AOL launches free Web mail service

America Online introduced free Web-based e-mail service on Monday as part of the latest upgrade of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

America Online introduced free Web-based e-mail service on Monday as part of the latest upgrade of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

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

In addition to such features as spam filters, anti-virus protection, and the ability to drag and drop messages into folders, the new AOL e-mail service offers 2G bytes of memory. This places it on a level similar to Google's Gmail, which sports 2.3G bytes of storage. Yahoo currently offers 1G byte of free storage and Microsoft's Hotmail offers 250M bytes.

Though many services are well established in the free Web mail arena, the ongoing popularity of AIM will undoubtedly help promote AOL's new service. The free Web mail service is tightly integrated with AIM 5.9 -- the user's e-mail 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 e-mail sender or other message recipients are currently logged onto AIM.

Other features of the e-mail 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 e-mail and write messages in rich text HTML formatting, which allows for different colors, 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.

AIM 5.9 is now available from AOL's public Web portal .

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