The Practical Mac

The Benefits of Using Webmail

A 'Best of the Practical Mac' Column

- 2003.06.17 - Tip Jar

Most of us take email for granted. It is not something we fully appreciate until we don't have it anymore.

I was recently in such a situation, and the lessons I learned can benefit anyone who finds themselves in a similar predicament.

I serve as an officer in the JAG Corps of the U.S. Army Reserve. I was recently mobilized for a tour of duty as a Trial Counsel (the Army equivalent to the civilian prosecutor) in Kosovo. In one stage of my training, I was sent to a location where I was permitted email access only through government computers connected to a government network.

Using my own notebook and email client was not an option. The only way to check my personal email was via web mail.

This mobilization is also the primary reason my columns have not appeared regularly in the last few weeks.

Webmail is essentially using a web browser, such a Internet Explorer or Netscape, to access your email account. The advantages of such a system are that you don't need your own computer or a regular email client to check your mail. If you have access to a computer connected to the Internet, you have access to your email.

When you sign up for webmail, you will receive a separate email address for the web mail service, although you do not necessarily have to use or even give out this address. Webmail can be a life saver when you find yourself away from your own computer.

There are some disadvantages to this system as well. It tends to be slower than a traditional email client, such as Outlook Express, Entourage, or Eudora. When accessing your email from a public computer, you must take care to log out and close the web browser. Failure to do so may allow others to come along and access your email from the same terminal. Finally, webmail can be more cumbersome, often requiring additional steps to log on and check your mail.

However, if you should find yourself in a situation where your only choices are webmail or no mail, you will almost certainly find the slight hassle well worth the effort.

Many ISPs (Internet Access Providers) allow you to check your email via web browser. Check your ISP's website or contact them to find out if they have this capability. If not, there are several quality third parties offering web mail services. Among the most prominent are Yahoo!, Apple (.mac), Low End Mac, and Novell. Many are available at a low cost, and some are even free.

Most webmail services work in one of two ways. Some require you to forward your primary email account to the webmail service; others allow you to check your regular email directly from the web interface.

Many professionals who travel a great deal are even using webmail service as their primary email account. The fact that you do not have to change email addresses when you move or change ISPs is another attractive feature of webmail.

When you are at home, most web mail services allow you to have any email received at your webmail address automatically forwarded to your regular email account. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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