The interface is worth describing in detail. From a design perspective, it is neither fish nor fowl: it’s much snappier and more responsive than a conventional web application, yet at the same time much prettier than a conventional desktop application. Panels slide out when needed and fold away when you are finished with them. It feels like a candy-coated swiss army knife, an appealing mix of aesthetics and pragmatic design.
Animated transitions are used to control the attention of the user and make the software as simple and engaging to use as possible. For example, when you tab through fields on a form, the currently selected field is surrounded by brackets, and contextual help for that field is displayed. This keeps the interface clean-looking while drawing your eye to where it should be looking in a very effective way.
Little touches make a big difference in perceived quality, something that Joel Spolsky has spoken of at great length (see his rants on the iPod).
At this point, google and yahoo are both offering rich web-based email clients, and upstarts like Zimbra also have excellent products available. So a new web-based email client needs to be have real “fit and finish” in order to have an impact. Laszlo mail has that.
The most interesting thing to me was the future vision for the product. Laszlo aims to build video and audio capabilities directly into it’s web-based email client. What will this look like? You can imagine, at a minimum, voice email and video email. Or what about video-phone functionality? Or a zero-install skype? All these things would be possible since LaszloMail is built on top of Flash, and Flash has excellent support for two-way audio and video.
Laszlo describes this category of software a “digital life applications”. They are the consumer analog to what I’ve been referring to lately as collaboration tools, possibly the fastest-growing and most interesting software-on-demand category right now. Exciting stuff, and a good sign that Laszlo has a vision broader than simply yet another email client.
Some glitches still remain. Due to a Firefox / Flash 7 bug, cutting and pasting from text areas is unreliable (Note to John Dowdell: this is the same bug I pointed out in Yahoo! Maps last week). And while the text of the email can be formatted in dozens of ways (font, color, italics, etc), I was able to cause some glitchy behavior in the text layout. But overall this is an outstanding web application that is worth checking out (once it is available to the public).
Update: the laszlo mail team now has a blog. Not much content there yet, but it’s early days.