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Opera has unveiled a free web-based email service along the lines of Gmail or Hotmail.

Announced with a blog post but little other fanfare, the service is currently in beta, and it's available to anyone with a My Opera account.

"Our goal is to make a fast and friendly mail service that is efficient and easy to use on any device, whether you prefer to access your e-mail from Opera Mini on a mobile phone (dedicated mobile interface), a tablet with touch interface (large, comfortable buttons), or a desktop computer (extensive keyboard shortcuts)," reads the inaugural blog post from the Opera Mail Team.

The team and the new beta service grew out of FastMail.FM, an Australian email provider Opera acquired last year. "Those who have already used FastMail.FM will recognize a few bits and pieces," Opera says. But "major parts" of the service have been rewritten with AJAX. In other words, parts of the service are AJAX but others are not.

Reminiscent of Gmail, related messages are "grouped into conversations, so you can read all the replies at once". According to Opera, it originally planned to build this "conversation view" into the Opera browser's built-in "M2" mail client as far back as Opera 7, but this never quite happened. "Grouping all messages in a thread as a single page makes even more sense for a web service than a native application, so we decided to put in the extra effort to support conversations across folders on our Cyrus IMAP servers," the company says.

The new service also includes spam protection, and it has been tested as a closed beta for "a few weeks".

Opera Mail beta

Available at https://mail.opera.com, the service is short on bells and whistles at this point. There's not even a "settings" interface. But Opera has promised to expand the service as the beta period moves along. Some settings are taken from My Opera, including your name and your time zone. The company has also said it plans to include folder management.

You can log in to the service with the same username and password you use for My Opera, Opera Link, or Opera Unite. And if you don't currently use these services, you can instantly use the new email beta after signing up for a new account. Currently, each account provides 1GB of storage space. ®

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