Q. Now that Google is offering Gmail to anyone who wants it, is it better than my Yahoo mail? — Kevin
A. The use of free “webmail” (Web-based e-mail) systems has always been a great tool for fending off spam and junk mail.
Our advice to everyone who uses e-mail on a regular basis has always been to have two accounts; one private address that you guard closely and only give out to trusted senders (family, friends, etc.) and a free webmail account that you use for everything else (newsletters, online purchases, auction sites, etc.).
This will limit the amount of junk that inevitably builds up for anyone who uses the same e-mail address for a long period of time, because most of the junk will get sent to the free webmail account instead of your primary “sacred” account.
Once the free webmail account gets overrun with junk, you can simply discontinue using it and sign up for another free account using a completely new address on the same system (so remember not to use the free account for anything important that you will want years down the road).
Some additional advantages to these free Web-based e-mail systems is that you will never have to worry about backing up your messages or addresses (they reside on remote servers that are maintained by these big companies), message filtering technology is constantly updated by the companies, and you can access your mail from any Internet connection on the planet.
The disadvantages of webmail include being bombarded with ads (that’s why they’re free); being a prime target of spam, phishing and malware senders; and facing a higher risk of security breaches because it is Web-based. The Catch-22 of popular webmail systems is that the bad guys know that tens of millions of users are on the system, and they can literally guess any user name on the system with a high likelihood that a real user has that name.
The best webmail systems allow you to access your primary (POP3) account as well as the webmail within the same interface. In other words, you only need to look at your webmail screen to see both your private account and the webmail account messages.
This is why the two account approach works best; each system has its strengths and weaknesses and they complement each other.
As to the question of whose free service is the best, I think you will find most technically astute users prefer the Gmail system over all of the others for a number of reasons.
Google decided to really push the envelope when they launched their free-mail system, because they knew that they would have to present compelling reasons for users to switch.
These reasons include the most storage of any of the major systems (currently closing in on 3GB – great for backing up your pictures!). Also they don’t charge you if you want to check your personal e-mail account. And it’s generally faster than all the others, has the best search capabilities (a godsend for those of us who deal with thousands of messages per month), and the ad interface does not overwhelm the system.
Until recently, you had to be invited by an existing user to get a Gmail account, but now anyone can sign up for an account at www.gmail.com, and I highly recommend it.