Ever since Google released Gmail to the public, Yahoo and Microsoft have been watching the hipster geek crowd move away from their webmail systems (Yahoo Mail and Hotmail respectively). Gmail shows users that webmail doesn’t have to suck. It lit a fire under the ass of webmail providers. Ultimately, it prompted the two companies to actively develop their offerings, and adopting the Google model, release them as “beta”. “Beta” in this case can be read as “if something don’t work, you’re on your own.”
I finally got into Yahoo’s Mail Beta program a week or two ago. It mirrors traditional desktop email clients, allowing drag and drop among other things. It also unclutters the interface (which is simply atrocious). They finally prioritize actions that users really do use instead of things that they want to promote.
As a bonus, it works in recent Gecko browsers and Windows IE. Safari and Opera are left out in the cold for now.
As part of Microsoft’s new “Live” offerings, their webmail beta also adopts the traditional desktop interface, very comparable to Yahoo’s version. However, instead of having the message listing sitting above the preview pane, it’s to the right of it. That’s great for widescreen users, but I don’t like it. I like windows that are more square. Also the revamp feels very slight as far as rethinking the interface. It still uses tabs for things other than email itself.
In typical Microsoft style, it only works in the very latest IE for Windows.
The Revolution is Next Week
All in all, I’m not terribly impressed with either beta. They both adopt the traditional desktop interface, which although is nice for consistency, doesn’t really compel me to move over to their system. That’s only really useful if I use the webmail interface primarily, but if I do, why not use an honest to goodness desktop client? The desktop client will even handle offline situations. Emulating current conventions isn’t going to get me (or most users) to switch.
On the other hand, Gmail gives me pause because it presents an entirely new way of looking at things that I don’t get in a desktop client. Add that to the slick interface, and that’s why I still wrestle with the idea of moving to Gmail.