In the past, people usually received an email account from the same companies that provided their Internet access. For example, if AOL provided your Internet connection, you’d have an AOL email address. While this is still true for some people, today it’s increasingly common to use a free web-based email service, also known as webmail. Anyone can use these services, no matter who provides their Internet access.
Today, the top three webmail providers are Yahoo!, Microsoft’s Outlook.com (previously Hotmail), and Google’s Gmail. These providers are popular because they allow you to access your email account from anywhere with an Internet connection. You can also access webmail on your mobile device.
Visit the links below to compare the features of the three top webmail providers:
Other email providers
Many people also have an email address hosted by their company, school, or organization. These email addresses are usually for professional purposes. For example, the people who work for this website have email addresses that end with @gcflearnfree.org. If you are part of an organization that hosts your email, they’ll show you how to access it.
Many hosted web domains end with a suffix other than .com. Depending on the organization, your provider’s domain might end with a suffix like .gov (for government websites), .edu (for schools), .mil (for military branches), or .org (for nonprofit organizations).
Many companies and organizations use an email application, like Microsoft Outlook, for communicating and managing their email. This software can be used with any email provider but is most commonly used by organizations that host their own email.
Visit our Outlook 2010 tutorial to learn more about using this application.
Email productivity features
In addition to email access, webmail providers offer various tools and features. These features are part of a productivity suite—a set of applications that help you work, communicate, and stay organized. The tools offered will vary by provider, but all major webmail services offer the following features:
- Instant messaging, or chat, which lets you have text-based conversationswith other users (check out our Beyond Email lesson to learn more about the basics of instant messaging)
- An online address book, where you can store contact information for the people you contact frequently
- An online calendar to help organize your schedule and share it with others
- A public profile that you can use for basic social networking purposes, like sharing photos, previous work or school history, and status updates, among other things
In addition, each provider offers some unique features. For instance, when you sign up for Gmail you gain access to a full range of Google services, including Google Drive, Google Docs, and more. Outlook, on the other hand, offers connectivity with OneDrive and Microsoft Office Web Apps. You can visit our tutorials on Google Drive, Google Docs and OneDrive and Office Online to learn more.