Excite's Universal In-Box: A Mixed Bag

If information is coming at you from too many directions, Excite@Home's Excite Inbox promises a solution. This Web site gives you one in-box for e-mail, voice mail, and faxes, and, perhaps best of all, you get it all for free. The only problem? It's not a particularly good in-box.

The service is pretty much your standard Web-based e-mail system, not much different from Hotmail or any other. You can visit it from any Web-enabled computer. It supports attachments, displays formatted messages properly, and can read messages from your standard POP e-mail accounts in addition to any other account you set up with Excite.

And, just like the other e-mail services on the Web, it's much slower than non-Web-based e-mail. You do get one unique feature: You can personalize the Excite Inbox with your choice of nine unread-mail icons and 15 color schemes, including Lavender, Techno, and Mint Julep. It's a nice feature, but not an earth-shattering one.

For voicemail, the Excite Inbox offers great conveniences for you and annoying hassles for your callers. If your friends call when you're not home, they must hang up and call another number (at least it's toll-free). Then, they must dial or say a ten-digit extension (there are ten billion ten-digit numbers; how many subscribers does Excite hope to get?). They have to wait through a short commercial, then leave their message. And they'd better be brief, because no message can exceed 90 seconds.

Just the Fax

Things can get worse for anyone sending you a fax. They must dial the toll-free number and then the extension, wait through the commercial, and finally press the fax machine's Start button on cue. While only a minor annoyance for anyone standing over a fax machine, this can be a major challenge for some poor soul sending you a fax from a computer.

On the other hand, should anyone leave you a message or send you a fax, it is conveniently listed in your in-box alongside your e-mail messages. Listening to messages and viewing faxes are both simple and easy.

You cannot currently send faxes from the Excite Inbox, but Excite@Home is working on this feature for a future version.

The service offers some nice ways to stay connected -- You can synchronize your in-box data with Microsoft Outlook or Palm Desktop, and if you have a Palm VII, you'll get wireless access to your messages. If you need free voicemail, the Excite Inbox could be worthwhile. If you want to receive faxes in your e-mail in-box, a competitor, such as eFax, may offer a better solution. And if you need free, Web-based e-mail, Excite Inbox is just one choice of many.

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