Hotmail users have been hit with a new sanction against overusing the free service, in a development that at least one local software seller sees as spelling the decline of free email and an opening of the market to more competition.
In an email notice to users in the UK and the US, headed “MSN Hotmail Account Freeze Policy”, Microsoft warns Hotmail users that if they exceed the volume limit in their email box, currently 2MB, their account will be “frozen”.
This means “you won’t be able to send any messages. You will not be notified of emails sent to you that are bounced back [but] you will still be able to access your account and read current emails.”
Accessing your mail and clearing the over-limit volume will get the account unfrozen again, Matt Bostwick at XtraMSN says, but the sure way of avoiding recurrence of the problem, Microsoft UK's notice hints heavily, is to pay a fee for a larger mailbox. The charge quoted in the UK is £19.99 per year for a 10MB mailbox, but the figure is only $US19.99 in the US.
XtraMSN has implemented the overflow sanctions in New Zealand, Bostwick confirms, but the larger, paid mailbox is not yet offered here, though plans are in progress to do so. A New Zealand price for it cannot yet be quoted.
Microsoft has for some time declared its right to delete Hotmail emails and attachments over the 2MB limit. These are not recoverable even after the user has appropriately reduced mail volume.
Norman Holtzhausen, CEO of Auckland messaging software company Unified Communications, says other MSN communications services such as messaging and chat depend on having an active email account, so suggests these may also become unavailable with the freeze. Bostwick, however, denies that any other services will be affected.
Microsoft’s promise of comparatively trouble-free email at a price signals a change in the business model of email services, and will allow the telcos into the market, Holtzhausen says. Telecom and its rivals have not seen it as worthwhile to offer an email service, other than as part of a paid subscription to their associated ISPs while the free alternatives like Hotmail have been in the market, he says.
If paying for email becomes the norm, other companies like telcos will enter the market, he believes.
Yahoo is said to be considering a similar move to strict sanctions against exceeding email limits and a paid alternative.
In what looks like a desperate measure to generate advertising revenue, Yahoo reset many users’ “marketing preferences” earlier this month to indicate a desire to receive any and all marketing messages from Yahoo itself, though not, the company says, from its “partners”, companies from all spheres of business who send Yahoo users promotional emails in areas they have opted into.
Now Yahoo too is about to tell its users that free email is on the way out, says sources close to the company.
Yahoo announced earlier this month that it will offer a “premium” paid service for online game-players; “another step in the web giant's quest to squeeze out profits during an industry-wide advertising slump", says website The End of Free, which is devoted to the topic of the drift to paid in place of free internet services.
Meanwhile though, some US-based free email hosts are fighting back, republishing the Hotmail notice in news and discussion groups with a promotion for their own free services with larger mailbox limits (up to 6MB).