AOL launches free webmail service

Service allows unopened emails to other AOL users to be deleted if desired

America Onlineintroduced free web-based email service this week as part of the latest upgrade of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

By offering an alternative to its fee-based email service, AOL will compete with popular free webmail services such as those offered by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. AOL, a Time Warner subsidiary, also expanded its existing fee-based service to include unlimited storage, making it the first webmail provider to do so.

In addition to such features as spam filters, antivirus protection, and the ability to drag and drop messages into folders, the new AOL email service offers 2GB of memory. This places it on a level similar to Google's Gmail, which sports 2.3GB of storage. Yahoo currently offers 1GB of free storage and Microsoft's Hotmail offers 250MB.

Though many services are well established in the free webmail arena, the ongoing popularity of AIM will undoubtedly help promote AOL's new service. The free webmail service is tightly integrated with AIM 5.9 — the user's email address will be his or her AIM moniker followed by "@aim.com" — and the user will be able to access the mail service from his or her AIM account. Furthermore, an icon will notify the user whether or not an email sender or other message recipients are currently logged onto AIM.

Other features of the email service include the option to delete sent messages as long as they have not yet been read and were sent to an AOL or AIM address. Users of the service also will be able to spell-check email and write messages in rich text HTML formatting, which allows for different colours, fonts, and sizes.

Dial-up users will be able to access multiple screen names from multiple locations on the same account, a privilege previously reserved for high speed users only.

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