In the meantime, Microsoft is renovating Hotmail, and Google continues to provide even more dynamic features within Gmail. If you want to give the Yahoo Mail beta a spin, visit Yahoo's Web site to switch from the old-style interface.
The Yahoo Mail beta is sleeker, faster, and smarter than its predecessor. The new interface resembles that of Microsoft Outlook: folders appear in the left pane, message lists are in a top pane, and a collapsible reading pane is in the center. Once you sign up for the beta version, just switch to the new interface by clicking a link within Yahoo's welcome note -- no download necessary. And Yahoo Mail looks and works the same in both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox Web browsers.
Tabs allow you to toggle between messages, handy if you want to paste, say, a phone number from an old message into a new e-mail note. In our tests, the Yahoo Mail beta proved to be a time-saver, loading messages quickly and autofilling e-mail addresses as we typed. No longer do you have to check messages to delete them or hit the Next link at the bottom of a list of messages to reach the next batch of content. Plus, keyboard shortcuts save you from using the mouse. News junkies will appreciate the RSS feeds that appear within the left pane, feeding updates from the blogs and publications of your choice.
We had almost given up on our classic Yahoo Mail account, letting thousands of unread messages pile up. But since we've been using the new drag-and-drop feature and message flagging, it's been easier to organise that forgotten content. The new search system within the Yahoo Mail beta, accessible through the upper-left corner of the interface, can even inspect the text within message attachments. The Yahoo Calendar is now integrated within the Yahoo Mail beta, so you can view and add events and meetings just below the in-box. And the spelling checker works for 17 languages.
Users who are happy with their classic Yahoo Mail may dislike the drastic changes. During the beta testing, at least, you can freely alternate between the new and old interfaces. The Yahoo Mail beta is noticeably faster than other Web-based e-mail services, and its speed has improved since the private beta release in 2005. Although the integration with Yahoo Calendar is cool, at this point, the Calendar link to the left of the message pane opens a new browser window. Also, unless you constantly click on the in-box, new messages automatically appear only every 10 minutes. And unlike Microsoft Outlook, you can't collapse folders or create nested subfolders. Nor does Yahoo Mail make it possible for you to read your messages offline. Still, the ground-up renovation of Yahoo Mail is a radical step up from the click-by-click experience of the classic Yahoo Mail.
The Yahoo Mail beta's makeover should make disgruntled Yahoo users think twice about switching to another service. Graceful, swift, and respectful of your privacy, Yahoo Mail makes a gracious e-mail host. Privacy advocates worried about Gmail poking its nose into the content of your messages for targeted advertising will appreciate Yahoo's hands-off approach. Against Yahoo Mail, Gmail looks intrusive, while Hotmail seems like a Stone Age service. Desktop e-mail providers may also worry about losing customers. We wonder if the final release of the updated Yahoo Mail might further integrate with other Yahoo services, such as mapping and photo sharing, or with Yahoo Instant Messenger with Voice.