Electronic Mail: What Is It?

Dennis Faas's picture

Just about everyone who surfs the Web has an email account any more.

Most of the Internet Service Providers on the 'net have a set of mailboxes they provide their customers, but the software they provide for folk to get to their email account sometimes does not provide the tools needed to effectively use their email Inboxes.

There are several "email Clients" available that we be presenting. Before we get to that, there is some information you need to know to be able to select the best fit for your use.

First we need to define what and where a client and server are. An email client is the software package you install on your desktop or laptop and is used to download and display messages you receive.

The server sits on the Internet and receives and stores your email for delivery -- sort of like a Post Office. It controls the contents of your Inbox and, if you are lucky enough to have a modern ISP, some form of SPAM filtering. The server uses email Protocols to handle messages for you in one fashion or another.

There are essentially two protocols that are used, IMAP and POP.

IMAP is the Internet Message Access Protocol, or as it was once known, the Interactive Mail Access Protocol. It represents a communications mechanism for mail clients to interact with mail servers, and manipulate mailboxes thereon.

IMAP is centered on the notion that the server is your primary mail repository. Messages are always retained on the server. The client may issue commands to download them or delete them, access and set message state information, but the server always maintains the mailboxes.

The protocol also provides for the entire structure of a message to be transferred, which can provide a client mail program with an outline of a complex MIME message (we'll cover this later), but without requiring the client to read the entire message and parse it locally to determine that structure, which is how POP works.

Perhaps the most popular mail access protocol currently is the Post Office Protocol (POP), which also addresses remote mail access needs. IMAP offers a superset of POP features, which allow much more complex interactions and provides for much more efficient access than the POP model.

So, which is better? IMAP is of course, but it is more costly to the ISP because of the resources required of the server. Therefore, POP (or POP3) is the more popular because of reduced resources required.

I mentioned earlier that I would tell you a little about MIME. No, it is not a street performer trying to get out of a non-existent box, pulling an invisible rope, or juggling air.

MIME is short for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, a specification for formatting non-ASCII messages so that they can be sent over the Internet.

Many email clients now support MIME, which enables them to send and receive graphics, audio, and video files via the Internet mail system. In addition, MIME supports messages in special character sets.

There are many predefined MIME types, such as GIF graphics files and PostScript files and it is possible to define your own MIME types. In addition to e-mail applications, Web browsers also support various MIME types. This enables the browser to display or output files that are not in HTML format.

Usually, the most difficult part of installing one of these packages is in the area of set up. Before you start, determine what your server names for both sending and receiving email, your ID, and name, as far as the server knows. Some of these packages have set up tools that will simplify the process. However, if you run into a problem, give the folks at your ISP a call and ask for assistance. It should not take but a moment or two and you will be up and reading email before you know it.

  • Mozilla Thunderbird makes e-mailing safer, faster, and easier than ever before with the industries best implementations of features, such as intelligent spam filters, a built-in RSS reader, and quick search. It gives you a faster, safer, and more productive e-mail experience. Thunderbird was designed to prevent viruses and to stop junk mail so you can get back to reading your mail. Thunderbird provides the most effective tools for detecting junk mail. The tools analyze your e-mail and identify those that are most likely to be junk. You can automatically have your junk mail deleted or you can put it in a folder you specify, just in case you like reading junk mail. View your e-mail the way you want it. Access your e-mail with Thunderbird's three-column view. Customize your toolbar, change its look with themes, and use Mail Views to quickly sort through your messages.
  • Eudora, which is the client I use, is a robust e-mail client whose features include multiple address-book-formatting options and the ability to filter, redirect, and forward mail. It supports QuickTime- and HTML-enriched e-mail, letting you include stylized, formatted text and in-line graphics in your messages. Other features include a multi-pane interface; background mail-checking and sending; the ability to import existing settings, e-mail, and address books from Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, or Netscape mail programs; a Qualcomm Pure Voice plug-in that allows voice-message exchanges; and a customizable interface, including movable, dockable window groups and toolbars. Eudora also features support for regular expressions in filters, field auto completion, an automatic spelling checker, and a filter that will speak the name and subject of incoming messages (requires sound card). Eudora also provides a spell checker that looks over your message as you type it ans checks to make sure you don't mess up a word.

Both of these clients have set-up wizards and supports MIME, IMAP, and POP messaging so consider these as being good choices. However, they may not fit your needs. So go to your Favorite download sites, enter Mail as a search entry, and be careful. You do not want a Server and you will find a few of them. Read the descriptions and select the Client you want.


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