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Communications and File Sharing
E-Mail for Free
Winner and People's Choice Award: Gmail
The heavyweight champ of free e-mail is clearly Gmail, and not just because it gives you as much storage space as you'll ever need. Though Gmail may not have the prettiest interface of the bunch, it's speedy, it does away with frills, and it has all kinds of features if you're willing to do a bit of digging. For example, Gmail doesn't handle just Web-based e-mail; unlike other free services, it can work with your existing e-mail software. You can also use it to forward mail to other accounts. (Click Settings, Forwarding and POP to configure both of these options.) Gmail allows you to create rules to handle incoming mail automatically. And you can easily search through your messages via Google.
It's no wonder that the PC World readers we surveyed rate Gmail as their favorite e-mail service. Says Chuck McNevich of Lexington Park, Maryland, "The interface is considerably faster than Hotmail, Yahoo, and the like. I don't have to pay for the huge storage it gives me."
Be sure to keep this service on your radar. During the writing of this story, Yahoo was beta-testing a new version of its mail service. We love the interface, which works more like desktop e-mail software than traditional Web mail does.
Microsoft Windows Live Mail
The e-mail service formerly known as Hotmail has received a significant makeover, becoming appealingly slick and Outlook-like.
Tired of wading through the spam clogging your inbox? This add-on for Outlook, Thunderbird, and Mozilla Mail does everything it can to eradicate the junk.
This downloadable e-mail client has a nice, simple interface, spam filtering, antiphishing features, RSS news-feed functions, quick search, and a spelling checker. It's also from the folks who brought you the Firefox Web browser.
Sure, this freebie e-mail favorite has been around for quite some time. But there's a good reason for that: Eudora includes features like Mood Watch (which rates messages on a mood meter) that no other tool has. People who suffer from e-mail overload (and that's everyone, isn't it?) will treasure the program's unique folders-based approach to message organization.
If you're partial to animations, 3D effects, sounds, and other kinds of froufrou in your e-mail program, this downloadable software is the choice for you.
Need to share files? Forget e-mail, BitTorrent, and instant messaging apps -- you won't find a better program than this. AllPeers, which works from within Firefox (an Internet Explorer version is planned, but not yet available), lets you set up folders for file sharing. You can specify who has access to those files, and you can send messages to those people to alert them when files are ready. In addition, you can share Web pages or images from Web pages, and you can view any media files you receive from other people right inside Firefox. It's the easiest way to share files of any kind with anyone.
This peer-to-peer software lets you easily send and receive large files through e-mail or instant messaging clients. The utility is particularly helpful because most ISPs have size limitations for sending or receiving e-mail file attachments.
Though the BitTorrent standard is the best protocol for sharing files, uTorrent is better than the BitTorrent client: This program has an array of extras, such as a tool for limiting the upstream and downstream bandwidth.
Instant Messaging, Voice, and Video
How can you be in two or more places at once -- that is, use multiple instant messaging services simultaneously? Use Meebo. It lets you log in simultaneously to seven instant messaging services, namely AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN Live Messenger, Yahoo Instant Messenger, and Meebo's own network. You see all your contacts in a single list, and you can correspond with them all from a single interface. It's perfect for instant messaging on the road, since you don't need to download a client; everything is available on Meebo's Web site.
Use this Web site to make local, long-distance, and international calls using your existing phone, for free. The catch: Both your phone number and the one you're calling must be registered with Jajah, and Jajah users are limited to 30 minutes of talk time a day. Just type in your phone number plus the number you're calling, and your phone will ring. Pick it up, and you make a connection to the other party.
Phone other Skype members for free, enjoy video calls, and make cheap international calls.
With this service you can make free calls to Google Talk, Windows Live, or Yahoo Messenger users, as well as to Gizmo users, of course. Gizmo also integrates with Asterisk PBX; if your company uses an Asterisk-based system, you can log in to it and receive calls that way.
PC World readers named this IM tool their second-favorite behind Windows Live Messenger; in particular they liked its group videoconferencing, emoticons, and sounds.
Like Meebo, Trillian lets you log in to multiple instant messaging systems simultaneously. The difference is that it's a download, not a Web site.
This Windows version of the open-source client lets you log in to and communicate on multiple IM networks, including AIM, ICQ, IRC, Jabber, MSN Messenger, Yahoo, and more.
Though Google Talk doesn't have the big installed base of other instant messaging systems, its clean, simple interface and voice features make it a good choice.
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