Playing with the Yahoo! Mail beta

I finally got on the new Yahoo! Mail beta after applying three times and even asking some friends at Yahoo! to put in a good word for me. You see, I’m a big Yahoo! Mail fan. Back when Gmail launched, I created a Gmail account like everyone else, and I still use Gmail sometimes, but I decided to stick with Yahoo! Mail as my primary email solution. I’ve been using Yahoo! Mail for several years now, and I’ve always been happy with their feature set, and I always knew someday they’d release a revolutionary new interface.

The new Yahoo! Mail beta is beautiful. It’s just what I was hoping for. It very much has the feel of a desktop application — so much so, in fact, that initially I kept moving my mouse over the chrome of my browser looking for the delete and compose buttons rather than within the web page itself (the implication being that it’s hard to tell where the browser ends and the application starts). I’m past that stage by now because I’m using hot keys for everything, which I love. They aren’t Vim hot keys like many Google applications support (I’m a huge Vim fan), but they are pretty close to the standard email client hot keys, so it’s very easy to adapt to. "n" creates a new message, "delete" deletes a message, "r" replies, Ctrl + enter sends, etc. It’s a little screwy on a Mac since the option key usually replaces the control key with most applications (for instance, Option + t opens a new tab in Firefox on a Mac while it’s Ctrl + t on Windows), but Yahoo! Mail does not change its behavior for different platforms. Not a big deal — just something to keep in mind if you switch back and forth between operating systems a lot.

The Yahoo! Mail beta uses the familiar three-paned layout: folders on the left, rows of message on the top right, and a message preview on the bottom right, all separated by draggable dividers. There’s a "View" menu which promises more viewing options soon. Hopefully they’ll implement the three column view I prefer when using applications like Outlook.

One of my favorite features of the Yahoo! Mail beta is the tabs. Yes, tabs! Double-click on a message, and it doesn’t open in a new Window, and it doesn’t just take over the message pane, but it actually opens in a new tab. Hit "n" to compose a new message, and your new message opens in a new tabs. (I’m not talking about browser tabs, but tabs implemented within the Yahoo! Mail interface itself.) It’s really brilliant. I sincerely believe that any application (other than Vim, of course) that supports multiple documents should use tabs, and it’s great to see a web app adopting many of the same paradigms we’ve become accustomed to on our desktops.

Of course there’s drag-and-drop support for organizing messages which seems to work quite well. Messages even appear transparent as you drag them, and a large green checkmark or red "X" indicate whether your message can be dropped on a particular target or not. Very user-friendly.

Something else that really gives the new Yahoo! Mail a very desktop-like feel is the right-click support. Right-click on a folder and you’re presented with a context menu with the following options: New Folder, Rename, Delete, Mark all Read, Empty Spam, and Empty Trash. (If you choose to rename a folder, you can actually do it inline like you would in Windows Explorer.) Right-click on an email message and get all the options you’d expect from an application like Outlook or Very well done. For now, the browser’s default options are still available when right-clicking over the message area and message composition pane. Not sure if that will change or not.

The spell checker isn’t currently working in Firefox (though fortunately, you can still use SpellBound), so I switched over to IE to check it out. I have to say, I hope the solution they currently have in place is just temporary. It opens a popup (already on the wrong track), and hardly uses any of the JavaScript/Ajax magic that makes the rest of the app so slick. I’m not saying they should go so far as to check spelling as you type, but something more like how Writely handles spell checking would be much more appropriate for such a nice and "native" feeling application.

The last feature of the new Yahoo! Mail that I want to mention is feed support (RSS and Atom). I don’t know if I’ll use it because my RSS needs are such that I really require a dedicated application, but for casual RSS users, I think this is a good solution. Your feeds sit between your default folders and your custom folders, and even come pre-populated with a Yahoo! Mail Beta Update feed. Nice touch.

What I really like about the Yahoo! Mail beta:

  • Tabs.
  • Right-click context menus.
  • Drag-and-drop.
  • RSS support (though I probably won’t use it).
  • Easy message sorting.
  • Still excellent support for multiple email accounts.
  • Attractive, clean design.

What I think still needs some work:

  • Spell checking.
  • Performance (not that bad, but could be better).
  • I’d like to be able to put RSS feeds in folders.

I can’t wait to see what the next build has in store!

Other web mail related news:

3 thoughts on “Playing with the Yahoo! Mail beta

  1. I don’t agree with having a large company manage my personal or business information. What rights do you have to your info, stored on their servers, do you really have? What is going to happen when they roll up the red carpet and state that they will charge you an exorbanant amount to use your data? Just trying to be the devils advocate.


  2. Pixel: You raise a very good point. I’m only willing to go so far in turning my data over to other people. For instance, I don’t use Writely as much as I’d like to, primarily for that reason. What’s to stop an employee from doing a few simple select statements and reading all my documents (or mail, for that matter). I guess I don’t worry about my mail too much, though, because I rarely send anything of any importance. :)


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