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Lycos mail knocked out

Users of the Web-based e-mail service are waiting out a breakdown that has left them without access for most of this week--the result of a routine server software upgrade gone awry.

Lycos customers have been without e-mail access for most of this week, after what was supposed to be a routine server software upgrade went awry.

Lycos, part of Spanish Internet conglomerate Terra Lycos, offers a free Web-based e-mail service similar to Microsoft's Hotmail, plus a subscription service that offers more storage space along with access through popular e-mail clients such as Outlook.

The company earlier warned Lycos Mail and Lycos Mail Plus users that service would be down for part of Tuesday, due to routine site maintenance. Lycos spokesman Brian Payea said the interruption was scheduled to install updates to the company's database software that would improve backup capability.

The upgrade turned out to be more complicated than originally anticipated, Payea said, requiring Lycos to rebuild the database.

"We thought we'd have it up by now," Payea said. "But there are billions of pieces of mail in the database, and we have to rebuild all of that."

Payea said saved messages and other customer data have been retained, and incoming mail during the outage is being saved for delivery once the system returns to normal. Lycos originally expected to have the mail system running again by noon Pacific time on Friday, but it later pushed back the estimated fix to 6 p.m. Friday.

The mail outage had not affected communications services for other Terra Lycos properties, Payea said.

Les Perreaux, a Quebec-based journalist, said he's used Lycos Mail for personal correspondence for several years. The outage is particularly frustrating, he said, because he and his fiancee are trying to finalize wedding plans. "We're waiting for guests at our wedding at the end of the month to RSVP, and we can't get at them," he said in an e-mail exchange.

Perreaux faulted Lycos for not giving customers a better explanation of the problem. "Their communication on this issue has been cryptic at best," he said. "A fuller explanation of the problem would certainly give me more patience."

Lycos is a relatively small player in the Web-based mail business, at least in the United States. Web measurement firm ComScore Media Metrix recorded about 1 million unique U.S. visitors for Lycos Mail in July, compared with more than 50 million each for Hotmail and Yahoo Mail.