It seems that email service innovation went into hibernation after the dot-com bubble burst. There were incremental improvements in features, like better spam filters or more space, until Google shook up the space with Gmail. Gmail’s initial attraction was the ‘unlimited’ space offer that Google used to promote the service. Google also introduced a new approach to categorizing your email, using tags instead of folders. One email now could be assigned to many ‘tags’, no folders needed. I’ve had a Gmail account for some time, and find it adequate for some needs. For many, however, Gmail is not user friendly enough to justify a switch.
While Google has taken a spartan approach to using web interfaces, the other major services have decided to move closer toward mimicking desktop applications. Marc Orchant, over at the Office Weblog, has a great initial review of where Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL are taking their services.
I’ve had access to Yahoo’s new email service since it was released, and find it to be pretty good. As Marc notes, one of the nicer features with the new Yahoo service is the tab functionality. This lets you open multiple messages inside the interface, and then tab through them like many desktop applications. As you’d expect, extensive use of AJAX technology makes it possible to drag and drop messages into folders, amongst other things. The whole experience is improved quite a bit, until you click over to the other PIM functions. Yahoo’s calendar, to-do, and notes capabilities are still stuck in the stone age. Hopefully Yahoo will release updates to these applications soon. If Yahoo also adds IMAP access to the new email service, then it will become my provider of choice.
Like Marc, I’m always looking for the best service to serve as my core email system. Right now I rely on Fastmail for personal email, primarily because the service offers access via IMAP servers. IMAP servers let me manage my email in one physical location, and allow me folder based access on my Treo 650 (using SnapperMail).
I haven’t received my beta notice for accessing Kahuna, now known as Windows Live Mail, but I’m eager to see what goodies Omar’s crew have cooked up. Based on Marc’s review, the service sounds very impressive.
For all the time that we devote with email, it is great to see that the major services have decided to refocus on this mission critical application.