America Online Inc. is rolling out a major upgrade to AOL Mail on the Web that lays the groundwork for a free Web mail service to be launched later this year. The move furthers AOLs strategy of opening its doors to nonmembers and will place the company on par with portal rivals MSN, Yahoo and Google.
The new Web mail service integrates AOL Instant Messenger presence awareness, drag and drop capabilities, a new address book, and the ability to rescind unread e-mail sent to other AOL members within a revamped user interface.
AOL has begun the process of opening up its AIM community to third parties and integrating the messaging service across its Web properties. AOLs trademark Running Man is displayed throughout AOL Web mail, indicating the online presence of friends, family and coworkers.
AOL is not the only portal site pulling real-time communications into e-mail; rival Hotmail has already made MSN Messenger presence a part of its service.
Along with AIM presence, specific usability enhancements AOL has added to its Web mail include: rich text for styled e-mail composition; natural drag and drop capabilities between folders; automatic inbox refreshing and real-time audible new mail notification; and convenience features like an auto-address tool that fills known contacts into the address field.
Users can also set an automatic away message that sends a return message when they are unable to access e-mail, as well as unsend unread e-mail sent to other AOL members. The unsend feature has been available in the AOL client software since version 5.0.