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Yahoo to Offer Unlimited Email Storage

Now this--this is just silly. I remember working on a Web e-mail review years ago in which the fact that Yahoo Mail gave you a generous 4MB of storage gave it an edge over Hotmail's Scrooge-like 2MB. Then in April 2004, Google launched Gmail, with a 1GB capacity that seemed so absurd that even seasoned industry experts (er, like me) thought it might be an April Fool's Day Joke.

Eventually, after several baby steps, Yahoo matched Google MB for MB. Then Google introduced a weird, weirdly compelling system that lets you watch your Gmail allowance grow moment by moment. (At the moment, I have 2833.40496GB--waitaminnit, now it's 2833.40454GB.)

And today? Yahoo has announced that Yahoo Mail's new limit is...well, it has no limit. You get infinite space for your e-mail. Let me repeat: infinite space. As in you can store all your e-mail. Even if you have an unlimited amount of it

The company says not all users will get limitless storage immediately--it needs time to roll this new feature out. One can only imagine: It must take awhile to buy and install an infinite number of hard disks.

(The official announcement also makes vague reference to "anti-abuse limits in place to protect our users." Presumably such abuse doesn't involve exceeding one's quota....)

I don't claim to be an expert on Yahoo's Web infrastructure, but it seems reasonable to assume that the company has an extremely large number of hard disks, capable of holding a very sizable amount of e-mail...but that neither the quantity of disks nor their capacity is in fact infinite. (No matter how much space Yahoo's server farms occupy, unlimited storage would tend to eat up a lotta real estate.)

At any given point in time, then, there must be a number--it may be measured in Yottabytes, which I just learned about--that describes the total theoretical capacity of Yahoo Mail.

I wonder if anyone at Yahoo knows what it is? And if so, if they'd tell us? Or would doing so tend to acknowledge the fact that they're really offering an unspecified very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very large amount of space rather than unlimited room?

And as long as I'm wondering: What's the most e-mail that any of Yahoo Mail's hundreds of millions of users will actually store? Multiple gigabytes is a given. But will anyone actually leave a terabyte or two on Yahoo's servers now that it's a possibility? Is it now possible that a small country might share one Yahoo Mail account and leave all its mail there?

Or how about a large country? Hey, it's infinite!

Still wondering: Will Google have to respond to this? And given that simply matching infinite storage would be sort of boring, will it need to go to infinity...and beyond?

Note: I'm the sort of guy who likes to use my e-mail inbox as a massive database myself. It's a sign of the genial good humor of PC World's IS department that nobody there has strangled me for the massive, server-choking size of my Lotus Notes mail file.

As for my Yahoo Mail account, I currently have 17,020 messages in my inbox, consuming 48 percent of my current 1GB allowance. I know because Yahoo Mail has a little capacity meter--which has me wondering yet again: How can a capacity meter show what percentage of infinite your e-mail is using?

I end this blog post with a mention of a fact I've brought up before: Yahoo Mail's slick new interface has been in beta which I mean since September of 2005. And it remains so.

In other words, Yahoo Mail may be infinite...but it still ain't perfect.