Yahoo Mail allows free text messages to cell phones

The company is rolling out a new version of Yahoo Mail to users

Yahoo has closed the beta testing of its new e-mail service and will roll it out to its 254 million users over the next six weeks, the company said Monday. The beta testing of the new Yahoo Mail had been going on for two years.

Yahoo has added some new features to Yahoo Mail that were not included in its test of the service. For example, users can now send free text messages in real time from Yahoo Mail to mobile phones in the U.S., Canada, India and the Philippines, according to a company statement. Australia won't have the SMS feature at this point, said a company spokesperson. In addition, they can send instant messages from Yahoo Mail to Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger 2 users.

Yahoo said it will continue to offer its classic version of Yahoo Mail to users who might not want to switch to the new service. "We have always been focused on making it easy for people to connect to those who matter most to them, and during the beta-testing period of the new Yahoo Mail, we were able to incorporate a number of enhancements based on valuable feedback from our users," said John Kremer, vice president for Yahoo Mail.

Yahoo Mail will also add a feature called Shortcuts that lets the system automatically recognize things such as dates and addresses, giving users the option of adding the information to their Yahoo Calendar or Contacts lists, launching Web searches and displaying a map inside the Yahoo Mail interface. The new Yahoo Mail will be available to Yahoo Small Business Mail users this fall.

With competition heating up from Google, Microsoft and others, Yahoo has to continually boost Yahoo Mail, which drives a lot of Web traffic for the company, Gartner analyst Mike McGuire said.

"Yahoo Mail is a keystone application for Yahoo, so continuing to enhance it is very important for the company, because there is a good chunk of ad inventory they get there," he said.

The challenge, McGuire said, is always to upgrade services in a way that provides tangible, concrete benefits to users, and to make people aware of the value of the improvements.

Because some users won't embrace the new version right away, giving them the option of using the "classic" version of Yahoo Mail is a smart move, he said. "That's important, because consumer inertia is a pretty powerful force," McGuire added.

Yahoo Mail is a free service, but it has a fee-based option called Plus that costs US$19.95 annually and offers additional features, such as POP access, e-mail forwarding and no graphical ads.

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Linda Rosencrance

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