Most of us who use computers also use email (from the term electronic mail) In fact for many people being able to use email was one of the prime reasons for getting a computer. Nevertheless, how email works is somewhat of a mystery for many.
Email was born in 1971 when a computer engineer began using the @ symbol to designate which computer a message should go to.
At its core, an email is simply a text message from one user to another. Advancing technology has added extra features along the way, of course—like image and file attachments, links and embedded maps.
When you have an account with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), the company who provides you with your Internet service (in my area this is often Telus or Shaw) they will offer you an email address. This means they will designate a space on their server where you may store your emails. This space exists on the web, and is usually fairly limited. Thus you can only store emails there until space runs out or you delete some. This is usually referred to as webmail.
Some people never use anything else but webmail. They log on to their ISP’s website, read and reply to emails, and compose new emails, all directly from that site.
Hotmail, now owned by Microsoft and accessed from outlook.com, as well as Gmail, are also web based email, though, especially in the case of Gmail, there may be lots more space allotted to you for storage, and a more sophisticated setup.
So what's the difference between web based email, and a dedicated email client like Outlook
(which is part of the Microsoft Office suite of programs), or even free email clients such as the mail app built into Windows 10?
Think of it this way, let's say the space allotted to you by your ISP is like a Post Office Box:
If you don't get a lot of mail and/or don't want to keep any of it for long, you could probably get by with going to your PO box every day, reading your mail, jotting down your replies and leaving the mail in the box until it gets full, at which point you just toss out the oldest stuff or the stuff you don't want.
In its simplistic form that's what you do with web based email. In the case of Gmail you might have a huge PO box with all kinds of compartments and so on, but the basic premise is the same; your emails live on the web, not on your computer. You can go to any computer anywhere in the world, and as long as there is Internet access, you can go to the website where your email lives (for example Shaw or Telus or other local ISP) and choose webmail; or go to gmail.com, or outlook.com, log in with your user name and password, and there is your mail.
You can send and receive from directly from the website.
However, what if you want a bit more of an advanced email solution? Perhaps you want to file away emails for years, archive your email annually, or save a local copy so that it's available even without an Internet connection. Maybe you want a lot more space than your ISP provides. You may also want a program that integrates your email experience with linked calendars, reminders, notes and contacts.
Then you would use an email client, such as Outlook, that is installed on your home PC. The free clients built into Windows can do the job too, but are often less sophisticated.
This is not an either/or scenario. You can use Outlook while still leaving a copy of your emails on the server ( that digital “PO box”) for a period of time, or until you run out of space. When you install a program like Outlook you need to tell it where to go and get your mail. It's like giving your butler the Post Office address and your personal box number. You go through a step by step set up that will ask you the name of the server ( if you use a local ISP they can give you that info- it's also listed on their website) as well as your user name and password ( the digital equivalent of a PO box key )
Then Outlook acts like your personal butler and goes out and gets your mail for you at intervals that you specify ( every 5 mins if you like) and deposits it into your Outlook inbox.
You can then use the features of Outlook to file your emails, set reminders, set up signatures, send attachments, and much more; often in an easier and more user-friendly way than some web based emails, though web based email like Gmail, which is owned by Google (that’s where the “G” comes in) are getting more feature rich all the time.
If you tell Outlook to leave a copy on the server it will do just that, bring a copy into Outlook but also leave a copy on the web based server, so that you can access it from elsewhere. Again, only as long as there is space available. If you don't specify that you want a copy left on the server, Outlook will bring in your mail and remove it from the server immediately.
One thing to remember is that if you want to back up your email, calendar, reminders, contacts and so on in case of a computer crash, or other data loss, you need to learn how to back up the file that Outlook uses to store all that info. There are other email clients besides Outlook, but as far as backing up your data, Outlook does make it easy.
If you only use web based email you rely on the company owning the server to back up their servers. Big companies like Google are likely to be diligent in that regard.
So what is your email strategy?
Here is mine:
I have more than one email account; one is a “ throw away” hotmail address. I use that if I want some info sent to me from a website. If I find that eventually I get a lot of spam I can discard that address and set up new free hotmail address, and there is nobody that I need to inform about a change of address. I have one or two Gmail addresses that I use for certain types of mail too. I have my main ISP email address that I give to my contacts. I try to never use that on the web.
I use Outlook ( the latest version is Outlook 2016)
I set up Outlook to bring mail in from all my email addresses into separate inboxes.
I set up my ISP email to keep a copy on the server for 30 days. That allows me to also get emails on my phone and tablet, and I can check emails on the server if I need to from another computer.
I delete unnecessary emails regularly.
I archive older mail and I remove and save larger attachments into folders on my computer’s hard drive ( like my documents or pictures folders) This keeps my Outlook file from growing too large.
I also back up my Outlook files on a regular basis
Do you know how your email works ? Would you like more technical details, such as what are incoming and outgoing mail servers, what is meant by smtp, pop3 , exchange, and other terms? Would you like to know how to make more effective use of a client like Outlook? Would you like to know how to back up your email client?
All my personal clients and friends can call and ask me for personal assistance, or ask your own trusted “computer geek” helper to fill you in.