Google's tilt at the free-mail space isn't about taking down HotMail or Yahoo. It's more: Google wants to manage your brain for you.
Sound ludicrous? Look at it this way. You're trawling the Web and find something of interest. Instead of bookmarking the document or printing it (and later losing it), just e-mail it to your GMail account. It's archived and available anytime simply by Googling your account. The next step should be for Google to weave in its blogging tools, making it even easier to grab, annotate and store stuff online.
Then there's the e-mail management. Conversations are ordered a little like an instant message, so you can see the flow of ideas. Remembering a conversation simply requires searching for it.
The contentious part is that Google wants to use 'bots to scan your mail and offer you contextual text ads (like when you search Google for a particular topic). Should you be worried about privacy? Not if Google sticks to its 'don't be evil' motto. However, it's worth remembering that if or when your account is closed, residual copies of your e-mail remain on Google's computers for an unspecified period of time.
At press time the service was still in closed testing, but it's a loose arrangement: most users seem to be granted six invitations for friends, who end up being granted invitations of their own. It's a viral membership system, and a cunning way to ramp up a service that's easy to use and, with its massive storage limit and quick searching, quite compelling. The only thing we don't know is what happens when you hit your 1GB limit.
E-mail management is simple: read the message, hit archive and you'll find it by searching.
In brief: Google GMailMassive storage, powerful searching but questions remain about privacy.
Price: Free (but was still in closed testing)