Inbox Tamers

Illustration: Headcase Design

Web mail has come of age. It used to be an inferior way to get your messages: Storage capacity was low, and the services were simple. No more. Web mail services now offer spelling checkers, access to POP3 accounts, virus scanners--and plenty of storage space.

Client applications are typically more customizable than a Web service, and usually include collaboration functions. But if you don't need such extras, a Web service could suffice.

We scouted four Web services and four desktop clients to find out which have the best features and which do the best job of keeping your mailbox free of spam. Plus, we looked at a Web service that filters spam for multiple e-mail accounts and aggregates their inboxes.

You can choose from among several free, advertising-supported Web services--or spend about $20 a year for a service with enhanced functions and oodles of storage space. Gmail earned our Best Buy nod in part because it costs nothing and gives you 1GB of storage capacity. We also liked FastMail's paid services, which provide every tool an e-mail guru could want.

Among desktop apps, Mozilla Thunderbird won our Best Buy because it's free and full of features, but corporate users will prefer Outlook 2003 for its unmatched collaboration tools.

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