Microsoft, Yahoo, and Zimbra Releaseing New Ajax Powered Webmail

The Break Down

All three of these companies have decided to give webmail a “fresh spin”:

Microsoft and Yahoo are poised to make Web-based e-mail more powerful than ever with updates that bring a desktop-style interface to their respective Web mail offerings.

We tested betas (currently invitation-only) of Windows Live Mail and Yahoo Mail, and also looked at an open-source newcomer called Zimbra.
All three apps use an increasingly popular programming technique called Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to improve on standard Web mail and even Google’s Gmail.

Yahoo is adding some keyboard functionality. Control and Shift keys to select multiple messages; PgUP and PgDN to scroll through messages; and they do have an interesting feature where multiple messages can be opened in the same window.

Microsoft is basically making Windows Live Mail into a sort of Hotmail on steroids. It’s basically going to be Outlook from the browser.

Zimbra, although a little rougher (give them a break, they’re new), does look more promising in my view. Check out their online demo here. They’re not into the personal email accounts thing. Their suite is aimed at cooperations and businesses and goes way beyond just email. They can also integrate a company’s own database into this making ordering, for example, painless.

Zimbra is currently available for companies now and Yahoo and Microsoft plan to release theirs by July 2006.

My Take

Call my crazy, but didn’t Google already do all these things with Gmail? I think that Google has done a superb job with the Ajax technology. Look at Google Maps, Google Suggest, Gmail. At first I was so blinded by the amount of space they gave that I didn’t really even notice the Ajax in it. I just knew that something was different here. Gmail has been in beta for over a year now. I don’t think that Google has simply forgotten about it and are sitting twiddling their thumbs.

The competition is always tight, but Google always leads. When Gmail dropped at first, offering 1 GB of email storage Yahoo quickly upped theirs to 2 GB. Microsoft was a bit slower and cheaper: only offering 1 GB to MSN members and 250 MB for the free Hotmail. Google still had the last laugh when they upped to 2.5 GB “and counting”. But on thing to notice here is that while there was this back and forth for Email storage space, neither Microsoft or Yahoo noticed (or acted on) the Ajax qualities of Gmail. Look how long it has taken them to respond.

I must say from the demos and screen shots I’ve seen, they do look impressive. And the drag and drop features are interesting. However, one thing I always pride Google for is the simplicity of their interfaces. I doubt that they will go to big with the interface, but dragging and dropping email is going to be nothing to add to Gmail. Trust me, they are going to answer Microsoft and Yahoo with their webmail services, quite possibly before these companies even release.

As usual, it’s going to be an interesting race.