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Yahoo overhauls free Web e-mail service

Service expected to feature e-mail caching to shorten response time, message preview and drag-and-drop filing.

Yahoo is planning to overhaul its free Web-based e-mail service to make it work more like a desktop e-mail program, the company announced late Monday.

The service will feature e-mail caching to shorten response time, message preview and drag-and-drop filing, the company said. A limited number of customers will be able to participate in the beta test of the new service in coming weeks, with general availability to follow in coming months, said Ethan Diamond, product director for Yahoo e-mail.

Yahoo e-mail users will be able to decide on using the new version, sticking with the older version, or using both. The new service currently works with only Internet Explorer and Firefox, but support for other browsers is expected to follow.

The new service is based on technology and expertise Yahoo acquired when it bought Oddpost in July 2004. The changes represent the most significant overhaul of the service since it was launched in 1997, Diamond said.

Other features of the new service are the ability to quickly search e-mail headers, body text and attachments, view multiple e-mails at the same time in separate windows, and scroll through all message headers in a folder rather than one page at a time.

In addition, the new version adds address auto-complete, right-click menus and standard keyboard shortcuts.

The most noticeable enhancements include the preview pane and local caching for faster e-mail opening. The page includes advertisements, including a large one that is replaced by the preview pane when a message is open.

The amount of storage available will remain 1 gigabyte for the free service.

In May, Yahoo added to its e-mail service the ability to send and share digital photos.

Competitors have been busy too. Earlier this month AOL launched a free Web-based e-mail service with 2 gigabytes of storage for AOL Instant Messenger users.

Google, meanwhile, said in March that it planned to double the storage on its free Gmail Web-based service from 1 gigabyte to 2 gigabytes.