As you probably know, it is easy to use Microsoft Outlook as a program, sometimes called an email client, from your home or office to download, compose, and respond to email. Outlook ships as part of the Microsoft Office suite described earlier in this chapter. A stripped-down version, Outlook Express, is available as a free download, if you don't have it already. (You'll usually find Outlook Express pre-installed as part of Microsoft Windows.)
There are also some other email client programs that proponents swear by. For example, you can find out more about Qualcomm's Eudora Email at http://www.eudora.com.
From the viewpoint of the mobile computer user, there aren't any major issues about using an email client when you are on your home or small office network. But managing email on the go can be quite a challenge.
One problem is that you might not be able to access your email server with your email client (for example, Outlook) when you aren't connecting from your home (or small office). This depends on your ISP. But many broadband vendors set up their servers (for security reasons) so that you can only use a regular email client from home.
If your ISP is set up this way, hopefully they have provided a way for mobile computer users on the go to get around this problem. A common solution is for the ISP to provide Web-based email as well as standard email. When you are on the road, you simply use the Web interface to read, compose, and send your email.
Remember that if you are using Web-based email from a public hotspot, it is not secure.
Figure 4.1 shows the Comcast Web-based email interface.
Figure 4.1. If your ISP provides a Web mail interface, you can use it from anywhere on the Internet.
So the great news about a Web mail interface is that you can use it from anywhere, as long as you are connected.
What if your ISP does not provide a Web mail alternative? There are still several viable alternatives.
Email accounts, such as those provided by Hotmail, Yahoo!, and Google are free, but they usually do expire if you don't use themso be careful if you think of one of these accounts as your permanent email address. There is also typically a line of advertising at the bottom of each email you send.
One is to get a free email account just for use while you are on the go. Hotmail, http://www.hotmail.com, and Yahoo!, http://mail.yahoo.com, are two of the most popular providers of free email, which use a Web-based interface. Google recently entered the fray with Gmail, http://mail.google.com.
Free Web-based email works well for sending email on the go, but it doesn't provide a mechanism for picking up email from your regular account. You can give out the free email address as your primary email contact (and forget about the email service your ISP provides), but this has some drawbacks:
An attractive alternative for a small business professional is to set up an email forwarding arrangement using a service such as that provided by Domain Direct, http://www.domaindirect.com. With Domain Direct, you register a domain namefor example, www.yourname.com. This costs $25 per year or less (depending on the number of years you purchase).
You then use the Domain Direct control panel to set up an email address or addressesfor example, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. When you are at home, your email program can be set to pick up email from the domain you set up with Domain Direct. When you are mobile, you can use Domain Direct's Web mail facility.
You can also use Domain Direct to automatically forward email to the mailbox provided by your ISP.
Another issue that confronts mobile computer users when it comes to email is to auto-respond or not to auto-respond. I'm sure that it is nobler to auto-respond, but there are some reasons you might not want to.
An auto-response is a message automatically generated and sent in response to an incoming email message. Typically, it says something similar to "I'm away at the Grand Kauai Shores Hotel until the 22nd, and I'll reply to your message then."
You can use an email program such as Outlook to generate auto-responses, but this isn't a very good idea. (For one thing, it means that your computer and email program need to stay connected to the Internet for the entire time you are gone.)
It works much better to use your Web mail interface to set up an auto-response. Both a Web mail interface provided by your broadband ISP and a third-party provider (such as Domain Direct) will provide this facility.
Here's why you might want to provide an auto-response while you are away on the road:
Here's why you might want to think twice about using auto-responses:
Like many things in life, the choice is yours. But if you are mobile computing and plan to check email anyway, why not simply respond to it, and forego the auto-response?