More activity occurred on the Web mail front this week, when Google announced the increase of free storage to 2 gigabytes. Competitor Yahoo Yahoo!, raising...

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More activity occurred on the Web mail front this week, when Google announced the increase of free storage to 2 gigabytes. Competitor Yahoo!, raising its own limit to half that amount, countered that no one needs that much space. Anything above 1 gigabyte, it claimed, was “just a number.”

This is almost true. I’ve been using Gmail as a primary Web mail address for several months and have never exceeded 20 megabytes — 2 percent of the total. With my current mail habits, I can’t conceive of using 10 times that amount. Even if I loaded all of my mail files since the turn of the century, I’d still measure far less than the halfway point.

Gmail, however, has indicated it is out to change the notion of “current mail habits.” While you can never bet solidly on any future products, the promise is to keep increasing the storage space. So by the time you fill 2 gigabytes, the available limit would be increased twice. Several local businesses wish the same were true for real estate.

Gmail and other services offering ridiculous amounts encourage us to think differently when it comes to using e-mail. If you restrict yourself to messaging (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it would take years to fill this space. On the other hand, you can use Web mail as an extension of your home hard drive, a place to park all of your data online.

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For instance, each finished document is easily sent to your Web mail box. Once arrived, you move it to an appropriate folder. You can organize these by month or topic, with immediate, easy recovery from any computer on the planet. For people who are small-document oriented, this is the perfect backup system.

The same goes for pictures, images and presentations. Just attach them to a message and send them to yourself. There is a limitation here, as attachments cannot exceed 10 MB. That might cramp your style in some cases, but it’s big enough for the average folk. Besides, it probably won’t be too long before the line moves again.

In the meantime, Gmail has become the Ginsu knife of Web mail services. It offers POP access, making it easier to manage large message files. It includes a message notifier and the embedded Picasa photo-management program (although these features are Windows-only). And a rich formatting feature allows you to get fancy with typestyles, highlights and other textual stimulations.

All this, and the product is still in beta. This means you can’t just log in and sign up.

You need to be “invited.” These invitations are a little easier to come by than the average Vanity Fair Oscar party; if you want in and don’t know anyone who has an account just search for Gmail invite.

It seems the people running Google are still having fun at this. Creating an exclusive club with millions of people is not something that Microsoft could ever pull off. Additionally, it is a club worth joining.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.