Internet search giant Google is likely to launch its electronic mail service -- Gmail -- on Thursday, says The New York Times.
It will be 'soft launched,' -- according to people involved with the plan -- in a manner that Google has followed with other features that it has added to its web site, with little fanfare and initially presented as a long-running test.
E-mail has become a crucial weapon in the competition to win the allegiance of Internet users, who often turn to one or two web sites as the foundation of their online activities, the NYT said.
Google will offer consumers better access to search their e-mail and could well upset the industry balance by offering free access to services that previously were only available by paying a monthly subscription fee, the newspaper said.
The company is planning a service to be supported by advertising that will permit its users to store very large amounts of mail at no cost.
Google's entry into the e-mail business will sharpen the lines between major portals like Yahoo and MSN, the newspaper added.