Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) delivered its answer to Google's Gmail today, phasing in the plan many people have been waiting for -- it now offers 100 megabytes of free storage to users, with a premium fee for two gigabytes of storage. In addition, Gmail must have given Yahoo! a real kick in the pants, too, because its new interface is much more smooth and modern now. Ultimately, though, it's just a "me-too" move that doesn't quite deliver.

As far as I can recall, this is the first upgrade of the somewhat clunky interface that has been Yahoo! Mail's standard since long before the Internet bubble burst. Given the changing face of the Web, at times it felt a bit like the Internet equivalent of chiseling on a tablet. Before Gmail, there was probably little reason to make the free service snazzy -- hey, you get what you pay for, right?

So, this morning's news gave me an excuse to see what's up in my Yahoo! Mail account. Sure enough, gone was the blaring red "over limit" bar with a pitch to buy more storage, which was certainly nice. Yahoo!'s new interface gives prime real estate to a search tab now, and the whole shebang's got a much more fluid look and feel, but no new earth-shattering functionality, in my opinion.

However, Yahoo! Mail does have a not-so-secret weapon. That's the ability to check home email remotely, while traveling or on lunch break or on a friend's computer. I don't know too many people whose sole personal email address is Yahoo! or Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Hotmail -- many use them for remote access or as "spam sponges" for Internet registrations.

As Seth Jayson pointed out, 100 MB pales in comparison to Gmail's gigabyte, and I quote, "Free is free." With Gmail, you can store, label, organize, and prioritize a vast amount of information, with that lovely Google search function. (Myself, I've already got grand ideas for Gmail, including using it as a Web-based backup if my aging iMac explodes, which one day, it will.)

Meanwhile, Google's brilliant "invite a friend to join Gmail" strategy has folks jonesing for accounts despite the privacy issues. (I've been wondering if Gmail will almost entirely launch by viral means, reminiscent of that old shampoo commercial: "And she told two friends, and so on, and so on.... ")

Yahoo! hasn't matched the hype and hasn't matched the free gig. The service is improved, but I don't see a substantial barrier to user defection -- especially if Gmail starts offering remote access to other email accounts -- nor do I see compelling reasons why users would want to pony up the premium.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Her iMac has been hit by lightning, though it survived only needing its modem replaced.