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The Many Faces of E-mail

 "You've Got Mail"

Back in the 80's, a well known voice (trademarked, of course) announced from the computer speakers when AOL users received electronic mail.  The email program was just there. You didn't need to know how it worked. It just gave you access to email.

But with technology and innovation comes change.  People wanted the freedom to access their email from other locations and be able to have it even when they didn't have their own computer.  So email evolved with lots of choices and even more confusion. Hopefully this small tutorial will make it easier to understand.

Email Software

Email downloaded to your computer needs some sort of software to be able to download, read and send email. Many of the software programs are free (such as Thunderbird) came with your computer (such as Outlook Express) or is part of a commercial software package (such as Outlook which comes with some bundles of Microsoft Office).  It used to be that this was the only way to access your internet service provider email but now many of them provide web based email as an option as well.

Web Based E-mail

Many people have free e-mail accounts online through sites such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and even AOL which is still around after all these years. Many of them have added features you can purchase as well. The advantage is no matter what company you use for your internet connection, your email will always be the same.  These accounts are accessed through a web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome to name a few). All your messages, contact information and sent messages are stored on the websites servers. For years you could only access this email online but now you can also download your emails to your computer using email protocols (See email software above.)

Specialized Email

Many colleges are now using web based email for their students such as Microsoft Outlook Live. This allows all students access to email and provide a consistent method of communication without outside difficulties that can occur with a wide range of ISPs or internet e-mail providers.


Many companies have their own email servers and provide their employees with their own business email address. Like colleges, they can control downtime, security and availability on their servers and computers.

If you have your own website, you often have a choice of using an web based email or using email software with an email account reflecting your website name such as becky@mywebsite.com. You can even forward your email to your personal account; for example, becky@mywebsite.com could be sent to my personal email becky@herISPserver.com. 

So when you call someone for tech support, you may need to identify if your problem is online, through a software package or through a specific website. This will help your computer technician understand the issues you are having with your email!☺


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