Yahoo has intensified the online battle for search engine devotees by releasing a prototype web-based e-mail service with slick online computer applications.
Web portal business Yahoo said that it integrated more features into its new Web mail client Yahoo Mail, as the portal made the beta service widely available in the United States and more than a dozen other countries.
The new version has a spiffed-up user interface and features that resemble familiar desktop applications, including drag-and-drop functionality.
Yahoo Mail, which sports a look and feel similar to Microsoft's popular Outlook desktop software, includes integration with the portal's mapping, weather and calendar services. By moving a cursor over an address typed into a scheduled appointment, for example, a person would see a balloon that offers a roadmap of the location and the weather forecast for the day.
Yahoo said the new iteration of its free e-mail service boasts more desktop application-like features. It also offers an integrated message preview, an integrated RSS reader and new search capabilities, among other features.
The test version of Yahoo Mail rolled out in 19 markets including the United States, China, Australia, India, Hong Kong and Spain provided sophisticated e-mail service that could be accessed from any computer linked to the Internet.
"This is the biggest revolution to Yahoo Mail in the decade of its existence," Yahoo director of product management Ethan Diamond told AFP.
“It is all about ease of use and making the basic e-mail tasks faster and easier for the layman.”
The previous version of the Web mail client had been available only to a limited number of U.S. users. While adding new features to the more widely available upgrade, Yahoo has kept popular functionality such as keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to drag and drop messages to folders and to search messages and attachments intact.
The beta version works on Internet Explorer browsers on Windows computers, and on Firefox browsers on both Windows and Mac computers.
Yahoo's mail service featured "mashups," blends of traditionally separate programs such as calendars and search, according to Diamond. It really just means that the Web gets easier to use, more interactive and more developments quicker. This is definitely the first time a lot of people in the world are going to see that he said.
When users sign in or create a new account, they will have the option to try the new interface, and switch between old and new.
Yahoo's new mail box had an Outlook look. Messages could be selected, read, deleted and moved to folders without changing pages, a demonstration showed.
A search function was added to enable people to quickly scan stored messages and attachments for key words, and tabs allowed users to conveniently flip from messages to missives under construction.
"We are not just matching the cool functionality of a desktop client but are actually surpassing it in message search," Diamond said, comparing the Web-based service to programs on personal computers.
Yahoo is focused on optimizing the ad-supported Web mail for broadband users, Diamond said. A version for dial-up users will be available when the service is taken out of beta. A date has not been set.
“One of the neatest things about it is that it does not require installation of anything on your machine,” Diamond said. “You just go to Yahoo.com and it works like this.”
Free Yahoo Mail accounts had a gigabyte of storage capacity, and users could upgrade to double the storage in an advertisement-free version for an annual fee of 19.99 dollars, according to the Sunnyvale, California-based company.
"We are ready for pretty much the world to start playing with this and give us feedback," Diamond said while giving AFP a preview.
The release came as major search engines Google, Yahoo and Microsoft MSN hotly competed for the devotion of Internet users whose visits can be parlayed into advertising revenue.