Starting today, some users of Yahoo Mail will be able to chat without leaving their in-boxes. Gmail rolled out built-in chatting a year ago. As Yahoo Mail, the most popular free e-mail service, follows, it could secure the loyalty of many users. Once you're set up for instant messaging, a smiley face will light up next to Yahoo buddies who are online. You'll be able to instantly invite someone to a text chat without leaving the Mail window.
Yahoo plans to gradually unveil this feature, so some users will have to wait up to three months to use it. If you're among a lucky few, a message when you log in will invite you to try the new chatting features. However, those still using Yahoo Mail's Classic view must wait. Once you give the nod, you'll be able to carry on real-time text conversations with buddies. Each conversation will open a tab within the beta Mail interface; conference chatting isn't enabled yet. You can click a link to convert a chat to an e-mail session, which will transcribe your instant messages. And when you're ready to gab again, just click a link to revert to instant messaging.
For now, Yahoo won't archive chats by default like Google does. Yahoo plans to eventually allow you to chat with buddies using Windows Live Messenger, as you can with Yahoo Messenger. The video and voice-calling features from Messenger won't be available within Yahoo Mail yet, either. It would be cool if Yahoo would eventually highlight a phone number within an e-mail message and let you click the mouse to call it. There won't be integration with plug-ins for Yahoo Messenger at this point, but we'll wait and see.
I've praised the excellent Yahoo Mail beta, but have griped about Yahoo Messenger's intrusive installation process. Now if you wish, you can skip Messenger altogether and chat within your browser.
I opened my Yahoo Mail account not long after its launch more than nine years ago. Although I really like Gmail, I rarely use it for daily e-mail unless I need to dash an instant message to another Gmail user. As long as Yahoo Mail has been treating me well, why bother to migrate nearly a decade of contacts to a new account? Yahoo Mail's built-in chatting gives me one less reason to switch to Gmail.