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Issue #599: January 13-19, 2019

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Q: When and why have web sites that you are just searching for information asking you to download their complete program first? Sure would not take long to fill a hard drive.

– Glenn H.
Shalimar, Florida

A: Glenn, I wrote back to you asking for an example of what you’re talking about, but didn’t receive a response from you.  I’m a little concerned that you’re experiencing this behavior, because as you alluded to, it’s not normal.  I suspect that something is trying to slip malware past you and is disguising it as a programmatic download during the course of your regular website browsing.  Kudos on being alert and spotting it.

Having said that, there are some instances where this apparently odd behavior is actually normal.  It is increasingly rare for this to be necessary, but there is still the occasional site that needs to actually install software on your computer in order to function.  One example I can think of immediately is online virus scanners.  The required heuristics and scanning engine and virus signature file must be resident on your computer before it can function.  So, although it takes the form of a web page, it’s basically installing a piece of software (albeit temporarily) so it can perform the scan.  Imagine what a piece of malware could get away with on your system if you gave it explicit permission to install itself and run!  Just remember, malware authors program their trash to say and do anything and everything to convince you to “click here” and get it onto your computer.  Just because something calls itself “Mega Awesome Super-Ultimate Virus Killer” doesn’t mean that’s what it actually is. 

• • •

Q: We recently switched from CenturyLink to Cox. We still pay CenturyLink for our email since we will not be able to use our email address once we cancel. We considered using Gmail since we would be able to keep the same email address if we switch internet providers in the future but we have some issues with them. Which provider would be safe to use in case we aren’t happy with Cox? Also, will we lose all of our old emails? And what’s the best way to switch over? Please reply soon as we need to ditch the extra CenturyLink bill.

– Arlene L.
Niceville, Florida

A:  It is very common these days for people to maintain their e-mail at one of many free e-mail providers, for the exact reasons you gave.  People don’t like to be tied to their Internet Service Provider, and the tether of years’ worth of e-mail makes it difficult to pull-up stakes and move your service when and if you decide to.  The alternative is to wind up double-billed, as you currently find yourself.

I know of around a dozen free e-mail services available on the Internet today, which you can discover for yourself with a simple Google search.  Arguably, Gmail is probably the best among them.  It has excellent features worthy of either personal or business-class e-mail, including a superior SPAM filter, complete archive and search capabilities, both POP3 and IMAP access, and much more. Gmail is seamlessly and directly supported on all major PC and mobile platforms.  In other words, you can send an e-mail at home on your Mac, read the reply on your iPhone, and respond to it on your work PC – all effortlessly, and seamlessly.  It just works.  One caveat: Gmail (owned by the same company that owns Google) is in the business of information gathering.  I have never heard of this information being used for nefarious purposes, but if you don’t like your interests being mined for possible future marketing, then Gmail may not be for you.  As for me, I have at least 5 Gmail accounts for both personal and business use, and as far as I know, nothing bad has ever come from them mining my data.

As for your old mail, Gmail supports a direct-import function that works with most existing e-mail accounts.  From within Gmail you click the gear icon, then “Settings”.  On the Settings page, go to the “Accounts and Import” tab.  Find “Import mail and contacts” and click on it.  Another dialog with an import wizard will open.  Carefully follow the instructions, and it will guide you through the steps to import your old e-mail into Gmail.

Well, I’ve gone and spent most of my space singing the merits of Gmail, but don’t overlook Yahoo! Mail, Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), and several other providers.  Like Gmail, they offer many features of their own, and best of all, they are free.  So, don’t hesitate to try them all, then pick the one you like best.

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