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The Latest Features In Webmail Services

written by: John Lister•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/21/2008

The leading webmail services, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Windows Live Mail, have all added new features recently. We take a look and tell you about some tricks you might have missed.

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    Gmail contains a feature named Google Labs where the company’s staff show off their latest creations and ask for user feedback. To get into Google Labs you can simply click on the green symbol (which represents a science lab beaker) and try out the new features you can simply click on the green symbol (which represents a science lab beaker) next to your email address at the top right of Gmail. If this isn’t available, click on Settings and then choose Labs.

    Potentially the most useful idea currently in the lab – and one I’ve been longing for for years – is the forgotten attachment detector. This will warn you if you attempt to send a message containing particular keywords (such as ‘attachment’ or ‘I have attached’) but don’t attach a file.

    Another one worth trying out is ‘Canned responses’. This allows you to set up a range of standard responses to common e-mails, which will then be available to put into the body message in the same way as a standard signature works.

    For example, a magazine editor could set up one to acknowledge receiving story ideas, one for complaints from reader and one for students enquiring about internships. What makes it particularly neat is that you can even set Gmail to automatically send these replies to any message which fits certain criteria such as containing a keyword in the subject line, or comes to a particular address. You can also test out how this would have worked with past messages in your archive, which may help you refine your settings to avoid sending auto-responses to the wrong people.

    There are many other Labs features ranging from useful to pure gimmick. One which is much closer to the latter is Mail Googles, a feature which won’t let you send e-mails late on Friday and Saturday evenings until you’ve answered some arithmetic questions to ‘prove’ you are sober!

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    Windows Live Mail (formerly Hotmail)

    Microsoft has just released a beta edition of Windows Live Mail as part of its Windows Live service (which is being redesigned to run more like a social networking site). The idea is to combine the strengths of the traditional Outlook Express e-mail program with the benefits of Webmail.

    New features include the ability to run multiple e-mail accounts (including those from Gmail and Yahoo Mail) in one location, a built-in calendar which can send reminders by e-mail, text message or Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN), the ability to read past e-mails even when you aren’t online, and better synchronisation between your e-mail and the Windows Live calendar system.

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    Yahoo Mail

    Yahoo has just added a ‘smarter inbox’ to its service (though its only available to select testers at the moment). This includes features such as letting you designate important contacts: messages from these people will then automatically appear at the top of your new messages list. There will also be an automatic filter to find messages from your ‘connections’, Yahoo’s take on the ‘friends’ feature in social networks.

    As Yahoo is promoting itself as more willing to work with independent computer firms (a project named ‘Yahoo Open Strategy’), it’s going to allow users to add third-party applications to run directly from the mail service. For example, photo service Flickr will run in Yahoo Mail allowing users to instantly find all photographs they have received by e-mail. Another example Yahoo has shown off is the ability to search for movie times and then click one button to send an e-mail to a friend suggesting a showtime.

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    GMail Labs featuresYahoo Mail 'connections' featureWindows Live Mail's social networking feature