Despite requesting to be a beta tester for Google's Gmail webmail service (eventually POP and IMAP as well), I'm yet to get the early nod from the powers that be (though apparently other "active" Blogger users have). Lucky for me, Jeremy Zawodny had some extra invites to spare and he sent me one a couple of days ago (I guess I could have always turned to eBay).
Everyone knows the big deal behind Gmail is the 1GB (yes, 1000MB) of storage space that comes with each account and the ability to archive/search through ALL of your messages. Given that I already do these things, and have for years, I'm obviously not going to begin using Gmail as my e-mail 'client.' In fact, I doubt I'll ever use it to send/receive personal e-mail. The reason I wanted to get an account was simply to play with it; to find out what all the hype was about (and to reserve the jblanton username — you just never know).
If I'm being perfectly honest, I'm afraid I don't see the big deal. I can't find anything particularly "innovative" going on here, save the fact that some things people have been doing for years in native e-mail clients are now being offered through a non-local webmail interface. *shrug* I guess the regular user out there who uses Hotmail/Yahoo/MSN/etc as their primary e-mail tool might like the fact that they don't have to delete their e-mail, but hell, they can't care too much because they've been deleting their e-mail for years. Either way, more space was the logical progression of such accounts. Granted, the jump from 3-10MB to 1GB is impressive, but all other similar outfits will follow suit in due time.
The fact that Gmail has "virtual folders" is also creating quite the buzz. While neat and practical, it certainly isn't cutting-edge technology — correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe I was doing this in Evolution years ago.
Notwithstanding all of these not-so-innovative innovations, if I were one of those people who used any of the aforementioned free webmail services, I would definitely jump on Gmail as soon as it's made available to the public. Let's be clear: Gmail is the free e-mail service to beat. The only caveat is that you will be signing away your privacy (your e-mail "conversations" are used to deliver context-sensitive ads), but this is really no different from privacy issues that already afflict other services (or will in the very near future).
As others have done, I'm posting my new address here to generate some spam so that I can take a look at how Gmail attacks it (this was actually the only reason for this post, but it appears that I've managed to ramble on as usual).