New Yahoo Mail Most Impressive

If you are among the hordes of folks who get their DSL through Wisconsin Bell/Ameritech/SBC/AT&T (or whatever it is they’re calling themselves today), you may already have a glimpse of the new face of web-based email. Wednesday, what used to be SBC Yahoo DSL launched the beta of The New AT&T Yahoo Mail. I was lucky enough to be included in the semi-public launch group.

The great thing about web-based mail is that it’s always accessible. So if you’ve got something urgent to deal with via mail, you can check in pretty much anywhere these days. But the old Yahoo Mail interface was almost not worth fighting through to locate that urgent mail, at least if you have to deal with the volume of mail I get in the average day.  I could go on about this (and may wind up doing this yet), but suffice to say that it looked just like GMail, but was considerably more cumbersome.

About a year ago, Yahoo bought another web-mail company, Bloomba, and that acquisition was clearly a smart one. The interface is much more familiar, and the ease of use is tremendous. I will get a screen shot up here soon so you can see for yourself, but users of Thunderbird, KMail, Evolution and even … Outlook will be at home here.

Among the new and positive changes from the old interface:

  • You have the option to view messages (or not) by pressing V. Don’t know whether this is AJAX, but the view pane appears with a minimum of waiting.
  • Clicking on a subject line opens the message in a separate tab, also allowing for multiple messages to be open at the same time.
  • Easy creation of folders for sorting (but filtering is not automatic, at least for now).
  • Automatic mail checks if you leave the client open (I haven’t timed the frequency, but it’s often enough, maybe 10 minutes). You can also check manually with a big button next to the Compose button.
  • Search also happens in the same interface, not on a separate screen (which took several clicks to get to anyway).

The new interface also fixes one of my pet peeves. Yahoo’s spam filters are (or perhaps were) inconsistent, with far too many false positives for my taste. The old interface required you to open a message marked Spam and look at it before you could mark it non-spam. Now you can simply select messages that (to your eye, at least) aren’t spam and mark them OK from the main screen.

One minor kvetch: The first time you send a message to a particular individual from the web interface, you have to prove you’re a human first (type letters from a graphic). It’s annoying, but more than understandable. One of those things you have to put up with.

Yahoo Mail is now also an RSS reader. Click the All RSS Feeds tab and you can read your favorite news items and blogs in the mail client. What I didn’t notice at first was that if you have already set up a My Yahoo page, the client automatically imports all the RSS feeds into this folder. Quite enjoyable. Access to your Yahoo Contacts, Calendar, and Notepad is just as easy.

The mail client officially supports all Mozilla flavors and that other browser in Windows. They have only tested browsers in Windows and Mac. I’ve had no trouble with Firefox 1.5 in SUSE Linux, but it would not open in Konqueror — you got a “Sorry, this won’t work in your browser” message. With Firefox, you got a “we haven’t tested this, but do you want to try it anyway?” warning. Opera’s a no-go in all OSes. Haven’t tested Epiphany yet, but I suspect the same fate as Konqueror.

It’s important to note that in these days of extensive government snooping, Yahoo is not the purest of heart. If you have “dangerous opinions,” you may want to choose another outlet. But if you are stuck with them as a content provider, you could do worse for a web-based mail.

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