How free e-mail systems rate -- What Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Snap! offer users
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How free e-mail systems rate

Free e-mail is getting to be as common as dirt, but don’t be fooled: Not every service is the same. The one advantage they all offer is being able to access your e-mail from any Web-connected computer. The one universal pain in the neck is the advertising you are forcibly exposed to in lieu of a service fee. Some of the prominent contenders, plus highlights of what they do (and don’t) offer:

Net@ddress, the Cadillac of free e-mail sites, lets you import address books from other mail applications, spell-check your messages, keep multiple signature files, and even send automated replies when you’re on vacation. That, plus a generous five megabytes of storage space, makes this site the best so far. One quibble: Net@ddress doesn’t offer much in the way of filtering out spam. A

Hotmail, Microsoft’s free e-mail site, wins kudos for ease of use and a cool personal-address-book feature, and for not selling your name and demographic information to outside advertisers (which many of these sites do). Thumbs down, however, on the skimpy two megabytes of storage space allocated to your in box and the size limit of one meg on outgoing messages including attachments — which means you might not be able to send publishers the text of your new novel. B

Yahoo! Mail scores points for a nifty reminder feature that nudges you about birthdays and anniversaries and a better-than-Hotmail three megabytes of space to store all messages. High marks also for the optional Spam Guard, which keeps a lot of junk e-mail from ever reaching you. Bronx cheer, though, for the ungenerous limit of three 500kb attachments on outgoing mail. B-

Snap! Email.com annoys with its intrusive questionnaire. While most free sites require you to ante up some personal information before logging on, this one asks for your income and another current e-mail address, among other things. Marketers everywhere will thank you. D

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