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Post Database

Free Web and POP Email
By Thiravudh Khoman

In the August 25, 1999 issue of Post Database, Geoff Long ("Between the Lines") wrote about his search for a new POP email service after his Aussie-based internet service provider (ISP) shut down. While free webmail services are a dime a dozen on the internet, free popmail is less common - and for good reason. While advertisers can bombard webmail users with colourful/animated ads on all four sides of one's screen, short ads at the end of text email messages just aren't enticing enough to make free popmail viable.

Well, perhaps and perhaps not. Here are two "free" popmail services that I've recently discovered. The first is courtesy of American Express, the credit card people. Before you start typing https://www.amexmail.com though, there's a catch: Amex's free POP email is available only to holders of Amex credit cards. Auwe!


Like with countless other websites, free webmail is available here to anyone for the asking. Amex (figure 1) card holders, however, are eligible for additional "premium" services (mostly free). The best of these, in my opinion, is the ability to grab your email using a POP3 mail client (such as Eudora, Netscape Messenger, Outlook, etc.) and a generous allowance of 10 megabytes for email storage. Ask your current ISP how much mail storage you get and you'll see that 10mb is nothing short of terrific.


The second provider of free web and popmail is Yahoo! (https://www.yahoo.com) (figure 2). The catch here is that you must agree to receive informational emails (dare I call these "junk mail"?) on topics of interest to you, such as business, entertainment, travel, sports, etc. Yahoo!'s pop email is actually an add-on service (albeit a free one) which they call Yahoo! Delivers. During the sign-up process you have to choose how often you want to receive these emails - several times daily, weekly or "whenever appropriate". Anyway, you get the picture. For the more technically inclined, Yahoo!'s offering is particularly interesting because you also get access to their SMTP server, something roaming users or users of multiple ISP's will find useful.

If you're wondering about the other big name webmail providers, Netscape provides web and popmail similar to Amex. So similar, in fact, that they use the same underlying ISP; i.e. USA.net. As with Amex, pop email is an added premium service, but unlike Amex every one of Netscape's premium services costs money - about US$20 per year per service. Yucko! As for numero uno, HotMail, they doesn't seem to offer access via POP3 mail clients at all. Case closed.

Getting a Neutral Email Address

Geoff Long suggested, and I wholeheartedly agree, that it is highly desirable to have an email address (or more specifically, a mailbox) that is independent of any particular ISP. Given the downward trend in ISP pricing, especially the availability of non-peak time discounts, one could reduce costs by selectively using ISP's.

Unfortunately, obtaining an ISP-neutral email address is easier said than done, especially if you want to keep your costs down. Two years ago I rented a combination web/mail server (destined for corporate use) which allowed me to replace my ISP-provided email address with my own domain email address. Needless to say, though, this is overkill for most people and the costs are far, far from zero.

Taking another tack, it would seem that you could get your ISP-neutral email address from a webmail provider. But invariably this limits you to a browser interface only. Forwarding webmail to your dial-in ISP won't work either, simply because most webmail operators don't allow mail forwarding. Remember, they want to keep you at their site in order to read their ads!

As a general rule, I recommend dealing with email from a POP3 mail client rather than from a web browser, simply because it's so much faster and allows for offline work. This is doubly true for people who are forced to dial long distance to get their email. And it will be triply true if phone calls are ever charged on a per time unit basis. But having a web interface is nonetheless useful if and when your own computer isn't nearby. This dual accessability is why I find AmexMail and Yahoo! ideal choices for a permanent, non-ISP-dependent email address. Make that triple accessability: both AmexMail and Yahoo! permit mail to be forwarded to other addresses (e.g. to your dial-in ISP) as well. Bravo!

Copyright © 1998-2000, Thiravudh Khoman