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Have Browser, Will Travel
by Russell Shaw

Receiving e-mails while you're traveling can be complicated.

If you brought your laptop along, you'll need the local dial-in number for your Internet account. If you want to pick up your e-mail messages from another machine — say, in your hotel's business center, a client's office or an Internet kiosk — you're in for even more trouble. These may be configured to work on an e-mail system different from yours.

Free Web-based e-mail services offer a convenient alternative. To access your e-mail, all you need is a computer with Web access. You type in the Web address of the e-mail service, enter your password and then access any e-mail sent to that address.

Some services, such as Onebox.com, come with added features, such as fax and voice mail. Onebox provides you with a free phone number. Phone and fax messages to that number get transferred to your electronic mailbox — either as a viewable attachment for faxes or an audio file for voice messages. You can even send voice e-mails, if you have a microphone.

If, like most savvy people, you believe that "free" often doesn't equate with quality, you may not be surprised that free e-mail accounts have their limitations. Most make their money through advertising, which is placed within your outgoing messages or on the Web page where you access mail.

Perhaps the most glaring fault, though, is that most free e-mail services place a severe limitation on storage space (you can increase the limit for a fee). Hotmail only allows 2 megabytes, and Yahoo! Mail only leaves room for 3.

That's enough room for hundreds of text-based messages, but scant digital real estate for attached files. For example, if you're traveling and need your partner to e-mail your new presentation for a big conference, the bulky Power Point files may overload your allotment.

Also, some free e-mail services don't offer built-in spelling or grammar checkers. Rather than skip the issue, create the text of the e-mail in your word-processing program, check it for spelling and grammar, and then paste it into the message field in your e-mail.

Rating the best and worst free e-mail services

Related items:
Rating the Free Web hosts
Rating Office Furniture E-tailers
Dirty Dozen Spam Scams

Feedback:
E-mail Russell Shaw

Related books:
Complete Idiot's Guide to Cool Ways to Communicate Online, Preston Gralla
E-Mail for Dummies, second edition, edited by John R. Levine



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