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Kinko's to offer Hotmail

In a deal to be announced Monday, Kinko's will offer customers free email services via Hotmail.

Hotmail will announce Monday that it will provide free Web-based email to customers at most of Kinko's more than 830 branches, another sign of the surging demand for free email.

Hotmail can be accessed directly through the Net startup page from Kinko's workstations. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The agreement comes in the wake of Yahoo's buyout of free email provider Four11 this week for $92 million in stock. (Yahoo also talked with Hotmail about being a free email provider, sources said.) Lycos also said this week that it would begin offering free email.

The free email market showed growth of 3.6 million mailboxes in the second quarter of this year, according to a report from Electronic Mail & Messaging Systems. Despite its growth, free email has a catch, many consumers point out: It typically comes with banner ads, which make money for providers. And spam has been a problem with some free email providers, although most have strict antispamming policies.

In Monday's deal, dubbed as an exclusive agreement, Kinko's customers can now access their Hotmail accounts from Kinko's branches. Computer rental fees may apply, however.

Earlier this month, Kinko's announced a deal with GTE to provide Net access at most of its branches, a growing trend. This week, Netscape said its Navigator client software will be offered as part of the service.