WEBMAIL SERVICE COMPARISON
Dr. C.P.Bansal, MD, FIAP*
Secretary, IAP CMEG cpbansal@gmail.com *
We live in a busy world in which we are always on the move. We want immediate access to our friends, co-workers, and family via email. With the popularity of free online Webmail providers are constantly growing; there is a lot to take into consideration when applying for a Webmail account. Some areas of consideration are spam prevention and protection, security, storage space, accessibly and user friendliness, and speed. In the following article I will compare some of today's most popular Webmail providers with a goal of helping you narrow down which Webmail fits your needs.

What's the deal with Webmail?
Webmail is basically an application accessed within a web browser in which one can utilize all the necessary tools needed for sending and receiving email. Most Webmail services allow users to create new mail, receive mail from others, file messages into folders, add attachments, and reply to messages. More advanced features include spell check, automatic virus scans, sender blocking, spam prevention, and quick reply functions.
Webmail is unique because you can access it from any computer, anywhere in the world, at anytime, simply by logging into your personalized Webmail account. Additionally, Webmail uses online storage, so your accumulation of mail doesn't start to take up disk space on your computer.

Is one better than the others?
As mentioned above, there are many free Webmail providers which let you choose a personal email address and store your messages on a dedicated server. Generally, the application process is very straight forward. You enter a little information, create your desired email address and password, and within seconds you have a free, fully functional email account. But, what is it that separates one provider from another? Don't they all accomplish the same thing? Read on and I will compare the features of some of today's most popular free Webmail providers and help you choose which service is right for you.

The Webmail Comparison:
The contestants:
Google's GMail Beta, MSN's Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Lycos Mail, Netscape Mail
The Competition: The competition will consist of two rounds. In Round One, I will state my first impressions, elaborate on the user friendliness, compare the appearance of each individual Inbox, and detail the login and loading speeds of each provider. In Round Two, I will compare the features and functions of each provider in a comprehensive chart. Some of these features and functions will include Inbox size, difficulty of the application process, attachment size, spam filtering and prevention, and many more. The Winner: At the end of Rounds One and Two, I will give each Webmail provider, a score out of ten. The winner of the Webmail Face-Off will be the provider with the highest overall score at the end of the face-off.

Let me start the Webmail Comparison!!

ROUND ONE
GMail:
GMail provided by Google, is currently in a Beta state and there has been no mention of when a final version will be released. Yet, it is fully functional and offers the user a variety of advanced functions which aren't common to other Webmail providers. GMail fully supports Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Netscape, and Safari. It also allows for plain HTML viewing for older versions of Opera, and older versions of IE and Netscape. Being strictly an email service, a GMail account doesn't come packaged with an interactive organizer or notepad.

In appearance, the login and Inbox interfaces are just as plain and simple as Google's search engine. The light colors are easy on the eyes and do not distract from the important content (your Inbox). What makes GMail really unique is that it uses an advanced search function which groups emails of the same conversation automatically and displays them on the same page. The search function also allows you to search through your emails instead of making endless numbers of folders. This, in my opinion, is a big plus.

When it comes to user friendliness, GMail is top-notch. Links within messages are automatically underlined for easy access, text-based attachments can be viewed in HTML rather than having to download the files, and the settings provide understandable descriptions of what they do, so you aren't aimlessly guessing at which options are right for you. To top it off, GMail is available in 38 languages ranging from traditional Chinese to French. GMail logs in and loads messages very quickly. A normal login takes around 4 to 5 seconds on broadband and the same stunningly fast speeds apply when opening messages. Sadly there is a downside to GMail at the moment; to become a member you have to be invited by someone who already has an account. Or, you can apply for a free account via cellular phone.

Hotmail:
Hotmail was originally started in 1995 and was the first official Webmail available. Later when it was bought out by MS and became MSN Hotmail, it gained lots of popularity and currently holds 33% of the Webmail market. While Hotmail is intended to work with most browsers, I ran into one issue while trying to open my Inbox. I had Javascript permanently disabled in Opera 8.5 and Hotmail would not display my Inbox until Javascript was enabled.

The login page contains a little more content than that of GMail, however still easy to follow. Allowing for three sign-in options pertaining to the storage of your email address and password, you can choose to permit your computer to remember your sign in information or always request it. From my point of view, this is a very handy feature for those of us who like to check our Inbox in public places. Disappointingly, once you login, your Inbox turns into a billboard, plastered with graphical advertising. Though easily blocked in Firefox, I can't say the same for Internet Explorer, and quite frankly I am sick of cheap insurance offerings and online gambling contests. Another disappointment is that when you login you aren't automatically redirected to your Inbox, rather you are taken to an "entrance" or "welcome" (for lack of words to describe it) page, which displays nothing of importance

For the most part, Hotmail is easily navigational and maintains a decent level of user friendliness. Your folders are clearly displayed on the left and you can switch between viewing all messages to viewing mail from people on your contact list. However, Hotmail fails to display snippets of each message and messages of the same conversation are not automatically grouped, meaning you have to sift through a list of emails, all with the same subject title, with nothing else to help you find the special message you are in search of. On the bright side, Hotmail loads fairly quickly, taking around 5 seconds to open my Inbox and even quicker when opening individual messages. Additionally, with your Hotmail account, you have access to an online organizer, where you can have Hotmail notify you X number of minutes before your scheduled event.

On a whole different level of annoyance, I am extremely upset MSN and Hotmail. While logging into your Hotmail account in Internet Explorer, magically the process msnmsgr.exe (MSN messenger) starts up and it's notification icon appears on the task bar. Did I ask for MSN messenger to start? No, I simply wanted to check my Inbox for new mail. Did I want another process to start using valuable RAM without my consent? No. Then when I try to exit out MSN messenger I get a pop-up telling me that other programs are using features of MSN messenger and that I must close those first before closing the messenger program. For people like myself who rarely use MSN messenger, let alone would want it to be running without a purpose, this is a major upset.

Yahoo Mail:
The latest version of Yahoo Mail was launched in July, 2004. Later, feeling the heat when Google released GMail, Yahoo Mail bumped its free Inbox storage size to 1 GB. Yahoo Mail holds a large chunk of the world's current Webmail user's messages on their servers, topping out at just around 30%.

Yahoo Mail's login page is easy to follow and though it does contain one distracting graphic, the ability to log in isn't hindered in any way. Similarly to Hotmail, Yahoo Mail contains graphical advertising with a banner spanning across the page, just above the Inbox. Also like Hotmail, Yahoo Mail automatically loads to a "welcome" page displaying how many new email messages you have in your Inbox. Yahoo Mail isn't on the slow side either. While the loading times didn't break any records, they were on par with those of GMail and Hotmail.

Like the two preceding Webmail providers, Yahoo Mail displays your folders along the left side of the page, in plain view. Unlike GMail, Yahoo Mail does not display snippets of email messages to help the user locate certain messages quicker. However, Yahoo Mail makes up for it with their comprehensive tutorial services comprised of step by step instructions mingled between helpful images to assist even the most thick-headed Webmail beginner. Yahoo Mail also contains a built-in search function to assist in finding a certain email, from a certain sender, about a certain subject.

Right about now, I am starting to think that Yahoo Mail was modeled directly from Hotmail. With many similar features and a nearly identical interface, Yahoo Mail also has a Calendar in which you can schedule events, important dates, and so forth. With the additional ability to synchronize your Yahoo Mail's Calendar with your hand held device, it is apparent that with your Yahoo ID, you get much more than just an email account. Another little add-on is Yahoo Mail's Notepad, where you can jot down even the most trivial piece of information for later reference.

Lycos Mail: Lycos Mail, hosted by the online search engine Lycos, was the most difficult Webmail to receive an account from. With slight difficulties in locating the area to apply for an account, I was already disgruntled by their lack of user friendliness before I even got to evaluate Lycos Mail. Additionally, I could not successfully log into my Webmail account in Opera 8.5. On a plus side, login times were quite speedy at around 4 seconds.

Visually, I like Lycos Mail's Inbox. While many would probably differ on my inclination to this simple teal / white / blue scheme, nothing beats pure simplicity and non-distracting colors. Not surprisingly, the Inbox is bordered by graphical ads. Nevertheless, I realize that without advertising, Lycos Mail and all other Webmail services would most likely not exist. So, no matter how much I detest advertising within my inbox, it is unavoidable and essential to provide free services like Webmail.

For a novice to Webmail, Lycos Mail is definitely not for you. With troublesome folders and buttons, Lycos Mail automatically closes and rearranges any open displays when you click on another button. For example, I'm looking at a message and click reply. All of a sudden my Mailbox folders disappear and the buttons get rearranged, all without my consent. On the contrary, providing you can locate Lycos Mail's "Help" link, the guys at Lycos Mail have compiled a very intricate and simple-worded question and answer section to assist almost every issue you may run into.

One of Lycos Mail's most valuable features is that it allows for POP3 checking for up to 5 emails accounts, provided you know the needed information of your alternate email providers. While this is a pretty useful, and neat function, I doubt the ability to actually store the messages of 6 Email accounts with Lycos Mail's limited 5 Mb storage. Another neat feature of Lycos mail is it's personal email filtering where the user can specifically state which addresses they would not like to receive mail from, and opt to have those messages redirected to either a specific folder or the trash.

Netscape Mail: Netscape Mail is relatively new in the world of Webmail. Provided by the Netscape Communications Corporation, you can apply for a free email account and receive a screen name or if you already have an AOL or AIM screen name you can automatically sign into your inbox without having to register. After permitting various websites to execute javascript within Firefox and enabling cookies, I continued being bombarded with errors when attempting request data from Netscape Mail's server. And similarly to Lycos Mail, Netscape Mail refused to open in Opera 8.5 and was the slowest on the contestants while logging into my account at 7 seconds.

Moving on to appearance, Netscape Mail comes with a little more vibrant and exciting interface. It's light blue gradient background makes the white inbox and folders panel stand out and all important buttons are accented in a different color making them easy to locate. Following the ever-so popular, yet tiresome, normality of most Webmails, immediately after logging in you are greeted with a welcome menu and a large graphical ad hogging the center of the page. Additionally, there is a "Toolbox" punctuated in the upper portion of Netscape Mail's inbox which offers a lot of options for airfare rates, mapquest maps, and other useless links I don't care for.

Netscape Mail, in my opinion, is one of the more advanced Webmail services when it comes to user friendliness. When composing mail and replying to messages, a new window is automatically opened and despite the immense vertical ad, the user is presented with a very large workspace area. Netscape Mail also has a message search function and creating and sorting mail into folders is a breeze. Unusually, Netscape Mail automatically will log you out after 30 minutes of inactivity. While I was initially puzzled for why this occurred, I quickly realized it is a security measure (privacy protection) and is easily disabled or altered in your account's security settings.

Netscape Mail doesn't off anything out of the ordinary. Most issues are covered in the Help section, and with relative ease users can import their entire contact list. There is even a print function when viewing your address book and email messages.

Round One Scores:
Round One yielded many interesting results. Scoring mainly on user friendliness, appearance, compatibility, and general first impressions, it was tough to come to a conclusion. But after painfully subjecting each Webmail provider to torturous examinations (no Webmail providers were hurt in the production of this article), I managed to score each Webmail as fairly as possible. Let's see how they scored:

GMail : 8
Hotmail : 7
Yahoo Mail : 7.5
Lycos Mail : 6.5
Netscape Mail : 7

ROUND TWO
In Round Two, I have compiled a chart for comparing the individual features of each Webmail provider. I attempted to compare a few common features in addition to a couple unique features to help identify which Webmails struggle to meet the bare necessities and which went the extra mile.

Feature

GMail

Hotmail

Yahoo Mail

Lycos Mail

Netscape Mail

Inbox Size 2.5 Gigabytes + 250 Megabytes (For US Users) 1 Gigabyte 5 Megabytes 250 Megabytes

Attachment Size

10 Megabytes

10 Megabytes

10 Megabytes

5 Megabytes

16 Megabytes

Automatic Forwarding

Yes (+ POP3)

No

Yes (+ POP3)

No (But Receieves Other)

No

Message Filtering

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Spam Prevention

Yes (Report/ Filter)

Yes (Block/Filter/ Delete)

Yes (SpamGuard/ Block)

Yes (Report/ Filter

Yes (Filter Levels)

Anti Virus Scanning

Yes (Attachments)

Yes (Block/Filter/ Delete)

Yes (Attachments)

No

No

Text Formatting

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes (Power Editor)

Yes

Draft Saving

Yes (Automatic/ Manual)

Yes (Manual)

Yes (Manual)

Yes (Manual)

Yes (Manual)

Spell Check

Yes

Yes

 

Yes

Yes

Ease of Signup

Not Fully Available

Easy

 

Easy (asks personal info)

Easy

Folder Management

Label Creation (similar)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Integrated Address Book

Yes (+ Import/ Export)

Yes (+ Import)

Yes (+ Import/ Export)

Yes (+ Import)

Yes (+ Import)

Signature Creation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Message Search

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes



Round Two Scores:
Round Two was pretty close. Most Webmail providers offered very similar features, yet a few areas such as amount of storage, and maximum attachment size helped when it came to handing out the scores. Lacking essential features like Anti Virus scanning and automatic forwarding resulted in a loss of points, as did very low storage sizes. Take a look at the Round Two scores:
GMail : 8
Hotmail : 6.5
Yahoo Mail : 8
Lycos Mail : 5
Netscape Mail : 6

And The Winner Is...
After completing Round Two, the Webmail Face-off is over. The final scores are as follows:
GMail : 16
Hotmail : 13.5
Yahoo Mail : 15.5
Lycos Mail : 11.5
Netscape Mail : 13

Google's GMail came out as the champion at the end of the Webmail Comparison. With its simple interface, lack of graphical advertising, huge amount of storage, and outstanding user friendliness, GMail is a highly impressive Webmail. Trailing shortly behind is Yahoo Mail, leaving Hotmail, Lycos Mail, and Netscape Mail in the dust. While each Webmail provider functioned correctly, sent and received mail, and even allowed organizing messages into folders, they differ in many ways. I hope I have accomplished my goal of this article to assist in pointing out the variations in different Webmail providers and assisting you in finding which Webmail provider is right for you.
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