AOL is now publicly testing an enhanced Web mail service for its subscribers and instant-messaging users.
The test, which started Friday, includes an improved search tool for finding information stored in e-mail messages, according to the AOL Beta website. The service is also now integrated with the AOL Pictures photo management service, allowing users to place pictures in messages.
After being an afterthought in online services for many years, Web mail services have had a resurgence lately, thanks to increased competition in the space, triggered initially by the debut of Google’s Gmail in 2004. Since then, users have benefited from dramatically increased storage and continual user interface improvements in Web mail services from Yahoo, Microsoft and others.
The integration with AOL Pictures has been done for messages users send and receive. Users who receive messages with embedded or attached photos will be able to save them directly from the Web mail interface to AOL Pictures. Likewise, users will be able to insert photos from AOL Pictures into the body of the message they are composing.
The improvements in the search functionality include the ability to search all text stored in an e-mail account, instead of just searching by subject and sender, as well as the automatic highlighting of search terms.
When composing messages, users of Mozilla’s Firefox browser and AOL’s own Netscape browser will find new options for formatting text. The options include changing the font’s type, color and size, as well as the ability to underline, bold or italicize text. Meanwhile, the service also gained a feature to save, with a single click, e-mail text to the AOL Journals blog publishing service.
To participate in the test, users must have an AOL or AIM account. AOL recommends that users have Windows 98, 2000 or XP Professional/Home with Internet Explorer 6.0 or above, Firefox 1.0 or above, or Netscape 8 or above. For Apple Computer users, AOL recommends Mac OS X with Firefox 1.0.4 or above.
-Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service (Miami Bureau)