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Sorting out your email options...

Once among the easiest of all computer applications, email has become more complex than it needs to be.  From getting mail delivered where you want it to sidestepping  unwanted mail, there is a bewildering array of options, some of which don't work well together.  We don't know that we can help you get it sorted out, but we're willing to give it a try...

Two main types of email service...
There are, in simplest terms, two main types of email service.  They can be combined in different ways, making it seem like more, but you basically have:

  • Traditional email: uses an email client such as Outlook or Eudora to download messages from your online mailbox to your computer.  The email client must be configured to access your mailbox.  You must specify specific mail servers, define a protocol, and set passwords and permissions before you can use it for sending or receiving email.

  • Web-based email: as the Internet became more consumer oriented, an easier type of email emerged.  Web-based email like Hotmail requires no email client, and messages are stored, not on your computer, but on the mail server.  The service is accessed through your browser, and requires nothing more to start using than a user name and password.

Neither of these types of email is better than the other.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and is particularly well suited for certain types of circumstances.  Problems arise when you don't allow for the limits and behaviors that each exhibits.

A variety of strengths and weaknesses
Traditional email transfers files to your computer, where they're stored for offline access.  Outgoing mail is held in an outbox until it is overtly sent, whether through a manual or automated process.  You can set it up to save copies of all email, sent or received, in archives on your computer.  The email client can automatically manage the online mailbox, keeping it clear for incoming messages.

On the minus side, traditional email is configured on, and managed from, a specific computer.  Once downloaded, messages are stored on that computer, and inaccessible from elsewhere.

Web based email keeps what it keeps in the online space you've been allotted for it.  Once that space fills up, whether with incoming mail, oversized attachments, spam, or copies of sent messages, web based email will not accept new messages.  You have to manually manage the mail-space, deleting old messages to make room for new ones, and manually accessing the mailbox on a regular basis to make certain it stays clear.

On the plus side, web-based email is accessible through any Internet connection, anywhere.  You don't have to configure anything, so you can use any computer to check or send your messages.

Working at cross-purposes
In recent years, there's been a move toward hybridized email accounts.  Many ISP's and domain hosts now offer a web-based interface to a traditional email mailbox.  In theory, this should provide the best of both worlds, with both "anywhere access" and local system storage for your message files.  We've seen a lot of problems with this arrangement though.  To use it well, you have to understand the way it works and how it differs through a web-based or traditional email client.  Since you can use either one, you have to understand them both.  Fail to do so, and email will become increasingly perplexing and, eventually, unusable.

Further muddying the waters, there are other once esoteric options now readily available.  Forwarding and alias accounts aren't "real" accounts at all, but relays that shunt mail addressed to them into another mailbox.  These are potentially quite useful.  Once again though, you must be mindful of how they work, else they may not work for you or, worse, not work as intended.

Rounding all the bases
In the example below, we'll show all the basic email options, and how they may be used by an advanced email user- one who understands the different types of email, and how they can be made to work.

This is one of many ways that email accounts can be set up.  It's a way that our fictional character (we'll call him Mike) finds useful.  Your needs or concerns may be different.  The important thing is to see the options, how they work, and how they could be adapted for your purposes.

Like many Internet users, Mike has more than one email account, and several addresses.  These help him manage all his messages, no matter where they come from or which address they're sent to.

Mike's business email is  His personal email is  He has a junk mail account at Hotmail, and his web site accepts mail sent to any name

In basic outline form, it looks like is a forwarding account.  All it receives is automatically sent to Mike's "real" email account. Mike's "real" account- the traditional email provided by his ISP.  We'll call it

Mike's email client on his business computer is set to access this account every hour, download all messages, and delete them from the server.  Mike doesn't have to be concerned with server space; it's managed automatically.

A pure traditional email account, this is used only from Mike's business computer.

Any user is a "catch-all" alias account.  Any mail sent to any name with no discrete account at is automatically forwarded to his "real" email account., Mike's personal account, is actually an alias.  It, too, automatically relays mail sent to it to Mike's "real" email. Mike's second "real" account- another traditional email account provided by his ISP.  We'll call this one

Mike's email client on his home computer is set to access this account whenever Mike is online and download any files.  Unlike the business account, Mike has set this one up to leave copies of message files on the server.

This allows him to read his mail through the web-based interface from his work computer (or any other Internet connected system), but requires him to manage space in the account manually.

While Mike's at work, he uses his ISP's web-based interface to read or send messages from his personal account.  He manually deletes all messages except the one he wants to save.  These, he leaves in place until they've been copied to his home computer.

This is an example of a hybridized traditional account- it can be set up to function as a traditional account, a web-based account, or a combination of the two. is the account Mike uses for online registrations, sending rebate requests, and other activities prone to elicit spam. This is a pure web-based account.  Messages exist only on the hotmail server, and space is managed manually.

If Mike wants to save any messages from this account, he forwards them to one of his real accounts for downloading to his business or personal computer.

These are the basic options.  Some web domain hosts (like have even more ways to use email, with optional mailing lists, multiple mailboxes, and more.  You can have any number of real, web-based, or forwarding accounts, and set them up to suit almost any purpose.


Kick out the spams
Today's web-based email typically includes anti-spam and anti-virus features, and these work reasonably well for most users who take the time to set them up.  Traditional email requires anti-virus software on the computer used to access it.  You also have the option, with this type of account, of installing and configuring your own anti-spam measures.

On our systems here at, we use Norton Antivirus 2004 and the new (2004) Norton AntiSpam.

Direct Connects at Amazon

See our review of Norton System Works

Viruses, Trojans, Scams, and Spam


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