Sunday, January 22, 2006

Email2.0 : Yahoo Mail Beta

I have been trying out Yahoo Mail Beta for the past couple of days, and I thought I would blog my first impressions. First of all, I was pleased that the beta version didn't have any serious bugs --- I was a little afraid it would crash my browser or slow down my network connection.

Since the new Yahoo Mail is Ajaxified, it works more like a desktop email client than the typical webmail client. In other words, clicking on UI controls dynamically updates parts of the page rather than reloading the entire thing. The most noticeable difference for the user is the ability to scan through messages by displaying the contents in a preview panel (just like Outlook or Eudora). This makes it quite a bit easier to sort through the daily email and spam deluge. Of course, Ajax would not be very useful if loading the preview took as long as loading the whole page. So my second concern was performance.

So far so good, most message previews loaded within a second. Scrolling through the folder contents is not as smooth as on a desktop because you will frequently see "loading..." messages as the web browser makes a round-trip back to the server. However, I didn't find the delay to be annoying. One thing to keep in mind is that Yahoo Mail is still in limited beta so the servers haven't be stressed to their capacity yet. One thing that I am curious about is whether Yahoo caches information in the browser's memory or in the cookies to reduce the number of round trips to the server.

Most features work as expected, the search functionality was readily available. Uses can use the left panel to access their folders, although there are no Gmail like tagging features. Yahoo's RSS reader is also accessible although Calendar and Notepad default back to their webmail counterparts. Unfortunately, their RSS reader is just a fill-in as it seemed to be more of a skeleton than a full-featured reader like Bloglines. However the potential is definitely there. The same applies for the entire Yahoo Mail beta -- the potential is definitely there. Right now, it tries too hard to emulate a desktop client. There are definitely times when I felt it should be more flexible, like a website. For example, to show a mail message in a full window, the user has to double-click on a message. However, I half expected there to be a convenient link or button that would expand the preview panel to a full-size window.

Yahoo Mail Beta
Useability: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Innovativeness: 2/5

Nowadays every website is constantly in beta and there seems to be no new versions or software releases anymore. However, I think Yahoo will have to continue to work on the concept of a AJAX mail client so that it combines the best of both worlds: desktop and the web. There is plenty of competition to spur them on: for example Zimbra, another web2.0 email client, allows mashups within messages, so the message could invoke web services to show a map or the latest price of a product. There's lot of ways to update email, what we are really talking about here is Email 2.0.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Switch to Linux by 2007 or else!

Unknown to many users, Microsoft has a put in place a program of phasing out support for popular versions of their software, just in time to get you to pay for the next version. So get ready for this -- Microsoft will no longer offer security updates for Windows XP Home ater 2006:

From a Micosoft spokesperson:
"For consumer products, security updates will be available through the end of the mainstream phase. For Windows XP Home Edition, there will be no security updates after 12/31/06." Regarding paid support for problems unrelated to security patches, I was told that "Users who want to continue to receive support after the Microsoft assisted and paid support offerings have ended may visit the Retired Product Support Options Web site."

This is particularly strange given that Windows Vista may not be ready until the end of 2006. Anyway, I have no plans to upgrade to Vista so it looks like I should get ready to dump Windows altogether by 2007.