Saturday, July 24, 2004

The 1-Gig fight

Email space of 1 gig is not so uncommon now. Now did you realize that a gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes, enough room to store roughly 50,000 short, text-only messages. Phew! Actually after Gmail, I was curious about the ripples that this masterstroke would have on the free email landscape. I did some research on the net and immediately found out some facts that I want to share with you.

That Google's Gmail is still going to be 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! and Microsoft's Hotmail.

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 started April 5, just four days after Google revealed the existence of Gmail. Walla! Communications 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.

I think you should try both Spymac and Walla to see how they fare against Google and perhaps you may actually use the 250 MB space that Spymac gives you with the signup + blogging/photo gallery and so on... Let me know how the experience is.

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