When I read that Yahoo! had just completed a major update to its online email system, I suddenly realized that I still had such an account; in fact, I’ve had one for years, although I rarely use it. Maybe that’s because I never regarded it as an essential part of my online communications. It’s not that having a “yahoo.com” appended to one’s user name should convey a feeling of prestige, dismay, or any feeling at all. I suppose the same can be said for “aol.com” these days, although it does appear “gmail.com” still has a semblance of a cachet. A semblance, yes, but not to me.
In any case, Yahoo! announced a major facelift to the venerable email service this week, offering a spiffier interface, generous display of targeted ads, and, naturally, integration with social networks, including Face-book, Twitter, and, surprisingly, even Google.
The most important improvements include doubling the speed of the Web-based client, superior spam filtering and the ability to send attachments of up to 100MB each. That’s a huge deal, because even commercial email systems often limit you to a mere 20MB, which has helped spur the growth of online file transfer services, such as YouSendIt. Not that 100MB is necessarily large in the scheme of things, but any improvement is better than none.
According to published reports, Yahoo! email has 277 million users, while Google has 220 million for the Gmail service that only recently exited the “beta” stage. Microsoft’s spam-ridden Hotmail remains number one with 327 million users, but that’s after shedding eight percent last year. To me, Hotmail, Live Mail, or whatever you wish to call it, remains at the bottom of the list when it comes to free email systems.
The real comparison, however, is between Yahoo! and Gmail, and that’s where the former fails. Yes, Yahoo! is prettier than the workable Gmail interface, though the latter gives you loads of themes with which to customize the basic appearance. Gmail also limits you to attachments of no more than 25MB for the free service.
You can ditch the ads with Gmail if you subscribe to Google Apps, at $50 per user per year. Yahoo! Mail Plus, at $19.99 for the year dismisses “graphical” ads, and also offers offline access via a conventional email client, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
You see, the options offered by the free Gmail are far more extensive. Most important, Gmail supports both POP and IMAP access for offline reading. Yahoo! Mail Plus is limited to POP, with no offline support for the free version.
Now to me IMAP is de rigueur for email systems, because it means that all your messages are stored in the cloud (and cached on your computer). This enables you to switch from one device to another without losing messages, or having to download the same email all over again. This is a pretty significant feature, especially when you consider that most people these days are sharing email accounts on personal computers, smartphones, tablets, and other gear.
So as much as Yahoo! is to be applauded for attempting to deliver an online email service that’s more relevant in the second decade of the 21st century, forcing you to pay extra for offline access, and not offering IMAP at any price, is just a bad move. The other issue is whether it’s worth the bother. Even if you have a legacy account, other email systems, such as Gmail, will let you access your messages from other services.
Besides, if you truly want to personalize your email, you might find it more convenient to get yourself a personal (or vanity) domain, such as <yourname>.com, and set up a cheap hosting account. That’s true even if you don’t intend to create a site.
You see, they all give you email as part of the package. There are also low-cost email packages from the major hosting providers that include decent spam protection, functional online access, and the ability to use your favorite email client on any personal computer, whether it runs the Mac OS, Windows, or even Linux. You won’t get targeted ads, and you won’t be a spam magnet, and, of course, you can use IMAP. Well, amend that. Only the “Unlimited” email plan at GoDaddy offers anything but POP; they remain the ultimate bait and switch experts in the industry.
In saying that, if you must have free, I suppose Gmail is the best of the breed. You can even use it for your personal domain; the setup instructions are found in the free Google Apps Domain Manager, but, again, you’ll want to pay for the full or business service if you want freedom from ads, and, in fact, customer support, more or less. But when it comes to support, Gmail hasn’t a clue, and the same can be said for Yahoo!
For now, I intend to keep my accounts at Yahoo!, Google, Hotmail, and even AOL. Maybe I’m lazy, but it’s probably because I need to write about them from time to time. That is, so long as they remain around to write about.
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