If you're paying anything for e-mail, Web hosting, backup storage, or a personal information manager, you may be paying too much. Dozens of sites give away everything from applications to personal organisers to multiple megabytes of storage space. But are these services really free? What are the hidden costs? And do no-cost offerings make sense for every user?
With so many free services available on the Web today, some people may wonder whether they'll ever have to pay real money to work and play on the Web again. While these no-charge services may be a no-brainer choice for small-office and home users, businesses may want to think a bit harder. For example, a free Web site may be ideal for showing pictures of your family to friends or for posting an online resume for all the world to admire, but if you're using the site as a business storefront, the mandatory ads that pop up on it will irritate clients. Free online storage is handy for personal file sharing or for storing your collection of MP3 audio files, but many free sites lack the security features and storage capacity that businesses demand.
In this article, we've divided free Web-based services into four categories: e-mail, Pams, Web hosting and storage/backup. We chose these categories because they're the most popular ones among PC World readers and Internet users in general. We list the advantages and disadvantages of each service type and highlight our top picks on a scorecard (after having evaluated at least five of each type of service). In some cases, we found that the convenience and cost savings of a freebie outweighed its drawbacks. But in other cases, a free online service simply did not measure up to its fee-based competitors.