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Issue #150: June 6, 2010

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about gmail?  I was thinking of changing my email from Outlook Express to gmail but I don’t know much about it.. 

– Nancy S.
Destin, Fla

A: You bet, Nancy, although it is hard to talk about Google’s Gmail and only say “a little”. Anyone who has been to any of my lectures or has read my column for a while knows that I’m a pretty big fan of Gmail.  I use it myself, for both personal and business e-mail.  Let me start by correcting you on one thing.  You don’t need to quit using Outlook Express in order to use Gmail.  Gmail is an e-mail service, while Outlook Express (or Outlook, or Eudora, or Thunderbird etc) are e-mail clients – the software you run on your computer to compose, send, and receive e-mail.  Understanding the difference is important.  Think of an e-mail service as if it were a package delivery company, or the Post Office.  You have the choice of USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.  Now think of your mail client like the mailbox at your house.  You have the choice of what mailbox you install, and the mailbox you choose has no bearing on the delivery service you use.  The e-mail you sent to me came from an e-mail address.  So in your case, your current e-mail service is Cox.  When you are considering switching to Gmail, it is this mail provider that you are actually considering replacing with Gmail.  I sense a potential point of confusion coming up.  Don’t think that you can just drop Cox if you switch.  Cox is your Internet Service Provider (ISP), and you will still need them even if you start using Gmail.  Almost all ISPs provide e-mail addresses to their customers, but you don’t have to use them.  The different is that if you ever switch ISPs, your Cox e-mail accounts will go away, while accounts on Gmail, since they are independent of your ISP, will not.

So what’s to know about Gmail?  Well, it’s free first of all.  At least, it’s free if you can work within about 8 gigs of online storage.  In case you’re wondering whether that will be enough, if you download e-mail using a client like OE, you don’t need to worry about storage, because you don’t keep mail on the server.  If, like me, you use the Webmail interface, or simply choose to leave the e-mail on the server for archival purposes, it’s still pretty big.  I’ve been using Gmail since this column began in July 2007, and I am using only about 1% of my free storage.  If you find you need more, you can purchase it at pretty reasonable rates.  As I said above, Gmail is also compatible with almost all e-mail clients (for you Geeks, it supports both POP3 and IMAP) but also has a nice Webmail interface.  That means you can access if from any web-enabled device in the world (computer, smartphone, net appliance etc.).  It also has one of the best SPAM filters I’ve ever seen built right in.  My Geekmail address gets posted online every week, making me a juicy target for spammers.  I get countless thousands of SPAM e-mails a week, but only about 1 or 2 per week ever make it to my Inbox.  If you do decide to switch, you’ll find that Gmail makes it as easy as possible.  They provide tools to transfer your address book and archived e-mails over to your Gmail account quickly and easily.  The bottom line is that Gmail is a great free alternative to the e-mail addresses your ISP provides.  It is fully compatible with the way you already use e-mail, and brings a lot of new features with it. 

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