Internet search provider Google Inc. is expected to announce today that it will offer a test version of a free e-mail service to about 1,000 select users.
The offering, called Gmail, underscores Google's intentions to beat back the advances of Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN division, which have set their sights on the search business that the Mountain View, Calif., company has dominated.
Google will give e-mail users 1 gigabyte of storage space for their messages -- dramatically more than the 2 megabytes that come with Microsoft's Hotmail and the 6 megabytes offered by Yahoo Mail. (A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes.) Yahoo and Microsoft charge $50 and $60 respectively for e-mail accounts with 100 megabytes of storage, the maximum amount of space offered by either company.
Google will help pay for the service by placing relevant advertisements in e-mail messages, said Sergey Brin, the company's president for technology. For example, he said, an e-mail from a friend seeking advice about satellite Internet connections might include ads about such products alongside the message.
The service is to become widely available in three to six months, Brin said.
Thus far, Google has kept its hold on fickle Internet users by offering a high-quality search engine, said Charlene Li, a principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc. If Google can persuade people to abandon their Hotmail or Yahoo e-mail accounts and switch to Gmail, she said, they'll have more reason to stick with Google for searches.