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Application takes aim at free email services

A new software application quickly gaining popularity may sap revenue and strategic advantage from Hotmail and other free Web-based email services.

A new software application quickly gaining popularity among Net users could sap revenue and strategic advantage from Hotmail and other free Web-based email services.

C-WebMail lets users take Web-based email offline by downloading messages directly to the hard drive. The program provides a simple end-run around common Web-based email problems, such as slow page loading and limited storage space for old messages and attachments, and lets users manage mail through standard email applications like Qualcomm's Eudora or Microsoft's Outlook.

But services like Microsoft's MSN Hotmail and Yahoo's Yahoo Mail, which provide free email services in order to serve ads and circulate users to their other revenue-producing pages, risk getting the short end of the free email stick if programs like C-WebMail succeed in taking users offline. The free mail services have proven to be burdensome loss-leaders for the firms, which have struggled to keep up with surging demand.

C-WebMail boasts 500,000 downloads so far on purely word-of-mouth marketing. Version 2.5, which includes support for Yahoo Mail, was released last month. The company has a stated goal of attracting a full quarter of Hotmail's 30 million users.

The product's popularity may benefit from the Web-based emailers' recent spate of service problems. While the program wouldn't address mail-delivery irregularities, it could attract users who have encountered delays and other problems accessing the email Web pages.

C-WebMail is a product of New Email Communication Systems, a subsidiary of the Bell South International Group in Israel. The program originally was called Hotmail Express, but Microsoft demanded the company drop the name, according to NECS.

The software costs $10 after a free month-long trial period.