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12/20/2007
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TransMedia Launches Ad-Free E-Mail

The Web-based service, dubbed Glide, offers 2 Gbytes of storage with its free accounts.

TransMedia on Thursday launched a free e-mail service that's also free of advertising.

The service, dubbed Glide, offers 2 Gbytes of storage with its free accounts. Upgrading, at a cost of $5 a month or $49.95 a year, provides an additional 10 Gbytes of storage, for a total of 12 Gbytes.

"Advertising used to be an art," TransMedia chairman and CEO Donald Leka said in a statement. "When done well, advertising can be both informative and entertaining. Today's online advertising, particularly targeted advertising, is unimaginative, invasive, and is violating the confidentiality of our Web browsing and personal e-mail. The Glide Free E-Mail Service was designed to provide consumers and businesses with a clear and definitive alternative."

In the wake of the uproar over Facebook's Beacon, the New York-based media sharing and storage startup is betting that privacy will prove appealing. And there's some sign that's happening as privacy and security converge.

But there's also evidence to the contrary: A recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 60% of Internet users say they are not worried about how much information about them is available online. And the FTC on Thursday approved Google's bid to buy DoubleClick, suggesting that the vociferous objections of privacy groups don't alarm regulators.

Leka says he's actually encouraged by the Pew numbers, noting that almost 40% of survey respondents expressed concern about online privacy.

Judging by the rapid growth of Google's Gmail, which scans the contents of e-mail messages to generate contextually relevant ads, most consumers appear to subscribe to the "What? Me worry?" attitude that the Pew report says reflects the majority view of online privacy. But businesses, which are warier about who or what is reading their confidential information, may recognize the value of Glide Free more readily.

Privacy may actually be the least of Glide Free's compelling features. The Web mail client is really a full-featured word processor known as Glide Write. The menu bar that appears in the Compose Mail browser window looks like what you'd expect to see in Microsoft Word. And because TransMedia's service is Web-based, it can be accessed from compatible Windows PCs, Macs, Linux machines, and various brands of mobile hardware (BlackBerry, iPhone, and devices running Palm, Symbian, and Windows Mobile operating systems).

Glide Free probably won't prompt people to dump their desktop word processor software -- old habits are hard to break -- but you could do so if you so chose, particularly since TransMedia plans to release a desktop version of its word processor in January. TransMedia's strategy of tying its Web-based service to local apps is starting to look at lot like what Microsoft is doing, except at a lower price point. Google appears to be heading in that direction, too, with its Google Gears technology.

TransMedia's online apps include Glide Write, Glide Presenter, Glide Publish, Glide Crunch (an online spreadsheet app that also runs as a desktop app), Photo Editor, Glide E-mail, Glide Share, Glide Chat, and Glide Sync.

This last app is the glue that holds the system together: It synchronizes files from a desktop computer to TransMedia's online storage and from there either streams them to mobile devices or syncs them to other desktop machines. If you want your Windows PC at work to have the same documents as your Mac at home, Glide Sync proves to be a rather useful bit of software.

Glide Free also makes a virtue of digital rights management, a technology widely loathed in the blogosphere but welcome in corporate settings. It allows e-mail senders to assign rights to attached media files, so that recipients can specify how many times those files can be played, downloaded, or transferred.

Glide Free users can unsend attachments immediately and also have access to limited tracking capabilities, so they can find out, for example, if the recipient of a message has opened it. They can also save e-mail messages in Glide Write, Microsoft Word, and/or PDF formats.

While TransMedia may have an uphill battle to win e-mail users away from the likes of Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, Leka is undaunted. "We're counting on the massive difference in terms of features and capabilities" to differentiate Glide Free, he said. "People have become convinced that less is more. We think more is more."

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