Rethinking web email

After months of waiting, I was finally given a Yahoo! Mail Beta account today for my primary email address. I’ve already had it for several months on my Junk email address (which I’ve had for about ten years), but now I’m ready to use it full-time. I’ve also got an account on Windows Live Mail (the successor to hotmail) and Gmail, both of which I also use regularly. The main reason I use Yahoo! Mail primarily isn’t necessarily because I like the features best, but probably more because I’ve used it for so long and that’s where most of my email is at. I’m sure many others have already written reviews like this, but this is partly a personal exercise as I evaluate switching to another web-based email service. Each of these services, in my opinion, is better than the previous offerings by the companies, so I’m glad that they’re all out there. Which one will I use more permanently? Stay tuned. I haven’t quite decided that one yet. Read on to see pros and cons of each service.


Yahoo! Mail Beta, Pros and Cons

What’s good?:

  • I love the drag-and-drop feature. Organizing Folders this way is a cinch.
  • I understand that this email service is ad-supported, and positioning the ad on the right is a good start. I really don’t like it on top, like on Windows Live Mail, where it takes up too much real estate. I primarily use widescreen monitors, so this is a plus.
  • Folders and filtering. I subscribe to a few email lists that I don’t always want to read right away, so folders and filtering are an easy way to keep what I don’t want to read right now out of my inbox
  • Integrated RSS Reader. See also at the bottom, but I like having this integrated with my webmail.
  • Composing an email is easy when you don’t remember an address – you can just type the name and it will appear.
  • Keyboard shortcuts. I use them.

What’s bad?

  • I don’t like how Yahoo! puts text ads on the bottom of my emails.
  • The RSS Reader is a bit clunky. I wish I could ask it to update feeds, as my wordpress feed hasn’t been updated since last November. It looks really nice, but scrolls rather awkwardly.
  • You can’t easily POP your email or get it out of Yahoo! without paying for extra features. I tried to do this once, and it was an amazingly difficult project, even with tools like Yahoo! Pops.

Gmail, Pros and Cons

What’s good?

  • No ads in outgoing email. This is big.
  • It automatically updates itself, so if it open in a separate tab from the one I’m viewing (about 95% of the time) I can tell when I receive a new message.
  • Good keyboard shortcuts.
  • Threaded view (by conversation). I switched over to this view in Thunderbird for my work email, and I’m enjoying it so far. In fact, I wish it worked more like Gmail in Thunderbird.
  • Quick replies. Using AJAX, you can reply as soon as you finish reading the email, which helps me remember to answer messages.
  • Integrated Chat. I actually use this on occasion, and it’s not too bad. I just wish it worked in Safari (although it might by now).
  • Integrated Calendar. I love the Google Calendar. I wish I had a web calendar that was this good a long time ago, and the fact that it’s integrated with my email means I’ll probably continue to use it in the future. My sister and I already entered a Calendar my mom put together of all our extended family’s birthdays and anniversaries, which is really, really cool to help us keep connected.
  • Ads are text-based only. That’s good.
  • You can use another email client with this without any add-on programs. That’s huge.

What’s bad?

  • Big brother is watching. I’m not sure how this works in practice, but when you sign up for Gmail, it gives them the right to look at anything you write. I’m not sure if that’s right.
  • No drag-and-drop.
  • No folders. I like labels okay, but it’s nice to have an uncluttered inbox. I could set up labels for everything, but I’d prefer this to be a bit more automated.
  • Spam filtering strategies are a bit complex for me. I don’t want to set up all kinds of rules for spam myself. I get lots more email in my Yahoo! account, and lots lets spam gets through to my inbox.

Windows Live Mail, Pros and Cons

What’s good?

  • It’s finally worth using this over the Classic Hotmail view in Firefox. Personally, I was a little surprised that Microsoft started supporting browsers other than IE, and I’m glad they do.
  • The left-to-right panes work for me in general. Like I said, I have a widescreen monitor and this helps a bit. You can change the location of this, too, but this one’s the best.
  • Drag-and-drop.

What’s bad?

  • The text ads at the bottom of sent email.
  • I can’t read the full message subject in the left pane. My monitor is big enough that I’d like to resize this pane. When I put this pane (the email inbox) above the other one, it’s waaaay too small to be useful.
  • The naming conventions. This might seem a bit picky, but I don’t understand why they changed “Search” to “Find”.
  • The inbox is still divided into pages. That’s helpful for people like me who have a lot of email in their inbox, but I want to see more than just 50 emails per page. I sometimes get that much mail in just a couple of days, and if I miss a day checking it, it takes a while to switch.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking web email

  1. Beth

    I am a Gmail user; I have it POP into my Mac Mail account so I don’t have to actually open a browser to get my mail. (Look at me, using techie language I don’t really understand! Can I say “POP” like that?? Probably not.)

    So I like that you can search in Gmail, so much so that I don’t even use folders anymore and archive everything out of my inbox since I hate have a cluttered inbox, too. What if you archived everything that is labeled? Would that take away one of your “cons”?

    I definitely agree that drag-and-drop would be cool.

  2. Alex Post author

    Well, after a bit of working with Gmail’s filters, it looks like it isn’t so much of a con after all. I didn’t really understand how the Archive thing worked before, but it makes a bit more sense now. I’m considering switching over to Gmail for right now. This would give them access to read all my personal stuff, but hey, if their motto is “don’t be evil”, then it can’t be all bad, right?

    I love search in mail, too, and was getting a bit frustrated at the way it was done in Yahoo! Mail. I think I’ll give Gmail a try for a while as my main email client and see what I think.

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