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The millions of users of Yahoo Mail's "Classic" edition will get some of the features that made it into the Web portal's more advanced free e-mail service more than a year ago.
This week, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) announced it has begun rolling out integrated instant messaging (IM) and SMS text messaging features to Mail Classic users worldwide. The features had previously been available in the current version of Yahoo Mail, which differs from Classic in that it offers a more dynamic, tab-based user interface.
But soon, users hanging onto Mail's original design may not feel like they're missing out.
The update comes as competition remains unabated in the e-mail market, with Google's Gmail adding features and users at a rapid clip. The number of visitors to Gmail's Web site grew 66 percent in 2008 in the U.S., according to Web monitoring firm Hitwise.
But Matt Tatham, a Hitwise spokesperson, told InternetNews.com that Yahoo remains in the lead. The portal's e-mail service claimed the most visitors in the U.S. for month of December, ahead of Microsoft's Hotmail and Windows Live (which Hitwise ranked together), Gmail and Time Warner's AOL.
However, that doesn't mean it's not feeling the pressure from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG). The search leader recently added text and video chat to Gmail, which remains famously labeled as being in its prerelease "beta" stage five years after its public debut.
"Yahoo needs to keep up with the competition to maintain its lead, so I'm not surprised they would add features to the older version of Yahoo Mail to keep those users in the fold," Tatham said.
Yahoo hasn't stayed idle, though. Last month, it unveiled a revamped version of Yahoo Mail that leverages social networking. The new "Smarter Inbox" enables users to designate higher priorities for displaying e-mail that users care most about or receive most regularly -- from friends and colleagues, for example. The smarter inbox lets users filter these e-mails right on its welcome page.
With it's latest move to extend its chat features -- which also supports Windows Live Messenger contacts -- to Mail Classic, Yahoo is taking another step toward making its mail service more valuable for all of its users.
"You open up those features to the entire user base of Yahoo Messengers worldwide and interoperability with Windows Live Messenger, and you can reach a much wider audience," Brandon Savage, Yahoo's senior product manager for Mail Classic, told InternetNews.com.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.