During my early days on this thing called the Internet, it was practically required to have an ISP issued e-mail address. Free e-mail accounts were considered taboo to many sites and meant the user was up to no good, looking to get something free and minimizing spam. I belonged to a forum that had a special user class for free e-mail users that required double the time to complete the probationary period compared to an ISP e-mail user. There was an issue, though, in the days of dial-up, people didn't stick with an ISP. I had a couple ISPs early on in my Internet life, and when I switched, I had to inform everybody that my e-mail was changed. It sucked, but that was the way things were. That is, until Google came along.
I was introduced to GMail long ago during its initial beta period back in early 2004 when I checked my unused Blogger account and found the Golden Ticket (OK, it was an invitation on the sidebar of the menu). I thought of it as a novelty, another free e-mail account to use as a spam dump ( Ialready had a Yahoo account for that)...but I noticed something. My inbox didn't contain spam. Google had done what many others couldn't, created an effective filter for spam. I still used my ISP address as my primary address until Adelphia Cable was bought out by Time Warner. Then my e-mail address changed and I thought about using my web site e-mail (aliencg.com). It turned out, many domain names are caught by spam filters, too, so I tried using my GMail account. It wasn't caught by spam filters, it filtered out all spam e-mail and I could do something that was difficult with ISP e-mail.
The greatest advantage of using a free e-mail account is the fact that it can be checked anywhere. Just find a computer, log into Gmail, check mail and log out. It was a lot more convenient than going to my ISP web site, looking for the log in section, remembering my password (which I never needed to know) and then finding the e-mail link. Of course, I was the type to keep my e-mail program opened and it would automatically download my mail and delete it from the server. That made it difficult to check e-mail away from home. Also, ISP's generally require that the user institute his/her own spam filter which can be a pain to do. Most users won't bother and now they are forced to sift through many messages to find the good stuff.
I noticed something else not too long ago. During my job search I rejoined Monster.com to aid in finding employment. I noticed that there was a link on the registration page to get a GMail account. That's what initially got me thinking about this topic for a possible discussion. Many years ago, a free e-mail account was a sign of deviance and malice, today it's the norm. I currently hold four GMail accounts, my main one is AlienCG. I also still have my Yahoo account, which has come a long way in recent years becoming just as good as Google at filtering out spam. If you don't have a free e-mail and are relying on your ISP e-mail, give it another shot. It keeps you free of spam, it warns you about possible malicious links and it's easy to check anywhere.