I've updated this post and moved it back to the top of the list to get some user feedback now that our blog is fully live. I had originally posted this before we got the blog linked to Web Mail for all users to find it.
We're working on a new and improved layout and style for Web Mail to release in Q3 2007. Web Mail 6.0 will fix a number of usability problems, make the layout more logical, and have an updated, cleaner look-and-feel. Here's a mockup that is still being refined.
Over time the left navigation panel has become cluttered with additions and become somewhat disorganized. The new layout takes the task links out of the left panel and puts them in a convenient toolbar over the main content area. The left panel will then only contain folder links and not primary tasks, which are all being moved to the toolbar. Some of the other changes are:
- Moved the signout link to the top.
- Made the Inbox the topmost folder, as it should be.
- Grouped the protection features and spam folders together at the bottom.
- Improved the "Move to" control to be a one-step action.
- Made the preview toggle much more obvious and intuitive.
- Eliminated the visual clutter of all links being underlined as almost everything is a link.
- Allow hiding the folder panel to get a larger Inbox view.
- Updated the syling to be more visually appealing.
The improved layout and particularly the toolbar will pave the way for some performance changes we plan to make using AJAX to dynamically refresh the content area when task buttons are clicked. That will eliminate some of the full page refreshes that occur today when you change tasks or views. We already do this today with the Compose view. Click on "Write Message" in Web Mail today and you'll notice that the view changes instantly without fetching anything from the server and without refreshing the page. This idea will be expanded to other tasks.
Something we won't be doing to Web Mail, is going in the direction we see a lot of other Web Mail providers taking, where they are making pages very graphics-intensive in an attempt to make Web Mail look more like a stand-alone email software application (client application) running on your own computer. We believe a web application must first and foremost be light-weight and responsive, and that it shouldn't try to imitate a heavy client application. The concept shown here will have about the same weight as the existing Web Mail, hopefully even less.
As always, feedback is welcomed.