I have had a Hotmail account for 8 years now and a Yahoo account for 4 years. I originally used the old Outlook Express but have not used that or any other Hard Drive based system for many years. The prime advantages are no hassle transferring old email to a new Computer, no synchronizing between Computers is needed and easy access from anywhere in the world. Further there is near unlimited storage and inbuilt security scanning. My Yahoo account is used for all personal mail and Hotmail for everything else such as online shopping. Yahoo and Hotmail are the Market leaders with Gmail a distant third but catching up. I have a Gmail account but have made little use of it so far so have not included it in this comparison.
Features in Webmail are changing all the time. The details in this Article are current as at January 2010 but could well change in the future.
Signing up and free features
Both systems have quite easy and straightforward signup systems. Both have been around for a while so most names are taken so you may have to add an initial or number. Yahoo and Hotmail both have free email accounts. Both have extra features with their Plus versions which each cost just under $ 20 per annum.
Yahoo has unlimited storage on free accounts. Hotmail has 5GB. You can download emails to your computer using POP access on Hotmail free. With Yahoo you need the paid for Plus account. Hotmail free accounts expire after 120 days of no activity. Yahoo expires after 4 months of no activity. The Plus accounts of both systems have no expiration limits. No ads in Hotmail free except in outgoing email. Yahoo free has ads on the interface. This can be closed on the New Mail interface. No ads on either system for their Plus accounts.
Both email accounts have a good scanning system for viruses in email and attachments.
Interface and ease of use
Yahoo wins hands down in this area. The system has a choice of Classic, better for slower connection speeds, and All New Mail. The more advanced interface is the best on the Web. Especially useful is the Tabs system. Want a new email and you get a new tab. Do a search of email and you get a new tab so you can switch between everything with ease. Hotmail by comparison is frustrating. If you are in the middle of composing a new email and want to check something in an earlier email the only way is to save it as a draft and come back to it later. Yahoo is much simpler and quicker.
Searching for old emails and using attachments is much better in Yahoo. Search by keyword or sender or both and from the results get a list of refinement options such as sender, year and even a breakdown to months. For attachments received you can download view and then save. Searching with Hotmail produces great long lists of emails with no refinement options. Attachments received have to be saved somewhere first before opening often ending up in the wrong folder before being viewed.
An exceptionally useful feature of the Yahoo Plus paid for option is the ability to quickly create disposable email addresses from the one account. These can be used when signing up to something on the web, used for immediate necessary emails and then deleted.