Zoho & Microsoft Still Offering Free Domain Email Hosting Long After Google Paywalls Up

If you’re looking for a free email hosting service for your custom domain, Google is still out of the picture. But, Microsoft and Zoho are still in the game.

It’s been almost 6 months since Google closed off new free accounts for its Google Apps service. Despite the change, both Microsoft and Zoho have stuck to their guns and continued to offer free domain email & other services. Further, in lieu of Google’s absence from the free domain apps market, Zoho has recently increased its maximum users from 3 to 5.


I’ve recently been working on setting up a few new domain sites for a small company, and this resulted in me looking for free options. For the most part, most clients I deal with typically only need email and calendar. Docs are a bonus, but not really necessary. Because of this, everything else offered in the suite is just extra stuff that is almost never utilized. When I ask someone about it, it’s always the same response – “Why should I pay for extra stuff I’m not using.” One could argue that Google Apps Gmail alone is worth the $5 monthly fee per user, but when you’re a profitless startup with 5 employees and that is all they use the service – it can feel pricey at $50-$60 per year per user.

google apps charging $5 a month or $50 a year

This is where Zoho & Windows Live Domains come in, and they have the analytics to prove it. In a somewhat recent blog post from Zoho* it reported a 100%-200% increase in registrations immediately following Google’s termination of its free apps program. This is no surprise, but it really goes to show that there is a huge relatively large market for a free domain hosted email.

*Note that Zoho’s statement concerning Microsoft was completely inaccurate. Microsoft has always offered free domain email hosting and still does.

zoho analytics on traffic increase from google shutting down free accounts

Stacking Up the Remaining Free Options

With Zoho and Microsoft being the only two players left in the free game, how do they compare? Well, the first thing to look at is the user number, storage, and other administration features.

Zoho offers:

  • Up to 5 users
  • 5GB mail storage per user
  • 1 external pop client per user
  • Anti-spam & other default mail features that should always be thrown in.
  • Docs, Calendar, Contacts and other utilities

zoho mail core features

Microsoft offers:

  • Up to 50 users
  • virtually unlimited mail storage per user
  • virtually unlimited pop clients per user
  • Anti-spam & other default mail features that should always be thrown in.
  • Docs, Calendar, Contacts and other utilities

windows live max members

What about the Apps?

At first, it looks truly in Microsoft’s favor. More users, more storage space, and fewer limitations on email. If all you’re interested in is email – Microsoft’s plan is definitively the better choice. However, what about apps?

 Microsoft keeps its available apps simple:

  • Mail
  • People (contacts)
  • Calendar
  • SkyDrive – (basically like Dropbox but with free integration)
    • Online versions of:
      • Word
      • Excel
      • PowerPoint
      • OneNote for domains features

Zoho offers a much more robust online suite, but it requires a learning curve:

  • Mail
  • Meeting (web conferencing)
  • Projects (team document sites)
  • Discussions (team forum)
  • Wikis
  • Assist (remote support)
  • CRM (customer relationship management)
  • Invoice (billing & receipts)
  • Recruit (hiring management)
  • Reports (analytics)
  • Sites (website builder with free hosting)
  • Docs (essentially a clone of Google Docs)
    • spreadsheets, documents, presentations, groups
  • Docs storage (similar to SkyDrive, Google Drive)
  • Notebook (clone of OneNote)

zoho business apps features


If an organization primarily uses email and Microsoft Office, Windows Live Domain hosted email is a winning choice. However, Zoho offers a better online suite. When I compared differences between apps found on both hosts, Zoho still seemed to come out ahead. For example, Zoho’s calendar has a ton of more features, and the interface is much more intuitive. If web-apps and an online suite of business apps are what’s needed then Zoho easily provides a better service. It all depends on the circumstances, both of these free domain hosts offer a decent free service.



  1. Alan Lemond

    I recently took the plunge: got my own domain, so I could have as many personal email addresses at my own domain as I wanted

    I chose ZOHO to host/serve email for my domain, and have been nothing but delighted with the service/product they provide. Sycing between their IMAP server and my own laptop (I use Mac Mail) is silky smooth, and fast. Their customer service is responsive. Best of all, it’s totally free. (I almost feel guilty about paying nothing for such a great, and ad-free, service.)

    Above all, switching to Zoho allowed me to stop using Gmail. As most probably know by now, the newest Mac OS — Mavericks — essentially broke the native Mac Mail app with regard to Gmail. Most people seem to blame Gmail itself for this, citing Google’s wonky implementation of the IMAP protocol. But regardless of who’s to blame, Mac Mail just doesn’t play well with Gmail.

    But Mac Mail in Mavericks plays beautifully with Zoho. They sync flawlessly. So in addition to having a bunch of my own domained email addresses served through Zoho, I also have Gmail forward all my Gmail mail to my Zoho address as well. This allows me to access all my email — both my own domained email and my Gmail — through my laptop’s Mac Mail app without ever having to deal directly with Gmail’s wonky IMAP servers.

    • Guest User

      Are you paid by, or are you, an employee of Zoho?…
      I only ask as I have seen this exact response on several forums and it looks like it is not a genuine comment form a genuine user.

      Zoho has been terrible for me since I signed up.

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