Let’s have a look at the facts and determine which one is a better choice – note I’m only comparing the free packages, not the premium services:

Hotmail
Price: Free-$19.95/yr
Storage space: 2MB* – 2GB
File Attachments–: 1MB – 20MB/email
Pros: It’s well known
Cons: It’s well known (meaning more SPAM); 2MB will fill up if you have a normal internet life; messages in your junk folder count towards your inbox total (until you delete them) – with the amount of SPAM you’re likely to receive, your 2MB will be gone in no time; that stupid frame that pops up when you open a link**; banner ads; It’s owned by Microsoft

*I received an email about 2 months ago stating that they were going to increase our storage capacity in a couple weeks. Well, a couple weeks have come and gone, and I’m still waiting to see that happen – I should note however that they did double their storage capacity (apparently, back in the dark ages, they only offered 1MB of free storage) – you know, how in the world can Microsoft try to be cheap? Isn’t Bill Gates like the richest man in the world – if Yahoo can afford to give away 100MB of storage…I’m sure it’s not going to break Microsoft’s piggy bank to offer their users at least 20MB (something to think about)

**Yes, I am aware that Hotmail adds the frame for “security” – or so they claim, but if they made a decent browser in the first place, they wouldn’t need to worry about malicious redirects, malicious code getting secretly installed on a visitor’s machine or the whole slew of other security issues that IE has…

I have just been informed that Hotmail randomly deletes email messages – the validity of this statement has not be duplicated by myself – however, the info came from a semi-reliable source

Yahoo
Price: Free – $19.99/yr
Storage space: 100MB – 2GB
File attachements–: ??? (I believe it’s 2MB-20MB, but don’t quote me on it)
Pros: It’s well known; Their SPAM guard is pretty decent; they value whitespace more than hotmail does; has a blog reader on your “My Yahoo” page; no frame when opening links in new window; a whole lotta storage space;
Cons: It’s well know and prone to SPAM; the 3 kazillion links you have to click just to download an attachment (unless it’s an image of course); banner ads; support is nearly non-existant unless you pay them (and even then you’re chancing it)

Google
Price: Free – Free
Storage space: 1GB
File attachements–: ??? (I know it’s alot cuz I’ve sent some pretty big files through that bad boy…)
Pros: The coolness factor of having @gmail.com on the end of your name; the storage space*; the conversation feature; archiving feature; the power of the Google search in your inbox; fast loading; text ads instead of graphic or banner ads**; refreshes automatically ever 2 seconds to check for new messages (very unnoticeable if I may add); the gmail plugin for firefox; google tech support is actually very prompt and courteous;
Cons: The Google server can get bogged down a little bit (very rare – and what do you expect from a beta?); they don’t have a visible “delete” button, you have to select move to trash or ‘more options’ to delete a message; the ‘label’ and ‘filter’ system is weird***;

In conclusion:
Hotmail – do not pass go, do not collect $200 – do not even waste your time…moving along

If you are looking for a reliable free email provider from one of the big boys – I’d recommend Yahoo or Google (gmail). If you can’t get someone to invite you to gmail- then Yahoo definitely a good substitute – but I have to admit Gmail takes the cake. If you are considering transferring over from Yahoo to Gmail – they make it easy for you (sort of :) ) – you can export your address book in Yahoo and inport it into Google – which is nice, then send out a mass message to your address book peeps and let them know about your switch and give them the new email addy.