SAN FRANCISCO – Google Inc.’s free e-mail service will shed the final remnants of its invitation-only restrictions Wednesday, extending the reach of an increasingly popular product that has emerged as a vital cog in the online search leader’s expansion efforts.

invitations will no longer be required to join the nearly 3-year-old “Gmail” service in the United States, Canada, Mexico and a swath of Asian and South American countries where the Mountain View-based company previously limited the number of users.With those restrictions now lifted, Gmail will be open to all comers worldwide for the first time since Google unveiled the service on April Fool’s Day in 2004.

“It’s a pretty momentous time for Gmail,” said Keith Coleman, Google’s product manager for the service.

Although it will no longer require invitations to sign up, Gmail is retaining its “beta,” or test, status, signaling that Google still considers the service to be a work in progress. By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer

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