Too much mail to handle? These services should help...

Email - either you love it or you hate it. We love it. It's there in our list of the universe's ten best ideas, right after women! But unlike the fairer sex, which has been leading the popularity sweepstakes since the days of King Arthur, email has only recently become the medium of choice for quick and painless communication. Consequently, free and commercial email service providers on the Web have been mushrooming faster than...well, mushrooms!

So we thought that it was about time someone took a look at all these email services and separated the wheat from the chaff so that the next time you want to open an email account online, you know exactly where to go and what to avoid !

Here, then, is our guide to the four best free email services on the Net.

For purposes of simplicity, we have created the following four categories of email services:

  1. Web-based services: These services allow you to read and send mail only through your Web browser. In other words, your browser acts as your mail client. So far as we can see, this approach has absolutely no advantage other than the fact that your mail is accessible to you from any computer with an Internet connection. While we agree that this is certainly useful, its usefulness is limited by the fact that it is much slower than a traditional mail client like Eudora, requires you to be online for as long as it takes you to read and send email and does not usually allow you to store your mail on your local PC.

Most of the online email services fall into this category.

  1. POP3 services: These services allow you access to a POP3 mail server, which allows you to download your messages to the local PC and read and reply to them at your leisure. Not only is this approach flexible, because it allows you to use any email client such as Eudora, Internet Mail, Outlook, Netscape Mail et al, but it has the added advantage of allowing you to save messages on your local PC and does not require you to be online to reply to your mail. All you need to do is connect to the Net, download your mail and disconnect. Once you have composed your replies, you simply reconnect and send them all at once.

Allow us to confuse you further by informing you that POP3 is simply the Post Office Protocol version 3, one of the two standard email protocols, the other being SMTP or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.

  1. Mail forwarding services: These services assign you an email address but do not provide you with any interface to read and reply to your mail. All mail sent to this address is automatically forwarded to another user-specified address [Programmers, think infinite loop and giggle maliciously]. While the usefulness of such a service is certainly limited, it has the unique advantage of giving you a permanent email address; so if you change your ISP, all you need to do is update the forwarding information and your mail will automatically be redirected to your new email address. Simple and transparent, wot?

  2. Intelligent email services: These are the services which not only reply to your mail for you, but also bring you breakfast in bed, clean the dishes, cook dinner, whisper sweet nothings in your ear and wash the car every Sunday. Now for the bad news: we haven't come across even one of this breed yet!!

OK, enough of the chitchat...can we cut to the chase now?

We had to mention this one first...IOHO, it is quite simply the best email service on the Web. Here's why: It not only provides browser-based access to mail, but also POP3 and forwarding services. In other words, it satisfies three of the four categories we've listed above.

But that's not all: it allows you to collect and consolidate mail from other POP3 compatible services, block junk mail, set up a vacation reply and an online address book, schedule automatic email reminders and filter mail according to predefined criteria. And all this at an unbeatable price...absolutely free!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have only one thing to say...this service is amazing ! We swear by it...'nuff said!

From a simple directory of Web sites to a full-featured portal offering online gaming, an online pager and calendar and a free email service, Yahoo is certainly going places. We particularly liked the YahooMail interface as well as the simple and straightforward registration process. However, Yahoo only allows you to read mail through your browser - there is neither POP3 access nor mail forwarding facilities. Other than that, Yahoo provides the same facilities as USA.NET. Now if they only allowed us access to their POP server, they would have a real winner!

It should be noted that Yahoo allows you to save your login information as a cookie on your hard drive. This may be viewed as a convenience by some and a security hole by others...we really don't have an opinion either way!

HotPOP is an email service with a only allows you to access mail via a POP3 server. So you need a package like Eudora on the client side; you cannot use your Web browser to read your mail. In addition, HotPOP will append a small advertisement to the bottom of your email, as the service is advertiser-supported.

We thought that this was a great idea...matter of fact, we wish there were a few more services like this. And we were also impressed with the reliability of the service - so if you don't need the features of USA.NET, then this is a great alternative.

And last, but definitely not the least, NetForward - a truly great mail forwarding service. And what makes this one special is that it actually works on all seven days of the week. Registering for an email address is pretty simple - there are a million domains to choose from, and your account is usually activated within an hour. You can open as many accounts as you like...but be a good Netizen and delete them if you decide not to use them.

NetForward also provides URL forwarding...more on this in an upcoming issue.

Now, the more astute of you might have noticed that in our little round-up above, we have omitted to mention the granddaddy of free email services, Hotmail. And then you might have wondered why.

Allow us to enlighten you.

There are three very important reasons why Hotmail failed to rate a mention. One, reams have already been written about it, and we like to be...different. Two, it fails to provide POP3 access and mail forwarding services, and a revamp of its interface is long overdue. While it functions perfectly as a browser-based email reader, both Yahoo and USA.NET are far ahead in terms of features and usability.

We realise that you might not agree with us...but hey, that's why we live in a democracy! ;)

Well, we've pretty much said all we wanted to say on this it's time to go!

We hope you found our review useful, and that it makes your online life easier. If it does, we want to hear from you...and if it doesn't, well, we want to hear from you anyway!

Till next time...stay healthy!

This article was first published on01 Sep 1998.