Yahoo takes on Google with extra mail storage

Not to be outdone by Google's recent bold e-mail offering, Yahoo said that it plans to dramatically raise the storage limit given to its free e-mail users while at the same time bumping its premium subscribers up to a "virtually unlimited" capacity.

The storage hikes were announced by Yahoo executives at an analyst meeting on Thursday, where the company was keen to show that it is ready to take on rival Google, which grabbed headlines with the announcement that it is planning to offer a free e-mail service with a 1G-byte limit dubbed Gmail.

Responding to the Gmail offer, Yahoo plans to raise the storage limits for its free e-mail users later in the second quarter or third quarter of this year from the current 6M bytes to 100M bytes, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed Friday. Meanwhile, premium subscribers -- who currently pay close to US$50 a year for 100M bytes of storage -- will be given "virtually unlimited" capacity later this year, the spokeswoman said.

Jupiter Research analyst Olivier Beauvillain said Friday that the extra storage offering was a necessary move.

"I think all the Web-based e-mail providers like Yahoo and (Microsoft's) MSN Hotmail need to react to what Google will launch," Beauvillain said.

The main factors distinguishing different e-mail services are storage and antispam features, he said, and it's easier for users to compare the size of inboxes, he added.

"Yahoo and MSN really can't maintain their lower storage offers against Gmail," Beauvillain said.

Executives from Yahoo did not say exactly how much new storage capacity premium subscribers will receive but the spokesman confirmed that it was "on par" with Gmail's 1G-byte limit, which lets users save about 500,000 pages of e-mail.

"Basically it will be hard for users to perceive that there is a limit," the Yahoo spokeswoman said.

The unlimited increase is also being extended to include Yahoo subscribers through high-speed Internet access partners such as SBC Communications Inc., the spokeswoman said.

London resident Rob Cave uses Yahoo's free service for his main e-mail account and said that he was very happy about the extra space.

"A hundred megabytes is absolutely fantastic because I was bumping at the edge of my limit and there's a lot of e-mail I don't want to download," he said.

Cave said that the move will definitely keep him in Yahoo's hands, although he was not tempted by Google's 1G-byte offering because of privacy concerns. Gmail is still in beta but has already come under scrutiny for its plan of scanning e-mail messages and placing advertisements that it thinks are relevant next to them.

However, Beauvillain does not believe that privacy concerns will stop many users from adopting Gmail, adding that Google has already expressed its intention to address the issue. What may stop users from switching to Gmail is simply the hassle of changing e-mail addresses, he said.

"MSN and Yahoo have an existing base of users and they tend to be loyal to their e-mail provider because it's such a pain to switch and notify all your contacts," Beauvillain said.

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