Is Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) getting a little bit better about beating its rivals to the punch? Today, it announced some interesting new enhancements to its free Web mail program, which should go into beta testing for select users within the next several weeks. Considering the origins of some of these features, though, this isn't exactly a move that came with lightning speed.

The enhancements include message previews, drag-and-drop filing, caching for shorter response time, and the ability to view email messages in different windows. And of course, there will be the ability to search email headers, body text, and attachments, a must-have feature in these days of storage and searchability. The new email will be compatible with both Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer and Firefox Internet browsers.

Some of the features come courtesy of Yahoo!'s acquisition of Oddpost, which was announced almost a year ago. It seems to me that perhaps this acquisition could have borne fruit more quickly, especially considering the fact that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) continues to pile on features and muscle up on the storage for its Gmail offering.

In email, as well as many other areas of the Web search wars, Yahoo! and other Internet companies have certainly indulged in a bit of "me-too-ism" ever since Gmail changed the competitive landscape of free email. Google's initiatives, such as expanded storage capacity, mandated that even giants like Yahoo! and Microsoft's Hotmail sweeten the deal to keep their free email users happy. Even Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online recently released a souped-up free email program, which ties heavily into its popular instant messaging service and also asserts AOL's desire to get a slice of the Internet advertising dollars that are available these days, as well as lure users to its services.

In the long run, the improvements to Yahoo!'s mail service are just more nice features that remind shareholders of two things -- first, that Yahoo! is defending its online turf in its own good time, and second, that the battle for Internet users' loyalty is far from over. Investors can expect no less when hoping for more quarterly reports like this one from Yahoo!

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