Gmail gearing up for full launch?

People using Google's e-mail service now have 50 invitations to dole out, way up from the four they previously had.

Munir Kotadia Special to CNET News
Gmail, the Web mail service operated by search engine Google, could be gearing up for its official launch, as people using the service have found recently that the number of invitations they can send out has increased from four to 50.

Gmail, which was launched in April 2004 and is still officially in a testing phase, is not open to the general public.

At first, Google let only select family and friends open accounts at Gmail. But it has slowly opened up membership more broadly to friends of those already holding accounts.

This latest development could indicate that either Google is hoping to significantly expand its user base for further testing or that the company is gearing up for a full launch.

At the time of writing, Google was not available for comment.

Gmail's popularity has already been targeted by online criminals. In September, scammers sent phishing e-mails to existing holders of Gmail accounts, offering them the opportunity to invite three or six of their friends to join Gmail.

The fraudulent e-mail, which claimed to originate from the "Gmail Team," asked people to disclose their Gmail account passwords to receive the additional invites.

Munir Kotadia of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.