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Google has added a feature to its popular Gmail service that allows users to easily import email and contacts from their Hotmail, Yahoo! et al accounts.

Mountain View’s new tool, which is powered by TrueSwitch, migrates messages and contacts from other webmail providers and is available for all new users who are happy to dump Google’s rivals in favour of Gmail.

Messages from old accounts can also be forwarded for 30 days, while new users get to grips with Gmail.

Google described switching email accounts as being a “pretty painful” process.

“It's like getting out of a relationship. You have so much baggage - years of emails and contacts, memories of past Christmases and Valentine's Days - so the easier your new email account can make it, the better,” wrote Gmail engineer Chad Parry in a corporate blog post yesterday.

Previously Gmail users were unable to easily transfer their contacts into the Google account. The webmail service required users to repeatedly export and import. However, the new tool has dropped the exporting to a .CSV file part of the process.

The feature will slowly be added to existing Gmail accounts, but Google is obviously extremely keen to steal a few new users from under the noses of Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL and chums.

Oddly, Google hasn’t made the feature available to businesses and the education sector.

“Sorry, businesses and schools using Google Apps won't see these new migration options,” said Parry, who failed to elaborate on why those users have been shunned.

He added that everyone can still use POP3 mail fetching as well as being able to upload their contacts in a .CSV file as before. ®

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