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E-mail capacity is exploding

Source: Freep.com


Google's Gmail prompts storage increases by rivals

E-mail is going through a huge change this year, as providers race to stay ahead of the much-anticipated launch of Google's free Gmail service.

Gmail will offer a massive 1-gigabyte inbox. Established players are responding with big increases in their free inboxes, while unknowns are trying to make a name for themselves.

This turmoil is very good news for free Web e-mail users, who can escape the tiny confines of 2- or 4-megabyte inboxes that can overflow with just a few dozen messages. A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes, enough room to store roughly 50,000 short, text-only messages.

But there are also risks. There's no guarantee free e-mail providers -- particularly the smaller ones -- will endure, raising the possibility of shutdowns that could block users from stored messages. And none of the free e-mail sites is giving users the tools they need to manage huge inboxes -- at least, not yet.

Google's Gmail is now in an invitation-only testing process. It's not clear when the doors will officially open or what features may be added before then. But knowing that Gmail is coming sooner or later, the rest of the industry has moved quickly, including the two dominant players: Yahoo! (http://mail.yahoo.com) and Microsoft's Hotmail (www.hotmail.com).

On June 15, Yahoo! increased the size of free inboxes to 100 MB from 4 MB. For $19.99 a year, the inbox can grow to an awesome 2 GB -- twice the size of Gmail -- and users are spared the annoying billboard-style ads that otherwise plague Yahoo! and most free services.

On June 25, Microsoft said it will expand Hotmail's free inbox from 2 MB to 250 MB before the end of the year. For $19.95 a year, undercutting Yahoo! by all of 4 cents, users can get 2 GB.

And two small companies are already offering free 1-gigabyte inboxes: Spymac (www.spymac.com) started April 5, just four days after Google revealed the existence of Gmail. Walla! Communications (www.walla.com) became the second entrant July 7.

These preemptive strikes may not work. I spent several days trying Spymac and Walla!; I've also had an invitation-only Gmail test account. Gmail, in short, blows them away. Unless Google somehow manages to make the final product worse than what it's previewing now, which seems extremely unlikely, Gmail is definitely worth the wait.

Walla! Mail has a clean interface, with only a single banner ad on each page, but lacks such basic features as filters for sorting incoming mail that have long been available in Yahoo! and Hotmail.

Spymac was unreliable for me. I got repeated error messages when I tried to set up an account but got through doing the exact same thing a day later. Last week, I encountered more error messages when trying to access my inbox -- an outage that lasted for half a day.

Meanwhile, all the services I've mentioned are hiding a ticking time bomb: what to do when your gigantic mailbox gets near to full. Even the biggest inbox will fill up someday, at which point you're blocked from receiving or sending more messages.

What's needed are tools for managing bulk deletion, such as features to erase all messages older than a certain date or erase messages from specified senders.

I asked Google, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Walla! and Spymac about this. They acknowledged the problem and said they will implement solutions before most people get anywhere near their limits.

I hope so, because free Web e-mail is a valuable service that's getting much better with the arrival of Gmail.

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July. 22,  ISSUE #040

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