New e-mail service aims to wallop Gmail

The e-mail storage stampede continued its charge on Wednesday with yet another Internet company taking on Google's Gmail offering with its own free 1G-byte e-mail service.

Israeli Web portal provider Walla Communications has launched WallaMail, a new service offering users tools such as in-box search, an e-mail filtering system, an antivirus application and, of course, a lot of space. It offers enough space, in fact, to archive 40,000 e-mails, 2,000 pictures and 50 one-minute video clips, the company said.

WallaMail is just the latest entrant into the e-mail storage space race, which was kicked off by Google's announcement earlier this year that it was planning a free 1G-byte e-mail service dubbed Gmail. It's introduction was then followed by announcements from other providers, such as Yahoo, that they were raising the limits of their free Web-based services.

Lycos Europe also joined the race, rolling out its own 1G-byte e-mail service, but for a fee.

Walla has been offering a free e-mail service for three years and the company has moved users of that service to the new WallaMail, said Erez Philosoph, deputy chief executive officer of Walla Communications.

Walla's 1 million e-mail users, primarily located in Israel, have been bumped up from 6M bytes of storage to 1G byte, he said.

"We were thinking about raising its the storage limit to 100M bytes before Gmail and we heard about their service we said we can do that," Philosoph said.

WallaMail is currently signing up users at www.walla.com, offering the ability to attach a variety of multimedia files to e-mail, a range of backgrounds, icons and emoticons and continuous account availability, even if a user has been inactive for months, it said.

Gmail, on the other hand, is still in beta with no firm launch date set. While Gmail's ability to let users search through their mail is considered a big draw for some, WallaMail also offers message search, although it was unclear how its proprietary search technology weighed against that of the search leader.

WallaMail's big play against Gmail is its entertainment features, however, such as the users' ability to watch video clips in their in-boxes, and attach a digital image to a message to add personal style, Philosoph said.

"We think that features like stationery and smileys are fun and Gmail right now is very textual and very basic. I think in the broadband era people should have more fun with their e-mail," Philosoph said.

WallaMail is open to users around the world and the company also plans to offer an ad-free version of its service for US$14.99 a year, it said.

Philosoph said that the offering is a way for the company to become more international, and that he expects "millions" of users to sign up.

Asked if there were any more worldwide services in the works, Philosoph said, "there will be some more surprises."

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