Sign up now to get free exclusive access to reports, research and invitation only events.
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have all rolled out major changes to their free webmail services.
Google's Gmail recently underwent a redesign, and elements are now spaced wider apart, an echo of the visual changes made across Google system-wide. You can customize the look and feel with various themes, but one thing is still missing from the interface (and provided by both Yahoo Mail and Outlook.com): a message preview pane option.
Gmail: Reply form
In Gmail, the standard reply is edited via a form nested at the bottom of the original message (as opposed to Outlook.com and Yahoo Mail, which open a new tab or window). You can also pop out the reply into its own sub-window and edit it separately, if you wish.
Microsoft's switch from its well-known Hotmail email service to the new Outlook.com has been a radical one. Outlook.com sports an interface patterned directly after Windows 8's UI, with lots of white space, large icons and a preview pane. The only cosmetic changes a user can make are to the color scheme used for the top bar and the fonts used for creating new messages.
Outlook.com comes with its own clutch of 15 pre-generated message category labels: "Bills," "Family," "Travel" and so on. You can add your own custom categories, but you can't remove or edit the Microsoft-supplied ones. You can also set two different attributes for a category: "Quick view" adds that category to the list of fast-access links on the left side of the screen, while "Filters" lets you take whatever folder is currently visible and apply a filter to its contents.
Yahoo's email service got a major revamp at the end of 2012. The new Yahoo Mail is uncluttered and clean but lacks many of the advanced management and categorization features of its competitors -- unless you pay for them. However, the free version includes a preview pane, which makes the experience a bit more like working with a full-blown desktop client.
Yahoo Mail: Apps
Yahoo Mail allows you to add apps, essentially plugins for your mailbox, which are provided by third parties though Yahoo. Some of Yahoo's own services have apps as well -- for example, Flickr, which lets you share photos easily from your Flickr account.