Updated at 8:00 Eastern time with details on Windows Live Hotmail, Microsoft's still-in-beta competitor to Yahoo and Gmail.
Updated at 5:30 Eastern time with more pros and cons from readers.
The differences between Yahoo's and Google's e-mail services are mainly matters of taste. It's hard for me to understand how anyone could live without Gmail's speedy interface and its "conversation view" feature -- which groups together all your outgoing and incoming messages that share a subject line -- but fans of Yahoo's system say they like its layout, which is similar to that of desktop e-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook.
Now Yahoo is adding one more feature -- you can send free text messages to mobile phones. The addition, which the company announced this weekend, blurs the boundaries between e-mail and other modes of communication, a move that Yahoo says is a response to customer demand. Users of the new Yahoo mail system -- which has just been moved out of Beta mode -- will also find deeper integration with maps and other Web content.
I'm still not sold. But in case you're thinking of switching, take a look at my handy pro and con sheet:
- Very fast interface; responds quickly even on an ancient machine.
- Advanced search functions worthy of the name Google.
- Conversation view.
- Tagging -- like folders, only better.
- Tons of geeky users, and consequently a deep knowledge base of hacks and master tips and tricks.
- Ads are minimal -- only text-based Google ads, and no promotional tag lines in outgoing messages.
- E-mail attachments up to 20 MB in size.
- Free POP access; check your Gmail address from desktop mail clients.
- Only about 2.5 GB of storage -- pay extra for more. Prices start at $20 a year for 6 GB.
- Browser compatibility: Officially, Gmail supports IE, Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape, and Safari. No official support for Opera, and reports indicate that some functions don't work in Safari. Gmail offers a reduced-functionality version that should run on most every browser.
- Interface has the look and feel of a desktop mail client, including drag-and-drop capability -- great if you want something that looks familiar.
- Free unlimited storage.
- Tabbed layout; a nice feature if you want to compose different messages at the same time.
- Send SMS text messages to phones (only available for phones in the U.S., Canada, India and the Philippines).
- You can sort your messages according to sender, subject line, and several other factors.
- Interface can be slow and temperamental, especially on slower computers.
- POP access only available in Mail Plus, which costs $20 a year.
- Free service has lots of ads: graphical ads all over, plus promotional messages in outgoing mail. There are fewer ads in Mail Plus.
- Free service limits attachment size to 10 MB and limits e-mail organizing filters to 15; increase your attachment size to 20 MB and get 50 filters in Mail Plus.
- Browser compatibility: Officially, Yahoo supports IE, Firefox, and Safari. No official support for Opera, and reports indicate that some functions don't work in Safari. Yahoo's Classic version should run on most any Web browser.
- Like Yahoo, the interface has the look and feel of a desktop mail client, including drag-and-drop capability.
- Again like Yahoo, you can sort your messages according to sender, subject line, and several other factors.
- The system has a built-in audio player that lets you play e-mailed songs from within your browser.
- Free POP access
- 5 GB in free storage -- less than Yahoo, but more than Gmail.
- Browser compatibility: Officially, Hotmail supports only Internet Explorer and Firefox. But some of its functions work only on Internet Explorer. The "classic" version -- the old Hotmail -- should run on most any Web browser.
- Its interface can be even slower and more temperamental than that of Yahoo's.
- Lots of ads: graphical ads are all over, plus promotional messages in outgoing mail. Additionally, it does not work with the AdBlock Firefox add-on.
- Attachments are limited 10 MB.
All systems also include spam protection, mobile access, and a contact management system; Yahoo and Gmail also have chatting.
Am I missing any pros or cons? Let me know, and I'll add them to the list.