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Yahoo! Mail beta to open to the public starting today

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The powerful new Yahoo! Mail beta will open up for general use starting today. Richard MacManus has a great post and podcast interview about the product that will roll out to all users in 18 countries over the next two weeks. There’s a lot of cool new features, but GMail still stands apart in some important ways. Update: You can now try out the beta at new.mail.yahoo.com.

Mike Arrington posted an early review of the beta when RSS was first rolled into the email client in November. He called the new Yahoo! Mail “an incredibly awesome product.”

In addition to adding RSS subscription functionality inside your email inbox, which as MacManus points out will probably make Yahoo! Mail the most widely used RSS reader on the planet, there are many more new features to watch for.

The big picture is that Yahoo! is aiming to use ajax to make it’s mail client function like a desktop client. Email messages can be dragged from one folder to another, multiple emails can be open at one time in tabs inside Yahoo! Mail and there’s calendar integration tied to Yahoo! Maps. Blog posting, possibly to a Yahoo! domain that will run more of the company’s ads, and IM both appear to be available through the webmail client as well. These sound like powerful new features.

What’s Gmail got to offer that could top that?
A number of things, actually. Yahoo! Mail doesn’t offer the tabbed conversations Gmail does, doesn’t appear to allow emails to be tagged and will still have to prove itself in spam protection and mail search. I don’t know whether Yahoo! Mail allows attachments like PDF and Excel files to be viewed as HTML, but that’s a very nice GMail feature as well. There’s no word yet whether Yahoo! will increase the storage of free accounts from 1GB to something closer to GMail’s 2.5+GB or increase the 10mb limit on attachments.

In other words, I think there’s still plenty of reasons to stay with GMail for now, but those for whom Yahoo! Mail is well suited are likely to be quite happy with it. Several of the new features, like RSS, drag and drop organization and calendar/maps could become a new standard in future offerings from other companies. It’s a good product that will change how hundreds of millions of people experience webmail and RSS.

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