A California company is betting that people will pay for Web e-mail if it's faster and more powerful than today's clunky free Web-mail services. The new e-mail offering from Oddpost looks and works like Microsoft Outlook and similar desktop programs, with the same simple drag-and-drop transfer of messages to folders -- but it runs entirely in a Web browser's window.

For $30 a year, Oddpost (www.oddpost.com) offers built-in spam filtering, an address book, a calendar and 50 megabytes of storage. The site, based on a set of advanced Web protocols that allow it to work "live," requires Microsoft Internet Explorer for Windows, version 5.0 or higher. (Oddpost users can also check their mail accounts from other Web-mail sites or via any regular e-mail program.)

In addition to a $30 consumer version, Oddpost offers different licensing plans for corporations. The privately funded start-up has six employees and is based in San Francisco. Chief executive Toni Schneider told a high-tech forum in Arizona last week that the company is already profitable from early corporate sales.

Schneider said Oddpost plans to extend its technology beyond e-mail. "We have a framework to deliver desktop applications in a browser, and we will do more than e-mail," Schneider said.

But Oddpost has to survive a tough business environment before it can expand. It faces competition from Yahoo and Microsoft's Hotmail, each with tens of millions of active users, and each making aggressive efforts to woo these people into signing up for premium services that start at $10 a year. Neither company releases exact e-mail subscriber counts, but both have acknowledged they have fewer than 1 million paid mail accounts.

TVTonic's Movie Mix

Another Web video service went live last week for people with fast Internet connections. The service, called MoviePick, features interviews, movie previews and footage of celebrity events. It's available as one of the channels on TVTonic, a Web broadcasting site. Subscriptions cost $1.95 a month and require installing a plug-in for Internet Explorer. The fee also covers four other channels, including cartoons, music videos, sports and news.


Listing the No-Longer-Free

Confused by the thicket of pay-per-use choices spawned by all the once-free Web sites that now charge subscription fees? A new Web site would like to help. Subscription Connection lists more than 300 Web publishers with about 700 pricing plans.

So far, the site has detailed profiles on about half those sources. It hopes to coax users into writing site reviews through a reward system of points redeemable for discounts and gifts. It's free, with advertising expected to cover the costs . . . much like at all those formerly free sites.


Q and Aid

Socratic Tutor mixes an ancient technique -- the Socratic method of asking questions -- with a new medium. This Plano, Tex.-based service, still in a trial phase, offers after-school coaching in science and math, employing instant messaging and online whiteboards to let kids communicate with tutors. Pricing starts at $8 an hour.


E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.