Yahoo is raising the capacity of its free Web mail service to 1GB, more than Hotmail and matching Gmail.

The higher-capacity inboxes should debut between late April and early May, said Brad Garlinghouse, Yahoo's vice president of communications products.

Yahoo decided to increase capacity because users are increasingly storing messages with large attachments, such as photos.

Keeping up with user demands is important because Web mail service plays a big role in people's overall consumption of Yahoo content and services, Garlinghouse said.

"Today email is a much richer and essential part of people's lives than it was five-plus years ago, and the more essential Yahoo Mail is to someone's life the more engaged they will be with the overall Yahoo network," he said.

Yahoo's Web mail is indeed a very important starting point for engaging users, said Charlene Li, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst. "The big three doorways (to Yahoo) are the homepage, My Yahoo and Yahoo Mail," she said.

In mid-2004, Yahoo increased the inbox size of its free Web mail service from 4MB to 100MB, and later to 250MB, which is the current capacity.

Yahoo is also beefing up the free Yahoo Mail service's antivirus capabilities by allowing users to clean infected attachments, Garlinghouse said. This feature was previously only available to Yahoo Mail Plus subscribers.