Ask Leo: Are Free Email Services Worth It?


By Leo Notenboom

I’ve been receiving a lot of reports of problems with Microsoft’s Hotmail free email service lately, and it really begs the question: are free email services like Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Gmail worth the cost?

My position: Yes.

And: Absolutely Not.

As always, it depends on your needs and your expectations.

•You may be asking yourself, “What cost? Free email services are free, aren’t they?” By now you should know there’s no such thing as “free” – everything has a cost. It may not come out of your wallet each month, but there’s definitely a cost.

Here are some of the costs I associate with free email services:

•Spam – free email services seem to receive a disproportionate amount of spam. There are various theories about why, but the fact is you’ll get more spam with a free mail service than with a regular ISP.

•Deliverability – free email addresses also seem to send a disproportionate amount of SPAM. Even though you don’t send SPAM, it still impacts you. When spam filters see your email as coming from the same service as lots of SPAM, it’s a strike against you, and can quickly cause your email to be blocked.

•Customer Service – for all intents and purposes, there is none. This is truly a case of “you get what you pay for”. While there might be web forms and email address that will accept your question, your chances of getting a response are pretty much proportional to what you paid: zero.

•Limits and Restrictions – With most free services you must read your email through their web interface. If you want to move, forward or download your email, contacts or other information, the process is cumbersome, if it’s even possible at all.

In short, I would never recommend a free email service for anything that you consider important, or anything that you want to keep long term.

Here’s how to judge…

[This post is excerpted with Leo’s permission from his Ask Leo blog.]

Leo Notenboom has been involved in the tech industry for nearly 30 years. After retiring from an 18 year career as a Microsoft Software Engineer Leo went on to create Ask Leo!, a free web site where he answers real questions from ordinary computer users.

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10 thoughts on “Ask Leo: Are Free Email Services Worth It?”

  1. You know? I have used gmail for a few years, the gmail is pretty good to me. now another google product google chrome has been OK for me, but that one can cause some trouble with one’s computer, not responding,etc. that may be from some virusies comming thrugh. Yahoo mail has been ok, I don’t use it a lot. JUNO-be careful they do not let you block a lot of junk mail. they don’t let you list most junk mail as junk mail. AOL-lots of junk mail. MSN be careful for lots of junk mail and Spam. If you post comments on Yahoo, watch out for a lot of spam.

  2. If it says free it is not free. Our e mail addresses are sold to businesses. I went to a $ sight and checked one box and had a telephone call from them within 10 minutes. Be polite and tell them to contact Gooogle who charges by the clicks o a link. It is called diredted advertising. Your telephone # is sold too. I nver answer mine. It goes on an answering machine and asks them to enter their voice mail extension. It does nort exist. Keeep your cell phone private.

  3. I have used Windows Live Mail since it came online. I also use a account and have found it better then Yahoo or GMail. The spam/junk filter works great. I would not use anything else, period!

  4. Ive had my same hotmail account for about 9 years. One of my contacts informed that i was sending spam once so i had to change my password, but other then that i havent had any other problems.

  5. I, like many of the other respondents, use gmail and it is THE best. I used to use outlook and yahoo mail but they are so darn full of irksome junk. I have always had good luck with gmail and never either transmitted or gotten a virus (to my knowledge). And, my computer seems to operate much more efficiently using gmail as my primary provider. Outlook and yahoo are just too bloated and do NOT seem efficient at all

  6. I have been using Gmail since it was launched and have had no problems with it all. The spam volume comes and goes, but its not a problem as it only ever arrives in my the spam folder, it never impacts my inbox at all. I did find Yahoo email to be cumbersome and a little slow, which is why I switched when Gmail was launched, but Gmail has worked perfectly. Theres plenty of storage room and the tech school at my old university recommended free email options as ideal due to the security and safety.

  7. I have used Yahoo as my primary e-mail for probably 10 years now. I have never had any issues. When I used Outlook Express with my ISP if I got a virus (which I did a couple of times) the virus got into my address book and sent itself to all my contacts. That has never happened with Yahoo. My inbox was limited with my ISP but with Yahoo it is unlimited.

  8. I have found my free email much better than bigpond, or tpg or virgin. I use gmail and I have a lot less spam on that then any of the others. It is extremely user friendly

  9. I don,t know what your problem is. My gmail account works just fine, i set up a imap server, so i can use outlook at home, and at work, and i let outlook do the sorting, as i can set up different folders, and rules. Also, if i do have to go to the web, using imap, nothing i do at home is deleted, and i can view old emails, etc.

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