Much ado about e-mail

I helped a client get a new e-mail address today.  I set one up on a public service instead of using one provided by his internet provider.

I took this opportunity to discuss my opinions on e-mail and I feel they are worthy to share with everyone else as well.

Most people will get an e-mail address provided by their internet provider and be happy with that.  But what if you decide to switch providers?  How about if you move and can no longer use the old provider because it’s not available where you went?  That means you have the get a new address and struggle to tell everyone you know what your new address is.  It’s probably more complicated than the system the US Postal Service uses for updating your physical address.

Because of this, I strongly recommend using a public service such as Google’s Gmail, Yahoo mail, or Microsoft’s mail.  These services are not likely disappear quickly so you should be able to keep your e-mail address indefinitely.  If you’ve been using AOL for a long time, you can keep this address for as long as AOL exists even if you quit using their dial-up service.

My preference of the above services is Google’s Gmail service.  If you use the web site, you’ll find that the interface is very clean and easy to use.  The ads they place to pay for the service are very unobtrusive.  However, the biggest reason I prefer Gmail is the second subject on today’s opinion piece.

In general, you have two choices for accessing your e-mail.  You can use the provider’s web site or you can use a program on your computer.  The advantage of using the web site is that you can access your e-mail equally well from anywhere.  This is additionally beneficial if you ever get a new computer.  The downside is that it is more difficult to manage your mail.  I’ve also seen some ISPs make it impossible to get your address book so you can take it elsewhere.

My recommendation is to use a program on your computer to access your e-mail because the advantages of managing your mail and address book outweigh the inconvenience of moving it from one computer to another when you choose to upgrade.  If you have a Mac, Apple’s is a great program for this.  On Windows, I’ve gravitated toward Thunderbird as a very capable and sophisticated program.

At the end of it all, I find that my opinion boils down to independence.  You maintain some independence when you don’t lock yourself down to your internet provider for e-mail and accessing it through their web site.

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