit the delete key on your keyboard and watch the message immediately disappear - instead of clicking a checkbox, hitting a delete button, and waiting for the page to refresh. Or just drag-and-drop a message into a different folder.

The preview pane acts just like that of Outlook or Thunderbird. To see older messages you just scroll down. No more need to click "next" and wait for a new page load.

With this new interface, the only major difference from a desktop client interface that I could see was no way to work offline. All the changes are front-end, though. The options page, including filtering rules and the like, is (at least for now) the same page you see with the regular Web mail interface.

The new look also sports Firefox-like tabs for things like composing an email or working with your address book. You can switch between tabs to search for something from another email, for instance, while you're in the middle of writing a new message.

Searches get an upgrade, too. A familiar search box will check the subject, sender, and body of messages, and even search through the contents of attachments. The results go into a new tab.

The current beta lets you switch back and forth between the new look and the old one as much as you want.

Yahoo works this magic using dynamic HTML, or what's been lately called AJAX. The new interface is based on one originally made by Oddpost, a company Yahoo acquired, but isn't restricted to IE only like Oddpost's was.

The bad news is that the current beta test is invite-only, and Yahoo hasn't set a date for an open public beta. We'll be sure to let you know when they do open it up, though.

What do you think? Are you looking forward to the days when things look and feel the same whether you're using a Web mail client or one on your desktop? Or should Yahoo leave well enough alone?

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Erik Larkin

PC World (US online)
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