Miscellaneous Ramblings

Free and Cheap .mac Alternatives

Charles Moore - 2002.09.23 - Tip Jar

This article has been superceded by 8 free POP3 email options published 2008.08.25.

Next Monday, an estimated two million plus mac.com email addresses and a lot of iTools homepage content is going to go "poof" when Apple pulls the plug on iTools users who have not ponied up for the replacement .mac for-fee service.

Last week Apple announced that only 100,000 Mac users had subscribed to the .mac suite of Internet services and software since it was launched in July, and even if there is a last-minute rush of procrastinators signing up as the deadline looms this week, the vast majority of roughly 2.4 million iTools subscribers will be letting their subscriptions lapse.

Christian Thomas, product marketing manager with Apple's application product marketing, was quoted saying that Apple had rejected the idea of offering a second, free track for email akin to ad-supported offerings from MSN or Yahoo! "It's not Apple's business model to throw advertisements in users' faces," Thomas commented.

Uhhhh . . . what do they think the mac.com and .mac names are if not advertising? Anyway, I have no problem with ad-supported services. I quite happily use the ad-supported version of Eudora's email client.

Personally, I've phased out use of my mac.com email addresses, the only iTools service I ever used. I'm not about to pay $100 - or even $50 - annually for an email address when I can get extra ones from my ISP for Can$5 a year. And there are still a number of good free POP3 email services around, although the numbers have been thinning since I last addressed this topic in the spring. This month, ZapZone terminated free POP3 service (webmail remains free), and E-Omni Net, while still free, has stopped accepting new signups.

The .Mac Services Overpriced Concerns online petition demanding that the .mac price to be lowered overall for all subscribers, perhaps by 50% or more (to $25 for previous iTools subscribers, $50 for brand new customers), offered free with every Mac purchased, and that .mac email remain free at least for those who already have a iTools email addresses, has received upwards of 34,000 signatures - more than a third of the number of .mac signups. However, I would rate their chances of changing Apple's corporate mind as slim to nil.

There are of course still dozens 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. 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 with Internet access. However, for most of us, POP3 email is more convenient.

POP3 email is the type of email account you access with client software like Eudora or Netscape Messenger or a wide selection of others. Incoming messages are received by a mail server and stay there until you download them to your own computer. With POP3, you can do all your email work offline except for the actual sending and receiving of messages, which cuts down immensely on online time used, 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

MyRealBox

I've been using MyRealBox for more than two years, and except for a few timeouts (Novell offers this service as a product testbed and warns that this will happen from time to time) it has proved quite dependable and fast. MyRealBox also offers SMTP support for outgoing mail.

MyRealBox does not allow advertising and supports any standard based email client. Novell hosts this service to showcase its NIMS product and to test it in a real world environment. There are currently over 150,000 users despite the fact that Novell has never advertised the existence of the site. MRB currently runs on three NetWare servers. NIMS also supports the Linux and Solaris operating systems. However, MyRealBox will not accept any Yahoo! Groups email messages.

Features:

  • MyRealBox is a free email service with no advertising.
  • Provides users with up to 10 MB of E-mail storage.
  • MRB No Spam Policy

Not much else to say about this one. It works well, but there is that occasional downtime.

HotPOP

HotPOP LLC is a privately held company based in Newton, Massachusetts. Founded in 1998, HotPOP offers email accounts from various domains with a combination of features not found with other providers.

Features:

  • POP Access: Use almost any mail client you wish
  • SMTP Access: Send mail through the HotPOP server (you have to check your email first). You may include up to 50 recipients on a single message.
  • Mail Forwarding: Have your mail resent to up to three addresses.
  • 10 MB Quota: Store thousands of messages
  • Server-Side Filtering: Block mail and spam before it hits your inbox
  • For fee ad-free opt-out option.

Signup is easy. Just fill out the form and survey, and you are ready to go. An email will be sent to your old email address with your password and some helpful information. If you are using a POP account, you can log in right after you configure your client.

HotPOP currently has seven domains to choose from and says they constantly searching for new ones. Memo: Keep looking, guys - most of these are pretty lame.

  • HotPOP.com
  • ToughGuy.net
  • PunkAss.com
  • BonBon.net
  • Phreaker.net
  • SexMagnet.com
  • GameBox.net

I've had a HotPOP account for nearly a year now, and I've been impressed with the service. Once in a while the server is a bit sluggish about answering, but it always comes up.

subDIMENSION

subDIMENSION freemail accounts are for personal use only; commercial use of the service is prohibited, and there is a zero tolerance policy regarding spam of any type.

subDIMENSION is a collaboration of professional Web developers, content contributors, and users from around the world whose goal is to form a community based on the ideas of its constituency, with the website being a collection of tools for its users to communicate and interact - not just on subDIMENSION, but on the Internet at large.

I signed up for a subDIMENSION account last spring and, aside from a few days of downtime last summer when the service changed hosts, I've found it quick and reliable.

GMX

GMX is a German-based free email service, and, like most things technical and German, it is very well done.

You can get free POP3 and webmail access (GMX FreeMail Classic)with 10 MB of server storage space and anti-spam protection.

Features:

  • 2 email addresses within an account
  • 10 MB mailbox storage capacity
  • POP3/SMTP (SMTP after POP)
  • Attachments to 5 MB
  • 30 day retention time for your email
  • directory
  • anti-spam protection
  • numerous files and filter functions

If you don't know German, you will find the following free Web translation services extremely helpful for the signup procedure:

I do have a smattering of German, but I still found them a great help.

I've been using GMX a lot since signing up last spring, and it has been fast and rock-solid reliable - worth the hassle of the German-language signup.

SoftHome

SoftHome is a dedicated email service. I've had an account with them for several years. This one works well. There is also an upgraded for-fee professional service available.

SoftHome pledges:

"You'll get a free email address you can use for the rest of your life. It won't go away when you change jobs; it won't go away when you graduate; it won't go away when you change Internet Service Providers. No matter what happens in your life, your family and friends will always be able to reach you at your SoftHome address."

Let's hope they are more sincere about this than Apple was.

Inbox.lv

Inbox.lv is the largest provider of free Web-based e-mail in Latvia.

Inbox.lv offers 8 MB of storage space. If you do not sign in to your inbox.lv account for 60 days or do not sign in within the first 10 days, your account will be marked inactive. Stored email and addresses will be deleted, and inbound mail will be refused. If your account stays "inactive" for over 90 days, it may be permanently deleted.

Inbox.lv can be viewed in a variety of languages. You can make the language of an Inbox.lv session match the language of the sign in page used to begin that session. You currently have your choice of: English, Latvian, and Russian.

Inbox.lv offers both Web-based and POP3 access to mailboxes and messages.

I've been using Inbox.lv for several months now, and while I've occasionally had trouble getting the server to answer (crowded lines between North America and Latvia?), I've found it good. No SMTP support, though. You have to send mail through your ISP's server.

FreyasLand

FreyasLand is a ZapZone derivative, but it has a less complex signup procedure, and is still free.

HowlerMonkey

This one is a bit different, in that you are required to provide your valid home address and wait for HowlerMonkey to send you your login and password info by snail mail. This is an anti-spam strategy, and I suspect it works well. I've never received any spam I can recall from the howlermonkey domain.

Both POP3 and outgoing SMTP services are offered (POP before SMTP authentication) and you get 3 MB of space for storing messages. The service places a text ad on the bottom of every message passing through the system. If it's interesting, read it; there is usually a link in it to click on if you want to visit a Web page to learn more. No interest? Drive on. Beats paying bills. There is a maximum of 10 recipients per email.

HowlerMonkey spam policy:

"We aggressively fight spam and will do anything in our power to make a spammer's life unhappy. if you are looking for someone to help you to spam, you best look someplace else, we crave your gonads as a neck tie. You are a parasite, and a public nuisance, and usually refuse to pay the fees of a 'legitimate' mass mailing firm."

Some Services Available at Reasonable Prices

TheMail.com

TheMail.com offers free Webmail, but for 5¢ a day you can add an additional 10 MB of email space and POP3 access, merge mail, file manager, filters, and an autoresponder

Features:

  • Autoresponder
  • Address Book
  • WebMail CheckIt! (check and send email right from your desktop)
  • Mail Filters (unlimited filters)
  • Auto Forward (forward your mail)
  • Extra 10 Meg disk space
  • File Manager (store files)
  • Calendar/Reminder Service
  • POP3 access (for use with Outlook, Netscape Mail, etc.)
  • Vacation Messages
  • POP3 retrieval (to get your email from other server(s))
  • WAP access (access your email from your cell phone)
  • Merge Mail (send personalized email to a list)

Select Mail - Almost Free

Select Mail offers free email with features that Yahoo! and Hotmail charge extra for, plus you can choose your own custom email address (e.g., you@yourchoice.com) as long as you select one special offer (e.g., a $6.95 Video Professor trial).

Features include:

  • Free custom email address (e.g., you@yourchoice.com)
  • Free webmail interface with no annoying advertising
  • Free POP3 and SMTP access that works with Eudora, Netscape, etc.
  • Free 6 MB of storage space with large file attachment support
  • Free SpamShield that filters out junk email
  • Free support

Select Mail says that by selecting just one special offer, you generate enough support for an entire year of ad-free service. They also claim that Select Mail is more reliable than AOL, Hotmail, or Yahoo! Mail because it's powered by the email experts at Everyone.net, a reputable email service provider.

Regarding the custom domain name, you will be the domain registrant, the possessor of the domain name. Additional fees apply to transfer your domain name to a different registrar and/or modify your domain name record. Your own custom .com, .net, or .org email address - .biz and .info are available for an additional $9.99. You can use Select Mail with a domain name that you already own.

To renew your account after the first year, you'll receive a reminder before your anniversary to select another special offer (if available). At that time, you will also have the option to pay for Select Mail ($24.99 a year). Failure to renew will result in the loss of your domain name and email service interruption. If you would subscribe to Select Mail without fulfilling a special offer, Everyone.net has premium email services starting at $34.99 a year.

Select Mail includes a single email address. Additional email addresses (with 6 MB of storage each) can be purchased in groups of 5 for $19.99 a year.

You can receive any size file attachment (up to 6 MB) so long as it does not exceed the amount of unused space available. You may upgrade to 25 MB of total storage space and 10 MB file attachment handling for $19.99 a year.

Free 56k Dialup Internet Access from Nettaxi

Nettaxi.com now offers free unlimited dialup (up to 56kbps) Internet access.

Nettaxi supports its free Internet service by working with large companies that want to see more consumers using the Internet. They get their partners to pay for all of the Internet costs of Nettaxi members in exchange for asking members to accept their offers. Most of the services, including many credit card offers, are free.

You can also upgrade to Nettaxi.com "Premium" 56k Dialup Internet Access with no more offers to complete for $14.95 per month.

Nettaxi also offers free Web-based email.

Nettaxi Free Internet access works on the following operating systems:

  • Macintosh
  • Windows 95/98/NT/2000/ME/XP
  • Linux

Mac and Linux users do not need to use Nettaxi's software to connect with this service. Instructions on how to configure your system will be sent to your email address when registration is completed.

Note that all of these services demand a small quid pro quo, either some time, a nominal fee associated with signing up for a "special offer," or just a small fee - much less than Apple's $100 tariff for .mac if all you want is an email account.

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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, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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