Google launches free email service

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Google has announced a free email service that is fully searchable and offers 500-times the storage capacity of Hotmail's free service.

A trial of the Gmail service kicks off today with testers hand-picked by Google. The web-based service will display text adverts alongside emails that are relevant to keywords in the user's emails.

Google announced the service in a cheekily written press release, dated 1 April, with its too-good-be-true tone suggesting April foolery, but with no obvious indication that the announcement was anything other than genuine (apart from claiming the service can search in Klingon!).

A Google spokeswoman said the announcement was not an April fool.

Key features of Gmail are the ability to search all emails sent and received; 1GB of storage, equivalent to 500,000 pages of email; and automatic grouping of email into "conversations", so related received and replied-to email would appear together, eliminating the need for folders.

Google said the inspiration for the service came from a Google user complaining about the poor quality of existing webmail services. "She kvetched [Yiddish for complained] about spending all her time filing messages or trying to find them. So she asked 'Can't you people fix this?'" said Google co-founder Larry Page.