And the winner is ...

Datek

. For the third time in a row, this online broker was the top vote-getter among major firms. Why? Because it scored highest on criteria that our readers value most, such as fast order confirmation, real-time quotes and good executions.

But this is more than a popularity contest. More than 10,000 readers responded to the Online Broker Survey 2000. Their answers provide a unique insight into this fast-growing industry that millions of investors have come to rely on. Thanks to them, we now know:

  • what qualities are most important to investors in an online broker
  • how 17 different online brokers fare in those various features
  • which brokers are the right fit for different types of investors

Plus, we've culled all sorts of other information. You told us how long the typical downtime lasts and, surprisingly, how difficult it is to close an online brokerage account.

Over the next several days, we'll be sharing the results of our survey with you. Follow along, and by the end you'll know a lot more about what can be your most critical investment decision of all: choosing a broker.

But wait, there's more! We've also set up

message boards on the 17 brokers that we're writing about. Continue the discussion there, and we'll continue the reporting.

Coming Friday:

You want in on IPOs? Who doesn't? Few online brokers satisfy on this score; many don't even try.

What features appeal to what kinds of investors, and what brokers are right for the different investor types?

An in-depth look at two key features: reliability and real-time quote services

TheStreet Recommends

Saturday

Here come the biggies: Full-service brokerages are adding online services. How competitive are they?

Readers identified nine key features in a broker. In two separate stories, we review brokers' performance in the top seven categories after reliability and real-time quotes.

Monday

If you're thinking about after-hours trading, we'll tell you where you can do it and how well it works.

If investment research is what you want out of a broker, we tell you where you can get it. And where you can't.

Tuesday

Cradle to the Grave: We wrap our report with a look at a critical, but overlooked feature -- how to close your online account. It's not as easy as you would think.

Thank you, thank you.

A note of credit. An enormous number of people throughout

TheStreet.com

, as well as free-lancers, assisted in pulling together this package. Special thanks go to Lawrence Lewitinn, who crunched the data, as well as

Informative.com, whose technology was used to conduct this survey. Finally, hats off to our readers. But don't get too comfortable -- we'll be tapping your voting services again six months from now!

Informative provided the technology to conduct this survey.