Web mail? Who wants to read e-mail with a Web browser?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Google's free Web mail can be turned into normal 'pop' mail, so you can use your regular mail software on the road

Oct. 16, 2005

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2005, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2005, The Post-Standard

   Wireless laptop computers are great. But you discover a big problem the first time you try to do your e-mail from a wireless hotspot away from home: You can read your mail, but you can't send it.
   Most Internet Service Providers have a "gotcha" waiting for you when you connect from a remote location. The ISP's mail server refuses to trust you when you try to send mail. It will let you receive mail, but when you try to send something, the server pretends you don't exist.
   Technically, mail servers have a good reason to be so suspicious. If they allowed every Sam, Dick and Harry to connect to their computers to send mail, every spammer in the known world would do it 24 hours a day. So the folks who run mail servers came up with a way to keep spammers out without hurting the rest of us too much. They allow anyone to get mail, but they block everyone except a chosen few from sending mail.
   And those chosen few, as you can guess, are their own customers. But they add a step that makes it even harder for spammers. You also have to be connecting to the mail server from inside the ISP's own network.
   Did I hear someone say "Ouch"? It does sound hopeless, doesn't it. But it's not. In fact, there's a widely used way around this limitation. It's called Web mail. You sign up for a Web mail account -- there are many, and they're nearly all free -- and do your mail on the road (or from Starbucks or the library) using -- yuck! -- a Web browser.
   Web mail? What dufus dreamed up THAT crazy idea? Web browsers were made for surfing the Web. Reading and writing mail with a Web browser is like combing your hair with a pitchfork. There's got to be an easier way.
   In fact, there IS an easier way. Most of you probably don't even know about it. There's an easy way to turn the best of the Web-mail systems -- the free one that Google offers, called Gmail -- into a normal mail account. With a couple of clicks, you can set up your normal e-mail software to use your Gmail account for mail that it picks up and sends.
   This turns Gmail from Web mail to pop mail. ("Pop" doesn't mean your old man; it's a term for "post office protocol," invented when the Internet was young. Pop mail is mail that follows the standard for normal e-mail.)
   If you reconfigure the mail software on your laptop computer so it uses the pop mail form of Gmail, you can get your mail and reply to it from any hotspot (wireless access point) that allows you to log on.
   If you haven't yet signed up for your own Gmail account, go to www.google.com and click the "More" link, then choose the "Gmail" link. There's no charge for the account. If you've never used Web mail before, you might be surprised by Google's terms; you get a vast amount of storage space -- 2 1/2 gigabytes of file space -- and Google encourages you to adopt what might seem like a bad personal habit: It tells you you don't ever have to throw anything away.
   You've got so much storage space that you could, indeed, save every piece of mail you get for a couple of years -- maybe. In my case, I get a lot of mail, so I'm a certified deleter. Follow your conscience in this area.
   Once you're used to the way Gmail works on the Web, it's time to turn it into a pop-mail account. You have to change a few settings on Gmail's Web page and a few more in your mail software. Google has a page of help at this location: http://gmail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=13273. (Yes, that's a question mark in the address.)
   On that page, you'll also see a link called "Pop client configuration list." It has specific instructions on how to change the mail settings in all popular mail programs for Windows, Macs and Linux.
   When you're all through, try out your new wireless mail system by turning your laptop on in any local hotspot and sending me a note. Tell me how it's going for you, and add any tips you've uncovered. You can reach me on my laptop at afasoldt@gmail.com.