I got a Gmail account several months ago. I have to say, I'm impressed.
I have a Hotmail address, but I dislike the interface and I especially dislike how Hotmail opens links in a Hotmail frame rather than just opening a plain new window. I'd used that address for a few newsletters, but the Hotmail frames just bugged me so much that I've since transferred all those newsletters to my other addresses. I keep the Hotmail account open just because I don't want anyone else to have the address.
I also have a Yahoo address. Yahoo e-mail is okay. At least I don't hate it like I do Hotmail. But the interface is a bit clunky, and I don't like the Yahoo ad that gets pasted to the end of every message. Yahoo also has some weird way of handling suspected spam. A few of my newsletters continue to get routed to my spam box, even though I always click the "not spam" button and even though I've added their addresses to my address book as suggested by Yahoo. And the ads on the web site are too large and annoying. Still, Yahoo mail has served its purpose for me, and I'll retain this address, too.
But Gmail is easily the best online e-mail service available. The interface is decent, and the 1 GB of storage is generous. You can search your saved messages with Google's search engine, a seriously useful feature, especially if you have a pile of saved messages.
What I like the most, though, is the storage scheme Gmail applies to your saved messages. Most e-mail programs let you set up folders, and then you save each message into a specific folder. Gmail doesn't use folders, though. Instead, it lets you apply one or more labels to each message. Then it stores only one copy of the message. So I can label a message that someone sends me through my blog as "blog," but I can also label it as "crochet" or whatever topic the message is about.
You can also download the Gmail Notifier, a small program that informs you whenever you get mail. You don't even need to have a browser open to run the notifier.
This is a free service, so ads are inevitable. But Gmail's ads are generally unobtrusive, which is another thing I like about the service. The e-mail messages themselves contain no ads, not even one for Gmail, so the recipient sees no ads at all. The ads appear only on the Gmail web site, where you read and compose mail, and they are in a strip down the right side of the screen, just like the ads on the main Google search site. I mostly ignore them, which is really easy to do because they are all text ads—no graphics, no blinking, no sounds.
For now, Gmail is still in beta testing, but so far I've noticed no problems with my account. But since it's in beta, you can't just go to the web site and open an account. So how do you get an account if you want one? An interesting marketing ploy on Google's part, a creative way to increase demand: You have to be invited to join. Google occasionally gives account holders some invitations to share. As it happens, I have a few Gmail invitations. E-mail me (the link is on the left side of this page), say something nice that proves you've actually read more of my blog than just this post, and I might send you one! I have only a few, though. As they say in the kiddie contests: Many will enter, few will win!