I just signed up for a gmail account - to use for blog communication and so forth. Gmail is wierd - it's been on beta now for over a year - they must have ironed the technical bugs out.
But you have to jump through a small hoop to get an account - there's no "sign up here" page - instead, you need to go to something like http://www.bytetest.com/ and get an invite. Apparently, they used to be sought after and sold - now, people just donate unwanted invites to a pool.
Why is this? Possibly Google lose money on each account - 2G of disk space costs a few dollars a year to maintain and if gmail accounts are mostly secondary emails, then ad traffic might not be enough to cover this.