I recently added a link into the supplement about AOL giving free email to AIM users. I saw Slashdot cover the same story and one comment gave information about how to access it. Naturally I had to try it out for myself.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, Gmail has the ultimate interface (I still have plenty of invites if you want one). So honestly, my expectations for AOL’s new mail service weren’t that great. However, the question is if it’s better or worse than the other webmail providers, such as Yahoo or HoTMaiL.
From my preliminary testing, I think AOL has done a decent job with its interface. My preference for webmail services now ranks as Gmail, AIM Mail, Yahoo! Mail, and then HoTMaiL. Now, I’m definitely not trying to bash Microsoft for no reason. Let’s be honest. HoTMaiL sucks. Its interface is complex and yet, has less functionality than any other provider.
I’ll start by telling you how you can try this out for yourself because most everyone I know already has an AIM screenname. Go to http://mail.aol.com and type in your username and password. That brings you to the main mail screen. Your email address will be firstname.lastname@example.org (not aol.com, that’s important).
It’s nice and clean. Now, the most complicated part of a web interface (and the one you’re most likely to work the most in) is the sending part. AOL covers all the important parts well. It will auto-complete addresses you’ve sent to before or are in your address book, warn of spelling errors (without having to load a series of pages), and will confirm the send.
Receiving the message in Mail.app immediately revealed a bad element to the new service. Like Yahoo, AOL stamps all messages you send out with a plug at the bottom of the email. The message as I received it with the test message was:
Check out AIM Mail – Now you can also use your AIM Screen Name as your aim.com email address.
This drives me insane as a receiver. I don’t want to see that because I shouldn’t be paying for the sender’s use of the service by looking at advertising. As a sender I don’t like it because I’m not told about this and it also means that they are doctoring my email messages. Given it’s just a footer, but I don’t like it.
Received messages are displayed in a standard way.
Now, a while back, AOL opened up external mail access for its users via IMAP. Unfortunately, my attempts to do so failed. For now, you’ll have to access your mail either through the web, or through their new beta Triton client. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm that as the current beta still lacks the ability to be installed when behind a proxy (which is why I despise downloading installers; it’s obnoxious).
So, if you’re still looking for a free webmail address and have some aversion to Gmail (perhaps because you’re paranoid to the point of living in a shack in the woods), you have yet another decent option.