Apple teased us with an announcement of a .Mac webmail upgrade at the end of September, and yesterday they delivered. The new webmail feels zippy (though it was understandably a little sluggish a couple times while I was testing it last night), and the innovative, refreshing new features raise the bar for competing services. Still, with all the slick new polish, a few long-standing gripes have yet to be addressed, and some of the web client's new abilities bring along irregularities and new complaints. But don't think I'm a hater - I just renewed my membership last week, and this is a most welcomed update to one of the most important components of Apple's hotly debated .Mac suite of web services. With this yin and yang balance in mind, let's dive into the review.
.Mac webmail goes web 2.0
Of course, the most significant and obvious upgrade is the completely revamped UI, which now resembles and behaves (in some ways) like Apple's desktop Mail.app client. As you can see from the screenshot, a new 3 pane view offers a folder list on the left, a customizable (10-50) message list on top, and a message preview pane on the bottom, just like mom used to make. As an added UI bonus, the separation bar between the message list and preview panes is draggable. Nice.
But the webmail update isn't just skin deep - plenty of keyboard shortcuts accompany the new polish for a great combination of beauty and brains (though I'm laying down a penalty of 10 points by not enabling the shortcuts by default, regardless of who .Mac's demographic is). A complete list of shortcuts is linked from the preferences, and there are keys for nearly every action including: sending messages, deleting, navigating up/down messages, back/forth between batches of messages (take that Gmail), searching and printing.
Besides keyboard shortcuts, some clever features and UI tricks are peppered throughout. On the left is a shot of an Address Book search, which lives below the folder list. Results are displayed below the search box, and clicking on a name offers a popup with their information, and things like email addresses and public iDisks are linked for easy access. On the right is the Quick Reply window, accessible by clicking a button which appears next to selected messages (a quirky 'only when you clicked on it' UI element that first reared its head in iTunes 7). Opera's built-in email client has done this for a while, and Apple's implementation is nice and simple.