About 2 years ago Google launched GMail Beta and changed the rules of webmail.
The most notable change was the availability of 1GB of storage and the notion that email not be deleted (which I subscribe to). Also notable was the advent of AJAX features for enhanced web-based applications.
Two years later, what is the response from the webmail leaders – Yahoo! and Hotmail?
Well, they didnt take much time to adopt the easiest change – increased storage – but the long road to a full-featured AJAX client has been unbelievably long!
How can Gmail eat these email juggernaut’s lunch for TWO YEARS with no response yet in terms of available products?
What is even more bothersome is how did Yahoo! purchase the underdog trailblazer of enhanced webmail interfaces – Oddpost – and NOT HAVE A PRODUCT YET? Even worse – WHY did Yahoo! have Oddpost stop taking new email accounts in the interrim? Rather than boosting Yahoo! Mail into the GMail club in 6 months, all that really happened is that Yahoo! has taken one of the best webmail services (Oddpost) out of play for two years!
We have nonpublic betas of Hotmail and Y! Mail’s new interfaces, which look really cool, some even say better than GMail (which I dont think is much of a stretch, because while technically cool, GMail’s interface isnt terribly well done). Despite the fact that I used to work at Yahoo! and have contacts there, I havent been able to get into the Yahoo! Mail Beta. I have, however, managed to finagle a Windows Live Mail beta, and I think its a GMail killer – basically a decent AJAX port of Outlook.
I have my own theory about the delays from M$ and Y! – the crazy growth rate and extension of Hotmail and Yahoo! Over the last 11 years have left both services with an hobbled infrastructure with an insurmountable amount of legacy code which can no longer be reworked in a reasonable period of time.
I remember when I worked at Yahoo! 4 years ago, Yahoo! Mail was already at a standstill internally as far as being able to add features to extend other Yahoo! properties – like, 12 or 18 months behind. Such features were added on an ‘emergency’ basis, which basically meant the feature needed to have a VP or substantial price tag attached from a cobrand deal or somesuch to even get on the todo list.
From the outside, the mail group seemed about a dozen engineers short, but upon closer inspection it seemed more like they were buried with an unscalable legacy which was demanding to be scaled daily, and head count wasnt going to solve that. It was a classic mythical man month issue.
So they obtain Oddpost, which has the wizardry for Yahoo! Mail 2.0, but their work on the front-end has probably been done for over a year. Whats happening now is just an interminable period of changeover.
In fact, I wouldnt be surprised personally if the Yahoo! Mail team is thinking to itself “Hey, any of us could rework an AJAX interface at this point – why did we aquire Oddpost when all the work to be done was with legacy?”
This is where new companies bang on the heavyweights. With no legacy Google search and GMail took existing web products and made them better. There is simply no reason why Yahoo! and MSN could not trump Google Search or GMail except legacy. They have the experience, resources, and money. Its just that they have this legacy, which needs to continue working, to continue scaling, while it morphs into something else – and that is a launch killer.
Personally, I have not switched over to Gmail for several reasons – first of all, they currently have no personal domain options, nor the complementary hosting services which are essential to having a domain. Second, they have no Calendar, although I suspect one is imminent. Third, they have no premium service that I would want for my primary mail – I want real support in an emergency. Finally, it seems all webmail has a backdoor security problem when the right people simply ask for data.
This is why I am so frustrated with Y! and M$’s vaporware products. Both betas have very strong calendar apps, and Y! at least has always had the excellent domain, hosting services, calendaring, and premium service features I consider essential to my primary email application.
From previewing Windows Live Mail personally, I can say it’s way more appealing then GMail. From knowing Yahoo! Mail has *always* been better than GMail *except* for the lack of the AJAX interface, so I think their product will be a slam-dunk.
The only question is WHEN?