It has been a few years coming, but at long last the Google operated, web-based, free Gmail email service has lifted the crazy invitation only restriction. As from today you can simply click on a link from the Google home page and join in the fun of easily searchable email with that all important 2.8GB of online storage space thrown in.

Sergey Brin, one of the Google co-founders, has gone on record to say that Gmail is a cornerstone for the company. And rightly so, when you take into account the advertising revenue it generates by displaying context sensitive adverts alongside email messages but without ever really interfering with the user experience. Of course, the importance of Gmail goes beyond being a simple cash cow, it is at the heart of the integrated software services policy that Google has been promoting for some time now, bringing together Google Calendar and Google Talk IM for example.

But a cash cow it is, and with this latest announcement comes the news that it will become n even bigger one. It’s OK, don’t panic, there are no immediate plans to start charging for the basic service which will remain free according to Brin. However, note that I said ‘basic’ service there. Brin has made it clear that there are plans to charge for additional storage capacity, with an annual fee levied if you want to dramatically boost your online data store. Although no firm figures have been released, I am led to believe that a ballpark yearly charge of $25 for 6GB through to $500 for a 250GB is not too wide of the mark. Not least because these figures tie in quite nicely with the charging structure for the Google owned Picasa photo hosting service.

So just how many people actually use Gmail already? That’s an interesting question, and one that many people have been attempting to answer ever since the Google email revolution started. The latest figures from comScore suggest that Google is behind both Microsoft Hotmail and Yahoo, but has zipped past AOL into the third spot. This is not as brilliant as it sounds, because Hotmail is placed second on 236 million, with Yahoo in front on 249 million. Where does Gmail sit in all this? 200 million? Nope. 150 million? Nien. 100 million? Niet.

According to comScore it is just 60 million which means it has a lot of ground to cover if it is to truly compete at the top of the webmail pile. Given that Gmail launched way back on April Fool’s day 2004, one might have expected it to have done better. But then there has been that ‘invitation only’ hurdle to jump which has undoubtedly held it back in sheer user volume terms.

One thing is for sure, only a fool would bet against Google gaining ground, market position and bottom line profit…

About the Author

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

I thought that gmail had already gotten rid of the invite system but to sign up you had to put in a mobile number so that they could send you a verification code

Google is a fantastic,innovative,electrifying group and they are gonna beat out all their competitors in the long run....

lasher511: not in Europe, as far as I am aware...

indianscorpion2: do you like Google then? :)

Google is far from a fantastic group, they're extremely dangerous.
The amount of data they collect on people is massive, with no guarantees about protecting the privacy of those people in any way.

If a government were to do a fraction of what Google does the civil rights movement would be up in arms about it, and rightly so.

That's why I've blocked all traffic to Google on my machines. Their DNS entries are redirected to a localhost so nothing ever leaks back to them.

I don't know how I'd be able to survive without Google. That's a bit extreme, jwenting :)

Many don't find his view extreme at all. I think it's a realistic look at Google.

Whatever good they've done by providing revenue vehicles for legitimate sites like this has to balanced against the harm they've done to the web in general.

They have intentionally created a mystique and tremendous hype. They do very little advertising, and yet many use "Google" as a synonym for "search". They have co-opted the web, so that every web page becomes "their" content, which they monetize.

The store and analyze massive amounts of private correspondence.

They've made largely succesful attempts to ignore copyright laws on published books.

We've given Google the keys to all our content and data, or let them manufature their own "master key", with very little outcry, simply trusting their motives are always pure and their actions always good.

Google wants their engine to be the gate through which all content passes. When someone starts building gates around your property, perhaps an "extreme" reaction is the appropriate one.

Completely blocking Google is a reasonable response to the environment Google has created.

Maybe you won't survive without Google Dani, but I can.
After all, they pay (at least in part) for your bills and so you may go hungry without them, but not for mine ;)

There are other search engines, which often give more relevant results.
And if you've been online for a decade you have a repository of hundreds of sites (which sometimes turn out to be dead when you revisit them years later, truth be told) to get all kinds of information that's relevant to your regular work/hobbies and don't frequently use a general purpose search engine.

Google certainly has a part to play in the whole search thing, it would be silly to suggest otherwise, but I have to agree that it is not the be all and end all of search as far as I am concerned. My search methodology day to day revolves around Copernic Agent Professional without which I would be lost, pretty much literally much of the time!

This searches across numerous sources and analyses the results for me. Takes a little bit longer than just hitting the button at Google, but the quality of results is worth waiting half a minute for.

For the vast majority of the Internet using public though, Google is and will remain the gateway to the web no matter what you or I say.

Well, until the new Google comes along that is. I remember when AltaVista looked unbreakable, and Yahoo...

I remember copernic. I used them a couple years back.

If they are going to charge only on usage basis they got a winner.

I thought Copernic was just an app that scoured multiple search engines.

I remember using Northern Light for the longest time, till they went under.

That and Excite! but that was going back to 1997 if not earlier.

Privacy certainly ranks as one of the primary reasons many are opposed to Google and Gmail. Another concern is content appropriation and monetization.

I was a big fan of Google when they first came on the scene. I loved the relevance of their search results, plus all of the cool programmer-centric tools they offered. I didn't mind when they introduced AdWords – it seemed like a valid way for them to make money. We had legitimate search results, and we had "paid" search results, and the two were clearly separate.

At some point, though, Google stopped being a search engine, and became – something else. They weren't just indexing my pages (content I authored and own), but were storing complete copies on their own servers. Moreover, they use all that cached content to drive their advertising systems. I don't recall ever giving them permission to copy my copyrighted content. When did I become one of their "content providers"? Where’s my payment? If they are profiting from my content, shouldn't I get a cut?

Interestingly, I see the "Google Model: How to Profit from others' Content" paralleled in many online systems, including user forums such as Daniweb. It's certainly appropriate for a forum operator to sell advertising, and to dedicate page real estate to show ads. However, many sites (including this one) have crossed the line into selling off the very words members type. Again, a line has been crossed: sell your screen real estate? Fine. Sell my words, without my permission and without payment? Not Fine.

Aggressive monetization of third-party content is one of the saddest aspects of how the web has evolved. Keep your ads out of my posts, and keep my pages out of your cache. At least Google honors the "noarchive" meta tag. Where's our "no-IntelliTXT" tag?

In the early days of the web, there was the phenomenon of using HTML frames to wrap someone else's pages within your own. This caused considerable outcry, some lawsuits, and the proliferation of "frame-busting" scripts. Yet for some reason, we let Google cache and serve all of our content, in fact build a multi-billion dollar business around content theft, and they enjoy near cult status.

Pay to use Gmail? Google should be paying Gmail users and web site owners for the content!

I even use gmail on my blackberry, the ap is very cool and makes me even more productive.