Get a Permanent Email Address
Do you have an Email address that never changes? Remember that if you change your Internet service provider (ISP) you lose the address they gave you - not a happy change when you want to change to another service. Get a permanent Email account before you do anything else! Many online services can provide a permanent address at little or no cost. If you wish, you can ask your ISP to forward your email to the new permanent address. Better to set up your email software to read both accounts separately. In any event, use the new permanent address for friends and family, and use the old address for web forms (i.e. to receive future junk mail from them).
Once your personal mail is properly set up, you find that you want to:
POP or IMAP or Webmail?
Most people new to email start out using the webmail service provided by their Internet service. It's often simple to use and can be used on any device with a web browser. But if you get a lot of mail (email), have multiple accounts, want to download mail or archive it for future reference, you should consider installing specialized mail software. When you set up the mail software, you will need to choose between POP and IMAP servers in each account for reading mail. People with one email account and one computer will choose POP mail, so all new messages are downloaded to your computer as soon as you start the program. If you read mail on more than one computer or device, you will probably choose IMAP to syncronize between them. IMAP mail normally leaves messages on the server, but some mail programs allow you to download them for offline use (the original remains on the "server" - your service provider's computer). Here is an excellent tutorial on the difference between POP mail and IMAP mail to help you choose which one you need:
Reading Mail Away from Home
Most Internet service providers (ISPs) provide webmail service so check them first. There are many Web services that allow you to read email in a web browser - no email is stored on the computer so this is useful for public terminals. Some services also allow you to read your home POP mail account. (Make sure you set up the webmail options to leave your messages on the Mail Server so you can still fetch them when you return home.)
Find Web-based services for reading POP mail accounts online:
Web-based mail services will try to connect to your ISP's mail server, if you provide your mail settings (be very careful you are dealing with a reputable service before supplying this information). Once connected, use your normal username and password to reading your email. You may also do most of the normal functions such as reply, forward, etc.
Before you need leave home, you should create an account on one of these free mail services and set up an address book. Even better, store important addresses, files and documents in personal web storage space. Storing files on many free "Cloud" services is another solution. My favorite file syncronizer which includes online storage is Dropbox. Sign up for a free account here. This will allow you to access important information or files, even if your laptop is not with you or you simply don't want to travel with it!
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