BOOT CAMP 160 (01/02/01)


E-mail – the basics part 2


Following on from last week's introduction to email and how it works, in part two of this short series we'll be looking at the first steps to getting started and how to choose and sign up for an email account. Next week in the third and final instalment it's down to business, sending and receiving your first emails. Incidentally most of what follows only applies to PC (Windows and Mac) users.


Non-PC email services via Internet/cable/digital set-top boxes, mobile phones etc., normally give you no choice about the service provider and you are usually restricted to sending and receiving plain text messages. Pocket PCs and organisers may also be limited to the type of email services available so I repeat last week's advice and suggest that if you want to use the full range of email facilities, including sending and receiving pictures, start with a PC.


In order to use email on a PC you must have an account with an Internet Service Provider or ISP. This will provide you with access to the Internet and will include one or more email addresses. Newcomers often find the huge choice of deals and schemes bewildering. Unfortunately we haven't any easy answers, or specific recommendations but here are a few general points to bear in mind.


Ask around, other people's experiences, good and bad, are always worth listening to. If you are only interested in email and think it unlikely that you will want to do a lot of net surfing then shortlist the free or non-subscription companies, (Virgin, FreeServe etc.) where all you pay are call charges when you are on-line, usually at local or lo-call rates. The downside is that their lines can be busy at peak times and you may have to wait or make several attempts to get on-line. Also, of you get stuck helplines and technical assistance is usually charged at premium rates, up to £1 a minute in some cases, so check the small print! Subscription based ISPs, such as AOL and CompuServe etc. are generally better suited to moderate and heavy internet users, they may have more lines, meaning faster and more reliable connections, help is usually free and they have their own web sites with many additional services for subscribers.


ISPs offering unmetered and 'unrestricted' access – i.e. you pay no call charges, just a one-off or annual subscription  – have had had a chequered history. There have been plenty of tales of woe too, regarding the difficulty of getting on line and user's accounts being terminated or the service being suspended with little or no warning. Suffice it too say these specialist services are really only suitable for knowledgeable and heavy-duty Internet users. Also, keep in mind those old adages about getting what you pay for, and there being no such thing as a free lunch… It's also fair to say that the bigger and longer established companies have survived in a volatile and turbulent market by (mostly) providing a more effective and reliable service.


So, let's assume you've got your new Internet-ready PC plugged in and ready to go, and you've decided on an ISP, what next? If you've opted to join up with one of the big boys you might find there's a sign-up icon on your PC desktop; if so click on it and follow the instructions. If you're using a disc (sent to you, magazine insert or cover mount etc.) pop it in the CD-ROM drive and again, follow the instructions.


The procedure varies from one ISP to another, some immediately open your PC's Internet browser and dial up the ISP's Internet sign-up page where you will be asked a series of simple questions. Other discs request information 'off-line' and dial-up later in the process. Either way you will be asked to enter your name, telephone number and credit card details (if it's a subscription-based account). You will be asked to think up a 'username', which will become the first part of your new email address (before the @ or 'at' symbol). Be creative and have an alternative ready since if your surname is reasonably common someone may already be using it. A password also has to be created, make sure it's long enough, try to be original but memorable. Your details will be checked and at this point you may be asked to submit a new username or password if they're already in use. When approved all of your details will appear on the screen and it's done. It's a good idea to print this information and keep it in a safe place.


During the sign-up your PC will be configured so that you don't have to mess around with Windows settings and you won't have to remember dial-up telephone numbers and passwords when you go on-line. However, some ISP sign-up discs load their own Internet Browser and email client programs, or modify or install bespoke versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, which a lot of people do not like. At some point you might change ISPs, get a new PCs, or buy a laptop, so for those reasons it's useful to know how to configure an ISP account manually. Once you are signed up with an ISP you can easily change to another one, without the need for a disc, by visiting the new ISP's home page and sign up on-line.


In most versions of Windows all you have to do is start the Internet Connection Wizard, which you'll find either as a desktop icon, or by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > Communications. In Windows 95 it's on the Start menu, or it can be accessed from Windows Help, by typing 'Signing on' in the Index search field. The key details that you will need to have to hand are your ISP's dial-up phone number, your username and email address, password and something you may not have come across before, Internet addresses for your ISP's mailboxes. These will be included in the information supplied to you when you first signed up. Most ISPs use the POP3 system (see Jargon Filter), and there will be two addresses, one for incoming mail called POP3, and the other for outgoing messages, called SMTP (Jargon Filter).


Windows has made the sign-up process virtually painless and there's no reason why you can't have several email accounts and access your email account from any number of PCs, even someone else's, or from an Internet café.


Next week – part 3, going on line and email alternatives





Post Office Protocol version 3 -- widely used Internet e-mail standard, compatible with popular Windows 'client' software (Outlook, Outlook Express, MS Exchange/Windows Messaging, Eudora etc), on PCs and palmtop computers (Psion, Windows CE etc.)



Simple Mail Transfer Protocol – system used to move email messages around the Internet




Unless you have a fast digital or cable connection to the Internet, waiting for graphically rich web pages to download can be a tedious business. This quick and simple Internet Explorer tip won't make it happen any faster, but at least it can give you something more interesting than blank space to look at whilst you are waiting. Instead you will see the boxes images will eventually occupy, and give you a good idea of the layout and size of each page. To enable the option open Internet Explorer and go to the Tools menu. Select Internet Options, click the Advanced tab and scroll down the list in the Settings window until you come to Multimedia. Put a check mark next to the item 'Show image download placeholders' then click OK.

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