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Hotmail to junk inactive members

At a time when many companies are trying to cut the cost of providing free services, Microsoft tells its members: Use it or lose it.

Microsoft has told members of its free Hotmail service that their e-mail accounts will be closed if they do not use them at least once a month.

"Accounts reaching 30 days of inactivity are formally deactivated and all messages, folders, and contacts are permanently deleted," the software giant told Hotmail users in an e-mail Wednesday.

The rule does not apply to its MSN Hotmail Extra Storage accounts, which cost $12.95 per year and provide five times more storage space, the company said.

During the early days of the commercial Web, people often signed up for multiple e-mail accounts at different portals--sometimes creating new accounts for no other reason than because they had forgotten previous passwords or IDs. Since the name of the game at the time was to show growing numbers of members to attract more advertising, portals often looked the other way, in deference to their inflated membership numbers.

But Microsoft?s move comes at a time when companies are trying to lower the cost of providing free services while also trying to migrate people to premium services.