Web mail offers extras for a fee

While we think of Web-based e-mail as a free service, start-up Kobo.biz is betting that some people will be willing to pay for it--largely to ward off spam.

Since you're paying for the service, Kobo doesn't have to look for additional revenue sources. "We're not going to sell your name and address to anyone," says Tom Campbell, Kobo's chief executive officer. The service starts at US$39.95 yearly for 5 mailboxes and 50MB of storage space. The Power User plan provides 10 mailboxes and 150MB of storage for US$79.95 yearly, and businesses may opt for a package of 25 mailboxes for a total of 250MB of storage for US$119.95. Kobo also offers hosting services.

Whether free competitors Hotmail or Yahoo Mail sell your identity to spammers is a matter of some debate and interpretation. But these sites certainly display distracting ads when you're trying to read your mail, and they insert ads for themselves at the bottom of your outgoing messages. Kobo.biz does neither.

Changing Web Mail's Look

Kobo.biz also claims to have a better user interface than other e-mail sites.

"Our goal is to make it look like Outlook Express, not a Web site," says Campbell.

A test of Kobo.biz found that the screens looked nice and clean, thanks largely to the lack of advertising. Help popped up in a separate window, and although the mail service was, in fact, a Web page, it resembled Windows' own Help program.

But Kobo.biz isn't particularly easier to use than other e-mail sites, all of which tend to be clear and obvious. And it still lacks features common in non-Web-based e-mail clients, such as dragging and dropping file attachments and the capability to write formatted messages.

Kobo vs. Everyone

Even those "free" e-mail services are starting to carry price tags. Yahoo, Hotmail, and smaller sites have begun charging for added storage and services they previously provided free.

Kobo.biz isn't the only e-mail service that charges users instead US$35 a year, also for five mailboxes and up to 50MB storage.

But Everyone.net has some very useful features right now that Kobo is still working on for the future. For instance, in addition to its Web interface, Everyone.net offers server-based autoresponse, as well as support for POP-based e-mail programs Outlook Express and Eudora.

But Kobo.biz has a few tricks up its sleeve that Everyone.net lacks, such as an online calendar and notes. Even better if you get a lot of e-mail, it does a much better job allocating storage space. Everyone.net gives users on the cheapest plan 10MB per mailbox, which if you use all five mailboxes means 50MB. But no one mailbox can go over 10MB, even if you're only using one mailbox. Kobo.biz, on the other hand, gives you 50MB that you can allocate amongst your boxes. If you have only one box, it gets the entire 50MB.

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Lincoln Spector

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