I have written several times about free e-mail services and, most recently, about Google's free e-mail service, called Gmail. It is a great service that revolutionized free mail services by providing one gigabyte of storage space for each subscriber. See my earlier articles about Gmail here and here.
Now AOL is offering a free email service with twice the storage of Gmail: two gigabytes. You can save thousands of e-mail messages and find them quickly any time you wish with the service's search features. AOL web mail also offers free spam and virus protection on all received messages. Like the Gmail service it is clearly trying to emulate, AOL web mail displays ads alongside messages.
AOL's new web mail service is tied into the company's AIM instant messaging service although you do not have to be an AIM user to get an account. If the AOL instant messenger client is left running all the time, newly-received e-mail messages will generate an on-screen alert immediately upon arrival. Messages can be read in a normal web browser.
Macintosh users will be pleased to know that the new AOL web mail service is compatible with Safari, although the pop-up notifications are not yet available with the Mac version of the AIM client. Windows users will need to upgrade to AIM 5.9.
To sign up for AOL's new web mail service, go to http://www.aim.com.
If you are presently using an e-mail service provided by your Internet provider (AOL, Earthlink, BellSouth, CompuServe, ComCast, RoadRunner, Shaw, Charter, Adelphia, etc.), I would suggest that you obtain a second account on one of the free services, such as Gmail, Yahoo, HotMail or AOL web mail. Having a second account is useful for many reasons, but especially if you should find a reason to switch Internet providers some day: you may find a cheaper service or a higher-speed Internet service, or perhaps you will move someday and no longer have access to the same Internet provider. In addition, with some Internet providers, accessing e-mail when traveling can be a problem. One advantage of these free e-mail services is that you can access your free e-mail account from any place in the world, including Internet cafes and many public libraries.
AOL members also find that a second e-mail account is sometimes needed to avoid the multitude of problems with AOL's erratic spam mail filters. More information on those problems can be found here.
Having a second e-mail account is always cheap insurance. Should you ever need to switch e-mail accounts, an abrupt transition can be traumatic. There are people to notify, mailing lists to change, and more tasks, depending on your situation. Starting a gradual change now to a free e-mail service will lessen the trauma if and when you decide to change some day.
Despite the new announcement from AOL, I must admit that I still prefer Gmail's free service at http://www.gmail.com. I suspect that present AOL members may prefer AOL's new web mail service, however. Still others may prefer Yahoo or HotMail. Any of the free mail services can simplify a future e-mail change.