Saturday, February 11, 2012

Home e-mail management for rookies

Let's say you have a home e-mail account and several computers, for instance a laptop that you use a lot (including on the road) and an old desktop at home that you still use from time to time. And let's say you have a normal email account with an Internet Service Provider. You would like to keep up with your emails and not worry that some are on one machine and others are only on the other.

Oh, and you are not particularly computer-savvy and aren't likely to become any more savvy in the near future. And you use Thunderbird because it's smart, so you don't have to be.

Before this gets too autobiographical, let's cut to the chase. You have choices in how you receive your email and what happens to it after you receive it. You can make or change those choices right now on any computer that can access your email.

Scenario #1: One main machine gets and keeps all the email even if you read it first on another machine.
This is the one that I like. I want everything downloaded to my desktop. If I read it first on another machine, I still want to be able to read it on my desktop, without sending it from the laptop. Go into your email Account Settings/Server Settings on the desktop and set them to POP3. And Uncheck the box that says to save messages on the server for up to 14 days.

What happens as a result? Any message that you read on your desktop is downloaded onto it and removed from the email server. If a minute later you signed on with your laptop, there would be no messages to read.

Now go into the Account Settings/Server Settings on your laptop and set it to POP3 and Check the box that says to save messages on the server for up to 14 days, or whatever. Now, if you check email on that laptop, you have 14 days to check again on the desktop and get those same messages and store them where you want them. POP stands for Post Office Protocol. It works like this:
And you should never get a "mailbox full" error message, even if your friends send you those huge cloying powerpoint shows with the new age music and sunsets over camel caravans.

Scenario #2: you never know where you are going to be and you want all your email available to all your machines all the time.
The email provider's POP3 server is not for you. You want to be using their IMAP server, which you get to select in Account Settings/Server Settings. IMAP servers don't fully transfer anything to your laptop or your desktop or your mobile, they just leave all the files on the IMAP server and let you read copies, create folders and organize stuff, up to the limits of your email account. Sooner or later you will run out of room and have to get files off the IMAP server and onto some local storage. But as long as you are within the storage limits that you paid for with your email provider, the IMAP approach will be the best fit for you. IMAP stands for Internet Messaging Access Protocol. Here is how IMAP works:

Scenario #3: you have multiple email accounts, multiple machines and a need for everything all the time, everywhere.
You could forward some of your email accounts to gmail and use it with POP3 or IMAP, depending on your preferences. But your responses to the emails would go out from your gmail account, which you might not want. So then you need a service like Easy-Email which for a modest fee will handle all this stuff according to your specific instructions, regardless of how many computers and email accounts you are burdened with.

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