Miscellaneous Ramblings

Free POP3 Email Services

A 'Best of Miscellaneous Ramblings' Column

Charles Moore - 2001.10.02 - Tip Jar

This article has been superceded by 8 free POP3 email options published 2008.08.25.

My March column reviewing several free POP3 email services has been one of the more popular articles on Low End Mac recently, Dan Knight informs me. However, as we move into the fall season, there have been quite a few changes in the free POP3 email orbit, so an update is in order.

For one thing, there are fewer free services available than there were earlier this year. Edwin Hayward's excellent Free Email Website, which is a good place to check out the current status of free email services, has just one page listing free POP3 services (Web-based free email continues to abound).

One of the older names in free POP3 email, Crosswinds, has announced that its free POP3 and email redirection service will be terminated as of October 11th, 2001 and replaced with a US$19.99 per year fee-based service. Web based free email access will remain. Until October 11th, current users have the option to pay a yearly fee of US$7.99 to continue using the POP3 service.

In a statement, Crosswinds says that reason behind this change is the sheer abuse of their services by spammers and the resulting bans from other domains and ISPs because of it. "Abuse has taken a very large toll on our service and workload, and it's time to fix it." So the scumsucking, bottom-feeding spammers ruin something else for the rest of us.

In July, the Christian-operated Saintmail free email service also announced that it would will not be supporting POP3 accounts after August 15, 2001, because the service's main sponsor would not be able to support the effort after August. Web-based free email would continue at Saintmail with enhanced features.

However, Saintmail says it was not expecting the many requests from Missionaries in Communist countries to continue the POP3 service. In many less developed countries, email access is paid for by the minute, making POP3 much more convenient and economical for that and other reasons. The organization says that its "dilemma is how to continue without visible means of support while supporting the needs of these men and women of God who are taking God's Word into hostile areas." They have therefore decided to continue making POP3 access available provisionally for now and hold off on making a final decision until "later." If anyone would like to help Saintmail out as a sponsor, I'm sure they would like to hear from you.

E-Omninet, providers of the very slick yifan.net free POP3 email service, have also informed users that E-Omninet may be switched to a fee-based service in the future. The free service will continue to be provided for current users, although some limitations might be applied. No announcement has been made yet.

Yahoo! and Nettaxi have both switched to providing only Web-based free email for new signups, although POP3 service for existing users has been grandfathered, and Unbounded Solutions, which was also included in my previous review, seems to have just disappeared. VisualCities has shut down its entire operation, including its former free POP3 service.

There are lots of free email services on the Internet, but the vast majority of them are Web-based, which means that you must access your mail with a browser like Netscape or 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 with Internet access anywhere in the world. However, for most of us, POP3 email is more convenient. Some free email services are ambidextrous, offering both POP3 support and web access on the same account.

I much prefer POP3 email to Web-based services. I have a slow dialup Internet connection, and using Web based services is painfully poky. I also prefer to have all my email archives, incoming and outgoing, on my hard drive without going online to retrieve them. With POP3, you can do all your email work offline except for actual sending and receiving messages, which cuts down immensely on online time used.

There are many advantages to having multiple 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.

Here's an updated rundown of some free POP3 email services I've checked out:

Apple iTools

Apple's iTools is the premier free email service for Mac users. For some reason, Edwin Hayward has removed it from his listing, but mac.com email addresses are going strong. I've been using iTools for email since the service inaugurated last year and find it both quick and dependable. I also like the short domain name when typing my email address. iTools also offers a wide variety of other Web-based services when a sign up for an account. 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, and it has proved quite dependable and fast. MyRealBox also offers SMTP support for outgoing mail.

MyRealBox gives you free email. A Web-based client is included which allows you to send and receive messages from anywhere, as long as you are connected to the Internet. If you have a favorite client that supports the Internet messaging standards (POP or IMAP), you can choose to continue to use that client but choose MyRealBox as your mailbox host.

  • MyRealBox provides 10 MB of space for your messages and attachments.
  • You can choose any POP or IMAP client such as Eudora, Outlook Express, Netscape/Mozilla, Nisus Email, Sweetmail, or many others. For a guide to all (I think) Mac POP3 email clients, see Moore's Omnibus Mac Email Client Roundup.


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 discontinued it due to abuse by spammers. Note that Saintmail tech support is not available on Sundays. Also see my comments above regarding some ambiguity about the continuance of the POP3 part of the Saintmail service.


Softhome is a dedicated email service I used to use it but gave up on SoftHome when they went through bad patch of unreliability. Reportedly the service has improved recently. I checked it out this week, and its signup procedure is slick and fast.

SoftHome offers Free POP email service with a generous a 30 MB/500 file quota. Keep in mind, however, that SoftHome does expire old messages. SoftHome sends users ads in their mailbox to offset the cost of providing the service. Web access is also available.


As noted above, this fast, very professionally administered service is considering a switch to fee-based service, but the free service for existing users will be "grandfathered." E-OmniNet features free POP mail with SMTP access for sending messages (check for mail first to unlock the anti-spam protection), and 2 MB of storage space for holding messages, together with a further 2 MB for storing online files or for use as a free homepage. Also included are a file manager, address book, bookmarks, solar and lunar calendars plus event reminder. The site is in Chinese and English

Signup is a bit unorthodox. To sign up for an E-OmniNet account, you must send a request by email to e-omninet@yifan.net


I've checked out the HotPop service, and it seems very fast and efficient, too, with a very quick and streamlined signup procedure

HotPop features include free POP3 mail. MIME format is also supported. You get 1.5 MB of storage space with the basic service.

There are no ads in the messages; instead, HotPop will send you occasional advertisements from "selected" advertisers. You can send and receive email attachments of up to 500 KB. HotPop comes with a choice of optional domain names. Unfortunately, all of them are frat-house sophomoric.

HotPop filters spam before it hits your mailbox.

HotPop requires POP-Authentication to use their SMTP servers. This means that you have to log into the POP server before you are granted access to the SMTP server. If you try to send mail without logging into POP, you will get an authentication error. Not a big hassle, and it's nice to have SMTP service.

HotPop has been around since 1998, so it has a long track record by free email service standards.


  • POP Access: Use almost any mail client you wish
  • SMTP Access: Send mail without a web browser
  • Mail Forwarding: Have your mail resent to up to three addresses.

ZX Mail

ZX Mail offers free POP3 email access, but you have to pay a fee for outgoing SMTP service or use your existing internet provider.

ZX Mail offers up to 100 MB storage space and Virtual Desktop, a unified messaging Web application that provides Internet users with anywhere, anytime, and any device access to messages, documents, and other personal information.

Virtual Desktop provides accessibility to email messages, files, documents and other personal desktop information in a variety of ways, through web browsers, email clients, personal digital assistants, and telephones.

ZXmail features:

  • 10 MB email Storage Free
  • POP3 Access Free
  • Up to 5 MB attachments
  • Online Calendar Free
  • Online Contact Free
  • Wireless Notification Free
  • Smart Autoresponder Free
  • 25 MB virtual Drive Free
  • 25 MB Network Drive Free
  • 25 MB Photo Album Free
  • 25 MB Movie Drive Free
  • Web Bookmarks Free

I found ZX Mail's signup protocol a bit more cumbersome than some of the other services. Note that Zxmail has been optimized for Microsoft Internet Explorer, although it should perform adequately with other browsers with Javascript support. iCab, however, would not work for signup or accessing the ZX Mail Web based services.

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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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