Free Webmail Review
Category: Email Services & Tools
In general, "free" is good, and a service that doesn't take money out of your piggy bank or business is a boon. But when we're talking about email, we're talking about your communication with others, and the various limitations of free service may actually cost you more than the very moderate fees for yearly service available these days. This article reviews some of the areas you should consider as you make the decision whether to use free webmail and if so, which service to choose. Armed with this knowledge, you can then go on to the individual service reviews to help refine your choices.
Before deciding whether free webmail is for you, it's a good idea to do both a little planning and a little prognosticating: How are you going to use your email – not just right now, but in the future? Are you going to want to have access to the email you send this week in the years to come? Are you going to want to grow with the provider you initially choose, perhaps moving to a paid service?
Answers to these and similar questions will help guide you for some facets of your choice.
As you make your decision, consider the amount of storage available and whether you can purchase more storage. Also, find out about the size limitations on incoming and outgoing emails and what the exact policy is for emails that may exceed your storage space or size limitations. In some scenarios, such emails may silently fail: i.e., you will never know that the email didn't reach its destination or was sent to you, unless you take steps outside the email service to track your mail.
Some free webmail services require your presence every so often to keep your account in good standing. Without at least signing in at least every so often, your account may be deactivated and even deleted. The terms of service do not indicate what kind of warning, if any, you may receive in this case.
All Dressed Up
Some free webmail services allow you to choose themes and add signatures and fancy emoticons to your email. And some "dress" your email themselves with pop-up ads, banner ads, and text ads. This certainly changes the "vibe" of your email, particularly if you run a business. And is it better or worse if the ads are context-sensitive and likely to be of interest (so the company says) because they're scanning your email in order to choose which ads you see? These are things to consider before you spring for free service.
Terms of service (TOS) have become a hot issue in 2009, because FaceBook silently changed theirs without alerting users and got caught in the act. Always, always, always read the terms of service. Look particularly for when and why service can be terminated (in some cases, your service can be terminated at any time, with or without cause); rights to your content (Google's Gmail TOS claims rights to your content perpetually, even if you terminate your service); and what can be done with it (some providers—reasonably—say they need rights to redistribute your content as you have indicated; others claim they can use—and alter—it for promotional purposes: is that okay with you?
Also read the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), because in at least one case, the free webmail provider (sneakily?) puts crucial information there that is not repeated in the TOS. Sometimes TOS is called "Legal" or some other name. When in doubt, ask the company.
Free webmail is not likely to provide you with customer service of any sort. If you need your email to work first time, every time, and you need recourse when it doesn't, paying for an email client might be a better choice for you.
In summary, if email is crucial to you for personal or business reasons, think and research carefully before you commit to a free service; keep up with the numbers as you use it; and recheck the terms of service every once in awhile. As you decide, check the reviews of Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hushmail, Hotmail, Mail.com, Inbox.com, AOL, and Lycos to help you make a decision.
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