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Hot on the Web

The big boys (try to) strike back

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 26, 2006
(Issue 2421, Podcasting) seems to have the more established online players a bit worried. No wonder – the most recent wunderkid of the 'Net was bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for millions and millions (580 of them) of dollars last year, and is now one of the top destination sites online.

Yahoo is first to strike back – launching a beta version of its Yahoo 360° service in late April.

Of course, Yahoo remains one of the top destination sites itself – but the buzz that creates cachet and hipness has long since abandoned Yahoo in favor of newer online outfits like Google and, now, MySpace.

And MySpace is a direct assault on Yahoo's Groups; MySpace offers its own Groups service in which users can set up a group around any topic, invite new members, and then post and reply to messages among themselves.

The Yahoo 360° service, in beta, appears to be a mini-MySpace, but without the Music component that makes MySpace so popular with teens and college students.

Well, the Yahoo Music and LAUNCHcast services are integrated into Yahoo 360° – but the thing about MySpace is that it allows any band to post up to four songs, share its calendar, and post bulletins to all its fans. The Yahoo music services are more akin to iTunes, and seem unlikely to generate that all-important cool factor for Yahoo 360°.

Nor do you get your own URL on Yahoo 360°. For instance, on, you can directly access my home page by going to Were I the blogging sort, you could access my blog at Yahoo 360° doesn't seem to offer this.

Otherwise, Yahoo 360° stacks up fairly well. You can post pictures, add friends, start a blog, share your Yahoo Groups and send bulletins (called Blasts here).

There are some things that are immediately better about Yahoo 360° – a tool for creating an avatar instead of using a picture, for starters. The fact that Yahoo's IM is integrated into the new environment. The fact that you get a real e-mail account. And setting up your home page seems easier here, too.

You have to feel a bit bad for the suits at Yahoo, in that the whole portal model is dead and Google has taken over as the search engine of choice for most folks (even though Yahoo's recently revamped search engine is every bit as effective at finding stuff on the Web).

All that's keeping Yahoo in the top tier of online destinations is its free Webmail service and its Groups.

With Gmail and MySpace nipping at its heels, Yahoo has to do something to offer folks a reason to stick around.

Yahoo 360° isn't that, at least not yet. But it was an early iteration we saw, and it may get better.

Microsoft responds

While Google can hardly be viewed as a young up and comer, Gmail is – even if it is still in beta.

When Google first began beta testing Gmail more than a year ago, with (then) 1 GB of storage space for free, it turned the Webmail world on its ear. Where 5-20 MB had been the norm for storage, suddenly Hotmail, Yahoo and Netscape were offering 250 MB and up for free.

Now Microsoft is offering folks with Hotmail accounts a free "upgrade" to the new Windows Live Mail.

Windows Live Mail bumps users from that 250 MB storage to a full 2GB (closer, at least, to the 2.7 GB that Gmail currently offers), and offers full integration to MSN blogs.

(From the "not a surprise" department: Windows Live Mail doesn't work with the latest Netscape browser, nor Firefox. At least not on Windows. Why does Microsoft seem so intent on taunting anti-trust regulators?)

If you're willing to use Internet Explorer 6 (which fewer and fewer people are, as its market share has slipped below 90 percent for the first time in years, and it continues to drop), the new e-mail service is a bit better than Hotmail. There is a slicker, ASP-driven interface that is a lot like a Java-generated interface (if you've been to, EA's online free game portal, the look will seem familiar). It's marginally easier to get around as you can now use drag and drop to move messages, searching your e-mail is definitely easier, and there is now a calendar.

It's kind of like Outlook Light, online. Except that it takes longer to load, being dynamically generated, than Hotmail does. (Out of curiosity, noticing that the new Windows Live Mail URL was, I went to Looks like it's the planned replacement for MSN, except that after loading a few features, it froze IE! This happened on two different machines, one running Windows XP the other Windows 2K. Both have the latest version of IE. Lovely.)

As with Yahoo 360°, this is in early beta, so one has to figure it's not exactly feature-rich yet.

Still, other than the bump in storage space, it's hard to see why Microsoft thought everyone would be interested in this.

At least they let us keep our old Hotmail e-mail addresses.