Free POP3 Email
This article has been superceded by 8 free POP3 email options published 2008.08.25.
Practically everyone reading this column already has an email address provided by their Internet Service Provider, employer, or school, but there are many advantages to having one or more additional email accounts to separate, say, business mail from private correspondence, or to maintain a permanent personal email address not associated with your employment or present Internet provider. If you have kids, it's convenient for each to have his/her own email address.
I simply couldn't get along efficiently with just one email account. I have about 20, which is probably excessive, but it does help me keep my electronic correspondence organized, separating mail associated with the several websites and publications I write for from each other and from personal correspondence. Another advantage I've found is that if one particular email server goes down temporarily, it only affects a relatively small proportion of my email traffic.
A very cool thing is that having multiple email accounts need not cost you a cent. There are gazillions of free email services on the Internet - the vast majority of them Web-based, which means that you must access your mail with a browser like Netscape or Internet Explorer. Web-based email can be convenient if you travel a lot or need to access your mail from computers you don't own, because you can use any computer, anywhere in the world, that has Internet access. However, for most of us, POP3 email is more convenient.
POP3 email is the type of email account you get with your Internet Service Provider. Incoming messages are stored on a mail server and stay there until you download them to your computer using client software like Eudora or Outlook Express. With POP3, you can do all your email work offline except for the actual sending and receiving of messages, which cuts down immensely on connect time. And since both outgoing and incoming messages are stored on your own hard drive, it's always easy and convenient to access your archives.
Free POP3 email services are not as common as free Web-based email, but there are still a wide selection to choose from. Many of the services are ambidextrous, offering both POP3 support and web access on the same account.
The best place to check out the current status of free POP3 email (or Web-based services) at Edwin Hayward's excellent Free Email Website, which provides links to a selection of currently available free email services.
I use a variety free POP3 email services. The following short reviews are based mostly on personal experience.
iTools is, of course, the premier free email service for Mac users. I've been using iTools for email since the service inaugurated last year, and I have found it both quick and dependable. I also like the short domain name (mac.com) when typing my email address. iTools offers a wide variety of other Web-based services. The setup process is the main shortcoming of iTools - you have to download an installer first, and you must have Mac OS 9 or later for it to work. There used to be a Website with a URL that you could use to bypass the OS 9 restriction, but it no longer works. There may be others that still do. Happy hunting. However, once you jump through installation hoops, this is an excellent free email service for Mac users.
I've been using MyRealBox for over a year. Except for a few hiccups, it has proved quite dependable and fast. MyRealBox also offers SMTP support for outgoing mail. Not much else to say about this one - it works.
Crosswinds is a free website hosting service that offers POP3 email. I've been using them for three years and, aside from a few temporary outages, their server used to be quite dependable. But recently the Crosswinds POP service has become very flaky, with slow (or sometimes no) response, and people reporting that messages sent to me at Crosswinds bounce. You can check your Crosswinds inbox and/or send mail with a browser, which is convenient. You are not permitted to run email listservs from Crosswinds.
Nettaxi is another website hosting service that offers free email. I've been using Nettaxi for more than three years, and it has been reasonably reliable. Nettaxi is one of the few free POP3 services that provides for outgoing mail through their own SMTP server and has a zero tolerance policy for spam. However, they seem to have recently imposed a limit of half the dozen or so emails that can be sent out at a time, presumably has an anti-spam measure. This is not very convenient for users like me on dialup connections, who tend to work offline and queue up large numbers of emails to send out at once.
Unbounded Solutions offers a fairly new free POP3 email service. I've been using them for about a year, and have found unbounded.com email to be reasonably fast and reliable. However, they have no SMTP support, so you have to send email through your ISP's SMTP server. You can also check your unbounded.com inbox with a browser by logging in to their home page.
Saintmail is an explicitly Christian free POP3 email service that also offers Web-based access and 5 MB storage of email messages. I've been using Saintmail for more than two years, and they are very reliable. Saintmail used to offer SMTP support, but they discontinued it due to abuse by spammers. Note that Saintmail tech support is not available on Sundays.
Visual Cities is yet another free Website hosting service that offers free POP3 email as part of its 10 MB member package. Reportedly their email server is reliable and reasonably fast, as well as being easy to configure.
SoftHome is a dedicated email service. and I to use it, but gave up on SoftHome when they went through bad patch of unreliability. Reportedly the service has improved recently.
My original Yahoo email POP account was with the GeoCities Website hosting service before Yahoo took it over. I've found Yahoo/GeoCities to be reasonably dependable, but it's frequently sluggish about logging you on, and the signup procedure is tedious. One advantage of Yahoo's service is that it supports SMTP for outgoing messages (you have to check your email box first). And it is backed by a very large organization, so it is not likely to disappear on you. You can also check your Yahoo email inbox and operate your account using a browser, which is convenient when you are away from your own computer.
There lots of other free POP3 email services that I haven't tried, many of which are listed on the Free Email Website, and I expect that some of them at least are very good services as well.
Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, and he is a news editor and columnist at Applelinks.com. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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