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The leading internet search companies on Wednesday stepped up their rivalry, with Yahoo releasing a new version of its e-mail service and Google launching a search engine to track the millions of web logs being created online.

The “beta” version of Yahoo Mail, tested on a limited number of users before its final release, may be viewed as a threat by Microsoft to its Outlook e-mail software. , a part of its Office suite of programs. It mimics many Outlook features, including preview panes that allow e-mails to be viewed without being opened, a one-button delete feature and the ability to drag and drop e-mails into different folders.

This is all done inside a web browser rather than users having to turn to Windows to launch a program.

Earlier this month, Google launched an update to Google Desktop that represented another inroad into Windows’ dominance by allowing users to launch programs without recourse to the Windows interface.

Yahoo said the new e-mail version was “the most significant enhancement to the Yahoo mail interface and user experience since its launch in 1997”. It uses technology developed by Bay area start-up Oddpost, bought by Yahoo last July.

Yahoo Mail dominates web-based e-mail in the US: it had 64m unique visitors in July, compared with 49m for AOL, 44m for Microsoft’s Hotmail and 5m for Google’s Gmail, according to comScore Media Metrix research.

Google’s new Blog Search service indexes the millions of personal web journals that have become an internet phenomenon over the past two years.

Google could hit the growth of a number of small specialised blog search engines. Technorati, Feedster, IceRocket, Blogpulse and Daypop have all helped users find the internet chatter largely ignored by bigger search engines.

On Wednesday, Blog Search found more than 4,000 references in blogs to its own service within hours of its launch. “IceRocket and Technorati must be worried. AlreadyFor me at least, it gives the same links as those two, and much faster,” said one poster.

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