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i know that i will not be able to make users switch to my webmail from gmail. i dont expect that. but what would be the THING that would make someone say "hmmm, i want to use this email too!"? what do you think?
(2) Faster (easy to do if there's less advertising and graphics).
(3) Make it easy for users to create throw-away addresses on the same account that they can use for ordering things online if they're worried about getting spammed. For example, don't allow hyphens in account usernames, and then allow any user to create virtual addresses by adding a hyphen and then something else. e.g, if their account is "firstname.lastname@example.org", then they could use "email@example.com", "firstname.lastname@example.org".
(4) Build in features not commonly associated with an email provider. For example, a calendar/reminder service that automatically emails the user about events they enter.
Maybe some of these things are already in modern webmail, it's been a while since I've used webmail. I'm pretty sure #3 hasn't been implemented yet, though. That could be your Killer App. When you get rich, make sure I get a percentage. :)
Put up an Exchange server with Outlook Web access. Sell off accounts. ... Does that violate Microsoft's license agreement though?
Search 'hosted exchange' and you'll find a lot of firms doing this.
Presumably they have to have a special license agreement, though I wouldn't know for sure.
I agree with your implication though: Why try to re-invent the wheel just for the sake of it? If the OP doesn't have any innovation to add, why bother?