You can't deny the popularity of Yahoo!'s (NASDAQ:YHOO) Web email service. If you don't use it yourself, you probably know plenty of people who do, despite a host of competitors who have been nibbling at the free Web mail space for quite some time. Yahoo!'s service is about to get a facelift, according to The Washington Post, but that facelift is old news, and it's been a long time coming.

If you need a refresher on the facelift's features, Yahoo! Mail's new look and feel will apparently resemble programs like Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) ubiquitous Outlook Express. Features will include drag-and-drop functionality, so that users may organize emails into folders, and a preview pane like those in many desktop email programs, revealing emails' contents before they're opened. A tab function will let users keep more than one message open at a time, while additional automation should allow for more frequent automatic email checks.

Yahoo! apparently owes the new features to its acquisition of Oddpost last year. As I mentioned before, though, Yahoo! already talked about this facelift this past June. Investors might wonder why it has taken so long for the new look and feel to arrive; the newfangled service is still just in beta testing for selected users.

The Post article points out that Yahoo! is the head honcho in free email, with 60 million users (according to data from Comscore Networks). Nevertheless, it still faces plenty of competition, most notably from Microsoft's Hotmail and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Gmail. (Gmail may seem to be in perpetual beta, but considering that it now hands out fistfuls of the once-rare invitations to join its service, it might as well be live.) Love it or hate it, Gmail successfully turned Web mail upside-down with novel features and massive storage space. Interestingly, despite all the buzz, Comscore data tallies Gmail users at a mere 5.4 million.

The promise of a new and improved Yahoo! Mail has dangled intriguing enhancements in front of consumers for months now, but it has yet to deliver the goods. Given the considerable amount of time between the acquisition of Oddpost and the delivery of a new product, investors may have good reason to wonder whether Yahoo! has become too slow on the draw in its attempts to fend off competition.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.