Gee, Mail? Yahoo Upgrades Its Free E-Mail

In the old days - say, back in 1998 - people paid to get access to their e-mail. Remember? AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy were all popular "portal" sites that offered news, message boards, all kinds of games and other content along with their e-mail programs.

It seems kind of quaint, doesn't it?

Well, not so quaint to the folks who use "free" programs like Hotmail and are constantly barraged with encouragment to pay for "upgrades." And not so convenient for users of gmail, who enjoy a lot of virtual storage space but can't group or manipulate files with much ease.

We asked Dan Ackerman, a senior editor at the tech site cnet.com, to evaluate the current crop of e-mail programs.

Before his Saturday Early Show appearance, Ackerman answered a few questions about e-mail programs.

SATURDAY EARLY SHOW: IF YOU'RE CURRENTLY USING YOUR WORK E-MAIL ... WHAT'S YOUR ADVICE?

Ackerman: It's fine but people get too reliant on it. If you lose or change jobs, then all of a sudden you lose your contacts, so it's important to have your own personal e-mail that will stay constant no matter where you're living or what you're doing.

AND IT'S FREE SO IT'S NOT HARD TO DO ...

Right, there's no reason not to.

SHOULD PEOPLE EVER BE PAYING FOR E-MAIL?

Old e-mail systems always wanted to get you to pay $20 or $30 a year. But when gmail came out they took that out of the equation. They said, 'Hey, this is free for everybody' - and in the past, people hated that Hotmail and Yahoo were always trying to sell you (trying to get you to upgrade, etc.).

For some of these systems (like Hotmail) it's still kind of the same way, but Hotmail made their services a lot better.

SO LETS TALK ABOUT THE SERVICES: YAHOO IS NEW - WHAT'S THE INITIAL RESPONSE?

The initial response has been positive. They spent a couple years working on it, they say, 'Here's this new thing' and it's actually really good.

WHAT ARE THE STANDOUT FEATURES?

They've taken all the cool stuff you can do in Outlook and made it a web e-mail program. You can drag messages into folders, you can right-click and forward to somebody. You can't really do that in any other Web-based program

IT'S NEW, BUT ARE THERE BUGS?

Not so far, but it is a little slow at the moment - though it's only been out for a couple days so that'll probably change.

SO HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO GMAIL?

Gmail has been the leader of the online free e-mail space. It's easy to use, very streamlined, and until this new Yahoo version it's been the leader. But you can't do some of these things you can now do on Yahoo, so I'm sure Google is working furiously on their own upgrade right now.

AND WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON HOW GMAIL "READS" YOUR E-MAIL (AND PROVIDES "APPROPRIATE" ADVERTISING)?

Not a big fan of "reading" your e-mail. I still find it disturbing, I don't care it's a computer, I still don't like it. It's a little unnerving. Gmail does offer you can buy extra storage space but they're not always pestering.

You have to remember, these two (Google and Yahoo) are in mortal combat for control of everything - going at each other, neck and neck, like Coke and Pepsi. The one con for all of these sites - because they've been around for a while the name you want is probably gone.

SO IS ONE BETTER?

If you have a lot of e-mail and want to be able to organize it, check out Yahoo. If you don't use e-mail a lot and just want to be able to sign on, send an e-mail, get off, gmail is fine.

HOTMAIL AND AOL?

Hotmail: I can't think of anyone who's signed up in the last 7 years. It was popular in the '90s - a lot of people still have Hotmail, but they've added storage. No one should be switching to Hotmail, but if it works for you that's fine.

AOL: They're free - basically the same as what they've been offering for users that have used it for a long time. There's no reason to start a new AOL account, (they're) way behind the others. They're not going to be developing anything new for AOL mail, they're just keeping it alive for the people who still have it.

ANYTHING NEW ON THE HORIZON?

Used to be back in the Wild West days of the Internet, everyone was starting up a new e-mail service, but people went out of business. So now people tend to stick with the big guys (Google, Yahoo) because they know that their web address isn't going anywhere. And I would definitely look forward to see where Google is going to go with this now that Yahoo has come out with their new system.
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