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Hot on the Web

Web e-mail grows up some more

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 7, 2007
(Issue 2536, Can Johnny Stay in and Play?)

E-mail today has all the glitz and sex appeal of a roll of postage stamps. Nearly everyone has an e-mail account, even Great Aunt Ida. It's boring.

And yet, for those who use Web-based e-mail accounts, that boring, stodgy old tool is about to get a whole lot more useful.

From Google opening up its Gmail to the world to Yahoo lifting any storage limits to AOL/Netscape's improved Webmail client, the entire free Webmail world is in a period of transition to something both easier to use and more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.


While Google's Gmail is still officially in beta testing (some three years after it first launched!), it's now open to the general public – anyone can go to the Gmail home page and sign up for a free account. Previously, an existing Gmail user had to send you an invitation if you wanted an account.

It's still free, and storage is now up to almost 2.9 GB per account. (The Gmail welcome screen contains a kind of neat little ticker that shows the per-account storage limit creeping slowly upward – you get bored enough, you'd be surprised what you're willing to sit and watch.)

And, if you already have an existing Google account for searchs, maps, AdSense or any other Google service, you now have a Gmail account as well (even if you're not using it).

Yahoo Mail

While Yahoo has been getting beaten pretty soundly by Google in the stock markets, the boardrooms and even the news headlines, score one for Yahoo in the Web mail category.

Yahoo Mail is the first of the major free Webmail services to offer accounts with no storage limits. None.

Sure, Gmail shook things up three summers ago with its 1 GB storage limit. At a time when Yahoo offered 10 MB of storage, Netscape 5 MB and Hotmail a paltry 2 MB of storage each, 1 GB was a mind-boggling increase. It was one that forced all of the above services to radically re-tool their Webmail services in order to maintain their market share, and the online advertising dollars that accompanied that market share.

But now, rather than trying to compete with Google and it's steadily increasing storage space, Yahoo has simply thrown out the limit. Store as much as you want.

And as cheap as hard drives and other storage solutions are of late, Yahoo's per-account overhead for data storage is probably still less than it was five years ago when everyone was only eligible for a few megabytes.

Accompanying Yahoo's rollout of unlimited storage is the launch of a beta version of its own Webmail upgrade. A JavaScript-based interface, the new Yahoo beta mail system (when you log in to Yahoo Mail, it automatically checks your Web browser to see if it will support the new interface) is cleaner and also more compact, meaning that more information can be displayed in the same area. By going with a smaller typeface that is nonetheless very easy to read, Yahoo can now display far more messages on your monitor than before.


A few years after AOL bought online pioneer Netscape, the two Webmail services were combined into one. And Netscape/AOL, now AIM Mail, also has a very polished, apparently JavaScript-generated interface similar to Yahoo's new look and feel.

More to the point, AIM Mail also has the same unlimited storage that Yahoo has.


Now renamed Windows Live Hotmail (which at least restores the Hotmail brand; a previous beta version of Windows Live dropped the Hotmail altogether), Hotmail also has a sleek, dynamically created interface. It's just as modern, sleek and easy to read as the others.

Oh, and Gmail's almost 3 GB of storage?

Yeah, forget about it: Hotmail now offers 5 GB.

Best of all, Windows Live Hotmail now works with the Firefox, Opera and Netscape browsers – not just Microsoft's IE, as was originally true.

Opera Webmail

Opera's Webmail, on the other hand, currently offers 5 MB of free storage.

That one may not catch on.

At least it keeps Gmail, only a year ago the leader in offering the most free storage, from occupying last place.