Climbing down the ladder we have Yahoo mail, Zoho mail, AOL, GMX and Hotmail just to name a few. Yahoo mail has the largest user base at the time of writing along with a very nice and user friendly web interface to boot. However, not having IMAP access is slowly making Yahoo mail redundant as an email provider. People want to be using email on their phone and not having IMAP in year 2010 is simply unforgivable. Heck even POP3 is disabled until you find you way around enabling it (google for the region change trick). Hotmail/Live has simply the worst user interface in existence and should be put to rest immediately.
Zoho… now Zoho mail is one interesting contender indeed. It has pretty much all the features of Gmail and in my opinion the best web interface among all free email providers. It doesn’t annoy you with adverts nor scan your emails like Gmail and their tech support responds promptly to forum questions. Perfect ? Almost ! Zoho does many things right apart from the somewhat clumsy administrative back end (adding your own domains,setup mail forwarding etc) and a slightly slower interface. Feature requests do take some time to implement (IMAP access took 1 year+) but really its a Gmail without the polish and privacy concerns.
Despite running a tech site, yours truly had no idea the existence of paid email providers until lately. Why would you pay for email when email has always been free?? Anyhow, US$39.95/year with Fastmail (recently sold to Opera) gets you features like a 2gb online storage and “one time passwords” when you need to access email via an insecure location. $26/year with Tuffmail gives you the ability to send 100mb emails to annoy the shit outta your friends and configurable anti-spam settings that email geeks will appreciate. As you can see, you don’t get much more with paid email offerings. One major disadvantage of paid email is that most providers only offer basic web interface (e.g. Squirrelmail) that pales in comparison to the likes of Gmail/Zoho. Some other providers worth mentioning include Runbox, Polarismail, Rackspace, Luxsci and Zenbe.
In the realm of secure emails, we have a few names as well such as Hushmail, Lavabit, Safe-Mail, Anonymousspeech and Privacyharbor. Hushmail, Lavabit and Safe-Mail encrypt stored email so that any stolen data are effectively scrambled junk that are useless to the hijackers (e.g. if the mail server gets hacked). However this protection doesn’t apply during the transit of the email towards the recipient since emails traveling to its destination aren’t encrypted. Privacyharbour and Safe-Mail solves this problem by keeping all emails in its own servers and only allowing secure access to its servers. So if you want to read an email sent by someone from Privacyharbour, you’ll need to read it via PrivacyHarbour’s site and not your own inbox. The concept does seem pretty secure but it’ll be annoying if their servers are down when you need to access your emails.
Pick Gmail or Zoho for your emailing needs. There really isn’t any significant benefits to paying for email when free email gives you everything you need and more. In fact paid email would be disastrous if you somehow forget to renew your account and everything gets wiped out. Zoho is particularly interesting as they are offering a better Gmail without any forced adverts. Though I like to think that nothing in this world is free so I wouldn’t be surprised with any potential gotcha’s with Zoho. Those that are paranoid with safeguarding their email would need to take a look at Lavabit for storage level encryption. Hushmail has been around longer but they’ve admitted to stealing passwords from one of their users and handing data over to authorities – a mighty poor display of ethics. Alternatively, encrypted email can be easily replicated using Gmail + GnuPG to sramble all your data. Privacyharbor and Safe-Mail’s concept of securing email ( safe-mail’s safebox ) is interesting, but you’ll need to have complete trust on them and be prepared to deal with the inconvenience of their methods should their servers have anything but stellar uptime.
If you absolutely cannot trust anyone with your email, then run your own dedicated server with an install of Virtualmin. You will need to register a domain name though and know your way around linux server management.