Google last week increased the inbox storage of its Gmail webmail service from 1GB to 2GB, and it will continue to raise that ceiling in coming weeks and months, on a rolling basis, according to a Google executive.
"Since we introduced Gmail, people have had a lot of place to store email, but some of our heavier users have been approaching their limits and have been wondering what's going to happen," Georges Harik, Gmail's product management director, said last week. "So, starting Friday, we're going to give people more and more space continuously and indefinitely on Gmail, as we're able to technologically."
There are no current plans to increase Gmail's 10MB limit on attachment sizes, he says. There are also no plans to add capabilities to Gmail that would allow subscribers to turn the inbox storage into a full-featured virtual external hard disk, he says, although Google is aware that some Gmail subscribers are using the service for this purpose, mailing files to themselves to have them stored in their Gmail inbox.
The percentage of Gmail users approaching their inbox storage limit isn't large, but "they are a number that we care about," Harik says. "We want our users to understand that we have a plan and that we're anticipating their needs, and that there isn't something strange that's going to happen with Gmail down the line."
When it announced Gmail a year ago, Google rocked the webmail market, whose main players generally offered minimal inbox storage for their free services. For example, at the time, Yahoo offered its free webmail users 4MB and Microsoft offered MSN Hotmail users 2MB of inbox storage.
Since then, most major webmail providers have reacted to Gmail's inbox offer and have increased their storage significantly. Microsoft and Yahoo now both offer 250MB for their free services, and Yahoo plans to begin offering 1GB starting in late April. Both Yahoo and Microsoft offer 2GB inboxes with their fee-based webmail services.
A caveat with Gmail is that it is still technically in a test, or beta, phase, and isn't generally available. To obtain a Gmail account, one has to receive an invitation from an existing user; each current user has 50 invitations to give. Google also randomly offers Gmail accounts via its main Google.com web page.
Asked whether access to Gmail accounts would ever be totally open, Harik declined to answer. "We keep looking for ways to make it more broadly available to people who want to use it," he says.
While Gmail is free to use, it does feature text ads that are served up to users with each message they open; ads are based on each message's text. This feature caused an outcry from critics concerned about privacy, but Google responded by saying the text scanning is automated and without human intervention.