Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

My take on free email services, and getting pretty much exactly what you pay for.

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Several months ago in a response to a flurry of Ask Leo! questions resulting from a period of Hotmail flakiness, I wrote an article entitled "Are free email services worth it?". My position then was that with certain exceptions, they're not, at least not for anything important.

Well, it's happened again. Hotmail recently performed some upgrades that as far as I can tell have gone less than smoothly, and people are panicking. Here's my point: you get what you pay for.

If you're relying on a free email account for business or anything else that you really count on, you're just asking for trouble. To be honest, I'm just stunned at the number of people who are.

If the email account went away completely tomorrow along with all its saved email and contact information, would it be an inconvenience or a catastrophe?

If your heart just skipped a beat just at the thought, then take steps now to back up your information and get a supported email solution.

I know, all email services have problems, but the big issue with the free services is that there's no one to call. In fact, any information about outages, problems, and system status is usually pretty spotty. Your resources are limited to online faq's or support sites that may or may not have clear answers to your specific situation.

If your email is actually important to you, then spend a few bucks each month to get a real email account from a regular ISP or a mail service - one with real customer support.

For what it's worth, free email accounts are perfect when you don't care what happens to them. They're great when you need to supply an email address to a company you think might spam you later, or if you need or want to remain anonymous, or otherwise separate that email from your important stuff.

In other words are perfect throw-away accounts, but for Godsakes don't use a free email service for your primary or important email. You're just asking for trouble.

For the record, most of the problems I'm hearing about today all involve Hotmail, but my opinion stands for the other free services like Yahoo and Gmail. Today they seem more reliable, but I'll expect they'll have their own set of technical issues from time to time, and there's no one to call there either.

You can read more about problems folks are having with Hotmail including things to try, pointers to other resources, and more on ask-leo.com. Are free email services worth it? is article #478, which you can enter in the "Go to" article number box in the upper right. Also visit ask-leo.com for archives of these podcasts.

Article C2294 - February 28, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
Randy
March 1, 2005 9:22 PM

I like the "podcast" -- was a good way to get the info, since I could listen to it while doing something else at the same time (catch up on e-mail).

...Which I did from my own hosted e-mail. I agree it's very foolish to use a free account for anything mission critical, and am amazed to see people with their own domains using Yahoo or Hotmail accounts as their primary business contact method. If nothing else, it looks extremely unprofessional.

I think free e-mail accounts have their place, though; I have a couple, and use them as backups. Just today, I couldn't get a message through to a customer who was asking a question. No idea what the deal was with his system not accepting the mail, but I popped over to gmail and sent him a note, and he was quite glad to get a reply to his question. But I sure wouldn't use it as a primary address.

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