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August 15, 2007

Gmail, the Top Web Mail Service with the Least Amount of Free Storage

Now that Microsoft upgraded its horrifically-named Windows Live Hotmail from 2GB of storage to 5GB, Gmail is officially the major webmail service with the least amount of free storage. Here's a comparison between the top 4 mail services (*the green text reflects the storage for premium accounts that typically cost $20 a year).

Yahoo Mail
Windows Live Hotmail
AOL Mail
5GB (10GB)*
2.8GB+ (8.8GB+)*
Maximum attachment size
10MB (20MB)*
10MB (20MB)*

Three years ago, when Gmail was launched, it offered 250 times more storage than Yahoo Mail and 500 times more storage than Hotmail.

"Google believes people should be able to hold onto their mail forever. That's why Gmail comes with 1,000 megabytes (1 gigabyte) of free storage – more than 100 times what most other free webmail services offer." (from the press release)

The competing services quickly adjusted and increased their offerings. At that time, Gmail was invite-only so it couldn't capture too many users. Gmail started to be available to everyone in February, when Yahoo Mail and Hotmail already had many of Gmail features.

While Gmail still has unique features (conversations, labels, POP3, mail fetcher, unobtrusive ads, advanced search, attachment preview), it's difficult to understand why Google intentionally lost the battle of mail storage, after starting it three years ago. Maybe 2.8 GB is enough for most people or maybe the storage space isn't a distinctive feature anymore.

In a Wall Street Journal article about Yahoo's "unlimited" storage, "one Yahoo executive conceded that a main reason for the move to no limits was to eliminate the perception that Gmail still offered more storage, even though Yahoo had long since caught up."

So all these announcements about "unlimited" storage are just some marketing schemes (there's no such thing as unlimited storage). As very few people use more than 1 GB of mail storage, any webmail provider could easily replace 1 GB or 2 GB with infinite storage. But Google decided to stop playing this game and to let others implement the "Infinity+1 storage plan" (explanation: Gmail's homepage on April 1st, 2005).


  1. They didn't lose the battle of mail storage. This battle is over. Most the people don't need more... It's the same with indexed pages, when they still displayed that. It got irrelevant for 99% of users. And the other power users might as well pay a few $ a year, then at least they are allowed to use it for storage.

    +they have 20mb attachements, and that's where there is still room to improve, so storage wise they are actually on the top. Who needs more than 2.8 gigs? not many.
    who needs more than 10 megs for attachements? many more.

  2. I agree that no-one really needs more than Google provides - except those who are abusing the service for image storage etc (weird choice, but hey, that's people!).

    But it's not about practicality, it's about PR (public relations!). It's a little alarming that gmail is still in Beta - and yet Google is showing signs of losing interest.

    But they do that; develop a great idea, but then drop ongoing development for the next Big Thing.

    Google Groups was going to be a whole new Usenet - but, riddled with flaws, it just gets the occasional cosmetic brush-up.

    I hope they snap out of it on gmail; if Google can't be bothered, who will?

  3. Google should pay you for this marketing.

  4. The storage size of Google was probably the main thing that captured me into the then 6-invites-only beta, because back then it was really an issue.

    After a while, when it got into the 100-invites system, there was more leeway for people to invite themselves, and thus Gmail became a nifty and solid storage device. There are probably millions of accounts that are used for this primary purpose, and most of them to host illegal software, if I had to guess.

    I expect now that those "storage inboxes" will gradually migrate into Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, etc., because they can fulfill that purpose better than Gmail now. Meanwhile, the latter still has a better UI and usability than the others, and as yannick said, 20mb attachments make one hell of a difference.

  5. I don't trust the "unlimited" storage, because I expect that if I ever took them up on that they'd call me on it. At least I have a little more faith that if Google or MS says I get "this many" for free and "this much for $", I trust that.

    And Google still has the much better UI.

    But my faith in Google products has been shaken recently by how they handled closing Google Video. Could they do that to Gmail one day? What would happen to my mail there?

  6. I think that you are protecting google in a way that you shouldnt.

    Gmail is my mail if choice even though i have hotmail and yahoo. But gmail is lost now on the way with a far better offer from yahoo which is interface much more intuitive and "unlimited" space.

    On the other hand, hotmail has an atractive that google is not using so much. MSN. Google should start improving its services with google talk and orkut.

    To sum up, better gmail interface, newer features, better integration with other google services(u cant even access calendar from inside of the gmail) such as google talk, orkut, calendar and reader.

  7. Yahoo has a better mail interface than Google?????

    Please, dear God no. I don't want the slow, bloated, buggy, graphic ad infestation that is Yahoo mail.

    Clean, simple and threaded conversations will suit me just fine. There is a Wall Street Journal article (may be the same one referenced here) that states from a Yahoo employee that "unlimited" does not mean "unlimited". 2.8 GB and growing works for me. At least I know what the "limit" is.

  8. Someone should test the "unlimited" email theory. Find someone with a yahoo email account and flood it with huge attachments and see when Yahoo starts complaining.

  9. Windows Live Hotmail does not only have a horrible name, it's also a horrible product compared to Gmail. I tried to use it a bit over the last few days and it's extremely annoying. For instance, I had to log-in everytime even though I always checked the "remember everything" setting. And before I'd see my inbox, there was always a long delay. Then, whenever I hit "refresh", there would be an eternal loading icon in Firefox. At one time I wasn't even able to get an attachment because there was an endless (!) virus checking going on. And the no-conversations view is just one of the many, many usability issues with Hotmail.

    Storage may yet turn out to be the easiest problem. Just throw more money in your system. If you want to have good usability though, you need to have designers who understand (and care about) the user. Windows Live Hotmail doesn't have great designers, that's the problem. No storage in the world could make up this deficit.

    The thing with 1 GB+ is that it's an 90% working storage solution. When Hotmail in 2004 had 200 K, that was what you may call the 30% working solution (because with 200 K, you actually need to go through several daily routines just so that you don't overflow your inbox, and you won't be able to get certain attachments). Then when you have 5 GB, that's what you might call the 92% or so working solution, and so on. It's still a difference, but it's not a crucial difference anymore.

    That being said, yeah, Google should definitely upgrade their free storage to say, 10 GB, just to get the edge back :)

  10. > I agree that no-one really needs
    > more than Google provides - except
    > those who are abusing the service
    > for image storage etc (weird
    > choice, but hey, that's people!).

    I guess my name is "no-one" then.

    Why? Because I need to work with "eternal archiving" ideally, because my inbox gets tips everyday and I want to be able to research a tip or other conversations (including those with attachments!) I had in say 2004. In other words, if you use your email for work, you may well need more than 2 GB... without any "abuse".

    > But they do that; develop a
    > great idea, but then drop
    > ongoing development for the
    > next Big Thing.

    True for several Google products, unfortunately, I agree...

  11. PS: Gmail regularly hangs for several seconds during start-up. All this DHTML is definitely getting to it. That might be the bigger problem than its storage down the line...

  12. Unlimited storage is a pure publicity stunt. I've used only 5% of my storage on gmail. Lest we all forget: if it weren't for Google we might still be stuck with 6MB! That's why you can't trust the other guys; they would nickel and dime us if they could.

    Google does need to be #1 in every other product category. it is not afraid to experiment, fail, fail again and then try something else. As long as they're #1 in search everything else is icing on the cake. Yahoo, on the other hand, is defined by its email service

  13. oops..i meant to say "Google does NOT need to be #1 in every category"

  14. Brock: I don't trust the "unlimited" storage, because I expect that if I ever took them up on that they'd call me on it.

    From Yahoo Mail help:

    "The purpose of unlimited storage isn’t to provide an online storage warehouse. Usage that suggests this approach gets flagged by Yahoo! Mail's anti-abuse controls.

    Unlimited storage gives normal email account users like yourself an opportunity to not have to worry about hitting a storage limit. Basically, the idea is that now you can save your correspondence and memories and never worry about deleting older messages to make room for more."

  15. I too started using Gmail because of the space. I had long since outgrown the other free services and was mostly using POP mail from my own purchased domain servers. I try the alternatives AOL, MSN and Yahoo on a regular bases (have "test" ids on all of them) and I can't stand the overdone graphics on any of them (not to mention the sluggishness).

    By offering a decent services that overcame the main limitations of existing free mail services Google has significantly raised the bar for being in this business. Yahoo and Microsoft could previously brag to their advertisers about their millions of users (each with 4K of storage). Now to get that same ad revenue those companies need to actually open up new data centers, worry about megawatt power costs (and in Microsoft's case, the pain and instability of large Windows server farms) means that MS has less hope of profit than ever, and Yahoo's profit is going down (and I bet it will be down even more once they factor in all their added costs).

    Of course none of this means that Google is guaranteed success. I think the key to that is how smart they are in growing thier infrastructure (home grown build-to-suit file and server code on top of Linux has given them a big head start).

    Can Yahoo or MSN build gigantic server infrastructure that is as resilient, fast, and cheap to run as Google's? So far no, but time will tell, and the competition will do everyone good.

    Well, not everyone, but all users at least.

    I don't need all the space I get with Google, so as others have said that is no longer a factor. I've gotten quite used to web-based e-mail that is as responsive as my local POP mail used to be (more-so really). I'm storing more and more documents, photos and other things on Google (I've also used AOL's Xdrive for some things).

    There were quite a few free+pay-for-more storage options in the run-up to the 2000 bust and I see that happening again (but on larger scales. I think google has picked a good time to hold the line, while others may well have over-extended themselves and users rightfully don't like to suddenly have to pay for something that was once free... a tactic that turned me off on Yahoo a long time ago... and something that they still try and pull off from time to time.

  16. Does anyone ACTUALLY have at least 75% of gmail storage used? I mean, for now, 2.8 gig is fine.

  17. AOL Mail isn't "unlimited"... in order to make it unlimited, you need to keep all our mail as new in your Inbox. Otherwise they delete it after a few weeks. And the "Saved Mail" folder is only 40 MB, I think.

  18. i ran out of space in gmail several months ago.

    i was constantly running out of space and some incoming email was even starting to bounce.

    i am not abusing the system or anything i just have lots of email.

    i have about 20 000 emails in gmail.

  19. Philipp and Anonymous;

    I do accept that there are always honest exceptions to the sweeping generalizations I make in blog responses; it's a little lazy, but my intention is not to confuse my message (which does apply in 99.9999% of cases) with exceptions: I have it pretty good authority that Google has been abused in this way, but also that the number of 'account fillers' is actually very, very small.

    After all, they only offer what they do on the full knowledge that 90%+ of users will use tiny amounts - or, of course, more than one account.

    I consider myself a 'heavy user' - though I do delete some items as I go along, and very rarely use the system to for attachments. Though I cannot avoid it in some mailing lists. I'm at 4%.

    No insult intended to honest folk, I promise you!

  20. AOL is unlimited when mails are stored in saved folder. I have mails, from August last year. Checkout the new AOL beta and you will see how sleek the news interface is. Try scrolling the mails for instance. Its much faster than Yahoo. It has folders and dragndrop. Yes it does not have tags (which I miss the most). The best thing about my AOL mail is - my mailbox is free of spam :)

  21. The google attachment file limit of 20 mb is a major problem still for efective use of transfering files from one person to another. I am sure who ever wins this battle of attachment files size will capture the E-mail market place.

  22. Battling over the amount of storage, in my opinion, is a bit stupid. I have used only about 3% on my GMail. Who really would need 3 GB? Even when it was 1 GB, it was too much for me. Also, talking about increasing attach limit sound awesome. Yeah... But what about upload speed? It takes a while to upload about 3-4 MB worth of stuff, and I do have a fast connection. All this, I think, just stops innovation. GMail, to me, is the best choice, because it gets stuff done that I want done fast...

    - hobnobLover.

  23. Well, I did had the chance to sign up when gmail just came up, and that was because i got the invitation.

    Well, i would like to know if yahoo is really UNLIMITED.

    I'm gonna pay(well, anybody con do it if unemployeed :P) someone to send email to it self with its max attachment size as many times as possible, and let's see.

    if each time you send an email to yourself and you choose keep sent message.
    that should be 10mb sent to it self + 10mb kept, that's 20mb each time.

    if you forward to your self 100 times(what should take no longer than 3-4mins)
    that should come to 2GB.
    well, if you do it once a day, that will go to even terabytes....

    I wanna see if somebody tries and sends a screenshot.

    Email me to if somebody is trying:P

    good luck everyone

  24. Well I personally use Gmail for everything I have accounts setup so that I can set all forums to go to one acct and all game related emails go to another, I even have one that has the specific function of being my FTP server where I can upload and download files (Firefox extension) that I may need at any given time, I have filled this account up many times and never had a problem, can't say you can do that with Yahoo or Hotmail...

  25. For the small percentage of people who do use their entire Gmail storage limit, is there anything to stop you (in the T&S) from creating a new account (e.g. Username_2006) and adding a filter that archives all emails from 2006 to that account?


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