On this page we discuss the important characteristis of mail hosting
services, including free services, and paid services. When
considering the services that you will use there are a few
characteristics that are of importance.
Portability of your email address If your email address tied to a particular service provider or hosting service. If so, then your address is not permanent, in the sense that if you change providers, you will be unable to keep your email address. Why would you switch providers ... if your internet service provider is giving you your address, then maybe you move to a new house which is in the terriroty of a different provider, or perhaps you get tired of lousy customer service or high cost and switch to a different service, e.g. from a cable modem to DSL, fios, or uverse. If your email provider is one of the free email services like Gmail, Yahoo, or hotmail, perhaps they change their terms of service in the future and you don't like the changes. If the email address you have given out is one of these, then you will have to change addresses when you switch service providers.
For portability, you best choice is an address tied to your own domain name, registered through a domain name registrar or a web hosting provider. Your worst choice for portability is the mailbox provided by your home network service provider (e.g. your cable modem or your DSL service). The free email services are in between. Most will allow you to register your own domain name for a yearly cost, and Google allows you to use an externally registered email address while using their mail hosting.
User interface of web mailYou will want to consider the usability of the web interface provided for reading you mail through the web. Even if the service supports use of applications like outlook or thunderbird via IMAP or POP, there may be times (such as when traveling or away from the office) when you wish to use the web interface to view the messages in your mailbox. Of the free mail service providers, my preference is Google Mail (GMail), but Yahoo also has a nice interface. The webmail interface of most web hosting providers typically are fare worse in comparison to the interface provided by Yahoo and Gmail.
IMAP and POP accessIf you wish to download your email and read it through local applications such as Outlook or Thunderbird, you will need a provider that supports IMAP or POP access. Yahoo provides such access only for their paid accounts. Google's GMAIL inteface provide this, as well as the ability to forward you mail, to all GMAIL users.
Advertising on messageSome providers subsidize their free email accounts by adding advertising to the messages sent by their users (I'm not talking about displaying ads when their users view messages, I really mean adding the advertising to the actual messages sent). In my view, such messages just look plain unprofessional and I would not want to use a provider that does this. Yahoo does this for their free email user's. Suprisingly, I have also seen this practice on some paid ISP provided emails, in particular, America Online. Because of this, if you are looking for a free email host from which you will send messages, I recomend Google's GMail, which does not do this.
Permanant e-mail addressesBack to the first point I discussed, if you don't want to need to change your email address later, it is important to get an email address associated with something that will not change. Your best choice here is to register your own domain name. Domain name registrations are portable across providers, so you dependence here is simply that the Internet continues to operate as it has. If it doesn't, naturally, internet email would have problems. Of course, if you change your name, then you might want to change your email address for other reasons.
Your worst choice here is a name tied to your ISP. If you move, or switch providers, you old email address will stop working.
Many associations, especially alimni associations, will provide email addresses for life to their members (so long as they remain a member of the association). In this case, they usually just forward the email to whatever new destination address you provide, but it means you could give out the permanent address, while reading your email from whatever provider you are using today. If you do this, some services like GMail will allow you to send email with a return address of the permanent email, while for others, your message are more likely to go out with the providers address.