This article has been updated for July 2013. See the new article here.
Is Gmail Still the King of Webmail?
I have used both Gmail and Hotmail since 2004 and 1997, respectively. I've transacted over 14,000 emails across both platforms, and accumulated over 6GB of saved data between the 2 services. Until now, I've preferred Gmail for organizing and sending my voluminous messaging. I would go so far as to say Gmail has been the king of webmail services for the last several years for multiple reasons.
The question: is Gmail still the best free webmail service today? Let me offer you one person's answer in the form a pros and cons list below.
Gmail Pros: The Upsides of Gmail
1) Gmail 'stacks' and organizes conversations into threads. As you receive and send messages, the emails are automatically grouped according to the subject line, regardless of the age of the conversation. As someone replies to you, Gmail automatically brings up all previous related messages for your reference in a collapsible vertical thread. This conveniently reviews what has been discussed before, and spares you the effort of searching folders to see what you wrote 4 weeks ago. This feature is absolutely invaluable to organizers, team managers, public relations, professionals, and anyone who communicates with many people and needs to keep accurate tracking on the details of each conversation.
2) Gmail has very thorough malware and virus checking. This is also invaluable because it removes 99.9% of the risk that your computer will be infected. Not only are file attachments saved on Google's Gmail servers, but Google constantly updates its anti-malware software to give you the most modern anti-virus protection possible. When a nasty payload does make it to your inbox, Gmail will send up a warning and immediately quarantine the offending payload to keep your personal computer clean. Whether you are an email beginner or a computer expert, this malware protection will serve you well.
3) Gmail offers a one-stop portal for calendaring, file storage, photo hosting, Youtube, blogging, financial advice, and more. Because Google combines ('federates') all of its main services into your Gmail navigation bar, it is very easy to go about your computing day from a single interface. Book your appointments, upload your files for sharing, read the latest news from the Olympics, see the lates YouTube memes, find a restaurant, and surf the web... all from the bar at the top of your Gmail window.
4) 10+ GB of email storage space. 10 gigabytes is 5 times more space than most people need, but it's comforting to know that there is no pressing need to delete anything. If you are a packrat mentality and like to hang onto emails 'just because', then Gmail is an excellent choice. If you are a clean freak, then consider tagging and archiving your read emails so they vanish from your inbox, but relish that there is no urgency to delete.
5) 25MB per email capacity. Yes, if you want to send 25 megabytes of file attachments to a friend, Gmail will support that. While many people's inboxes won't take more than 5 megabytes, another Gmailer can. Most people will never use this capacity, but it's good to have for when you return from that trip to Europe, and you have a boatload of photos you want to send. Yes, using file storage services online are probably more convenient in the long run, but for those rare instances where a big send is necessary, Gmail is a good choice.
6) Really good uptime. 'Uptime' is how many days per year that the service is working properly. In the case of Gmail, I have only seen 2 server crashes in 8 years, and both crashes lasted less than an hour. For a service that charges me 0 dollars, I cannot complain.
7) Composing a new email has many rich text features. 'Rich text' is about having the full ability to use stylish fonts, colors, indents, bullets, hyperlinks, emoticons, and the pasting of photos directly into a message. Gmail offers all of this, and its functionality is 8/10 strong. On some occasions, I find that the copy-pasting doesn't quite preserve font and paragraph formats, but it is still very possible to make your emails look like a beautiful and professional documents.
8) POP3 and combining multiple emailboxes into your Gmail. Gmail will connect to your other Exchange and online emailboxes and combine them in your Gmail inbox. Conversely, Gmail lets you send email with the identity of your other accounts. This is invaluable to people who use Outlook at work, or who use different email addresses. Many power users choose to use Gmail instead of MS Outlook as a way to protect themselves from viruses and malware, but still access their work messages. Good work on this, Gmail! 9/10
9) Keystroke shortcuts. If you are a hardcore typist, then you can enable keystrokes to speed up your messaging. Press 'c' to compose a new email, press 'e' to archive a message, press 'm' to banish the conversation from your inbox, and more. For those people who do use Gmail shortcuts, this feature is both confidence-inspiring and very convenient.
10) Spam handling is excellent. Gmail does a very good job of scanning your incoming emails and identifying unsolicited email by patterns. This is the power of Google at work, folks. The annoying offers for cheap pharmaceuticals are kept to a minimum, and quarantined quite conveniently in your spam folder. Good on you for the powerful anti-spam, Gmail!
11) The Power of Google. Yes, when you come from a family as powerful and wealthy as Google, you're going to have the backing of hundreds of fulltime employees and a powerful brand that people trust. This means: the Gmail service gets fulltime maintenance attention, the clout of a respected Gmail.com domain name, and the lateral benefits of YouTube, GoogleDrive, Flickr, Google+, and Google Maps. It's nice when Gmail is respected enough that you can use it as a business email address without stigma. It's also nice when you have so many related services at your fingertips.
12) The Speed of Google. Gmail delivers messages very quickly. VERY. While the competition of Yahoo! and GMX will take 30 seconds to 5 minutes to actually post your messages to the recipients, Gmail delivers its goods within 10 seconds of you pressing send. Thanks to the expensive and widespread network of Google servers around the world, Gmail users can benefit from near-instantaneous sending.
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