Busy executives needing constant email access as they trip around, especially in more remote regions, will usually join global Internet access providers or large local ISPs which offer international "roaming" links. But there are alternatives.
A number of US Web organisations, such as Hotmail, RocketMail, GeoCities, Yahoo, Lycos and Bigfoot, offer free email services, usually paid for by the attachment of an advertisement to your email message.
AltaVista — part of Digital Equipment — for example, offers an ad-funded service which lets travellers read email and forward messages, or choose their own personalised address using 300 name types, such as mail.com, doctor.com, engineer.com, for $US15 a year. They can add access to their mailbox from a chosen email program for $US23.95 a year.
Most of the other providers offer similar services, and all have limits on the size and number of attachments due to storage constraints. Hotmail, a company Microsoft bought in December of last year, says there are limits, but does not give them. You also have to search to find the admission that advertising funds the service. Hotmail provides browser users with a URL page from which they can send and receive email. It can also be used to converge as many as four POP3 email accounts into a central location. Built on Unix systems and directories, Hotmail has about nine million subscribers.
RocketMail, put out by online directory providers Four11, is being combined into Yahoo's free email service. It allows a personalised address book and other services, such as access to users' other email accounts via the POP3 client protocol. RocketMail assigns ads to you based on what interests and job details you put on your sign-up form. It has a 1.5Mb limit for message attachments and a 3Mb total limit on storage.
Bigfoot offers free forwarding and distribution, letting users copy emails to five email accounts. You have to pay about $US20 if you want services like merging messages into one email address or message filtering. However, these services are not perfect. When one of Computerworld's reporters tried to find her name on the Bigfoot database after registering some time ago, it could not be found. Still, they're free.
The market is only beginning to be explored. New Australian company Info-Bank Online (infobank.au.com) is planning to offer members free email access in addition to a range of services from a personal contact database, to a notepad, to-do lists, a diary, Web site bookmarks, file storage and a search engine.
However, regular road warriors suggest that joining a global outfit may give you a better chance of logging on because of a greater number of dial-up nodes. IBM, for instance, has 1300 dial-up nodes and toll-free help, which can be a boon if travellers are in a non-English-speaking country.
But if you don't mind giving out information on yourself or a few ads being attached to your email messages (and your email address probably being sold around the globe unless otherwise instructed) and you don't carry a notebook and are moving around on the cheap, a Web-based free email service may be just the ticket.