Sending and receiving email should be straightforward, but should you do it on the web or locally on your computer? And your computer’s offering you something called ‘POP’ and ‘IMAP’ – what’s that all about?
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you’ve just opened an email account. You now want to send and receive your first messages.
What to do
If you have a webmail system, then go to the site – gmail.com, hotmail.com or whatever you’ve signed up to – and log in with your user name and password. You’ll see a screen of all of the emails you might have received immediately.
Even if nobody knows your email address, you’ll probably have a “welcome to your new account” message from your internet service provider (ISP). Click on it and it will open automatically.
You’ll see a button below it saying “reply”, another saying “reply all” (for when someone was copied into the original message and you want them to see the reply), and “forward” for when you want to forward a message.
There will also be a “create mail” or “draft mail” button, which you can use to start composing an email.
You can also delete emails (but note that the “delete” button just puts things in your trash area, so until you’ve emptied the trash it’s still using up your disk space).
The advantage of a web-only email system is that you can pick it up whenever you have a connection to the internet. The disadvantage is that it vanishes when you don’t have an internet connection, which is why you might want to look at using the email program on your computer.
Instructions for setting up an email program on your PC will be on the website where you have your webmail (or your ISP’s website if you’re not using webmail), but usually they involve selecting ”new account” and copying the details into the boxes on your email program.
POP or IMAP?
The important thing is to choose whether you want a ‘POP’ or ‘IMAP’ account.
POP, or Post Office Protocol, nips onto your email on the web, pulls it off the internet and shows it to you. You reply using your email program and your response is only on your computer.
IMAP, or Internet Messaging Access Protocol, is slightly more sophisticated in that it mirrors what’s on your email on the internet and copies it back to you. This sounds the same, but it means that if you delete a mail on your computer, it’s deleted on the Web as well, and if you reply to a mail on your computer you can see the response on the web, on your phone, wherever you use the email.
For preference, then, you should choose a webmail program with an IMAP email account on your computer mirroring it. This is flexible enough so you can put it onto your phone as well (as your needs change) or just use it on one computer. The remarkable thing is that it’s all free!