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How many of you have an e-mail address, raise your hand?

Now, how many of you have a webmail address? *Counts hands* Now, how many of you have more than one? Six? A dozen? It's pretty scary isn't it. A few years ago, there wasn't such a thing as webmail. If you didn't have your own Internet connection, you had to borrow one. At my high school, over 1400 people shared six e-mail addresses. That gives a whole new meaning of being "lost in the mail".

But with the start of Hotmail, and the flood of followers, including Mailexcite, Rocketmail, and USA.NET, e-mail (or rather, webmail) is easier than ever. You don't even need your own computer to get e-mail; just access a computer with internet and you are set.

What's more, several companies, including, offer you a fully-fledged POP account for no cost.

Even Tripod gives premium members an e-mail re-director

So, which is better? Is Webmail the innovation of the future that will smash POP mail accounts, or will the old POP accounts still be the best? To answer that one, I have to give a very definitive "It depends". Both accounts have their uses, and both have their disadvantages.

You have to really understand how e-mail works. POP accounts are Post Office Protocol, or the way that computers transfer mail over the Internet. Normally, how a POP account works is that a piece of software, called an e-mail client, will transfer the mail (technically, actually copies) from a larger mail server using POP. The mail then is deleted off the mail server, and then the only copy is on your computer. In reality, however, even e-mail can sometimes get backed up and stored onto tapes (this is how they caught Oliver North, by the way).

Webmail is POP e-mail, but with a twist. Normally, in order to use a POP account, you have to have a piece of software called a mail client. Eudora and Outlook Express are normally the most well known, but their are others. That POP account is configured within the software with your login name, the mail servers Simple Mail Transfer Protocol address (POP in reverse), and other information. You have to have that software, or another piece of software configured properly, in order to receive and send your software.

So, in order to get your e-mail on the road, you had two options. You could bring along your own computer with the software on there, or you could hope and pray that you ran into a computer with Internet access. In the latter case, you then had to set up the software on the other person's computer, download your e-mail, and then delete your software. This is, assuming you got to an Internet-connected computer, or the other person agreed to let you do that.

Webmail is the same as POP mail; there's no real distinction in the way the e-mail is processed. The only big difference is that all of the software is built into the server, both client and server, and the client side is accessable via the web. This means that you didn't need to lug around a computer or a piece of software everywhere you went. All you needed is web access.

So far, webmail has been a success. Aside from Hotmail, Whowhere and iName have been the most wide spread. The difference of Whowhere and iName, however, is that they don't run their own e-mail so much that they run others. Yahoo's and Rocketmail's e-mail is run by Whowhere, while AltaVista is run by iName. These are just a few of the big names. Others are be out there.

The problem with Webmail is that in order to read it, you have to be on the net. With POP mail, you can get your messages, and disconnect. No problem. Webmail, on the other hand, requires that you be actively hooked up to the net in order to even read your messages. If you have an angry family who wants to use the only phone line, that can be a bit of a problem.

Web mail also gives you a little bit of anonymity. You can get and use multiple e-mail accounts, depending on what you want to do. This helps when you visit sites that you don't want spammers to know about.

My answer to "Which should you use?" is both. Both have their advantages; you just need to exploit them.

  1. Use POP mail when you want to take your time in writing an e-mail, even if you have unlimited access to time. Also, use POP mail if you like advanced functions, such as automatic replies, and more advanced e-mail filters.
  2. Use Webmail when you are on the road and want to send e-mail to anybody, including your own POP mail account. Also, you can use a relatively anonymous web-mail when you are in chat rooms and don't want to give out your real address just yet. Great

In essence, use what you have. In fact, a lot of POP e-mails can be received from Webmail accounts and, for a fee, sometimes you can retrieve your webmail from a mail client software. So, once again we are seeing the merging of two somewhat different ways of getting e-mail. In fact, the debate over e-mail and webmail will soon be moot, just like the merging of TVs and computers will make that debate moot.

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June 5, 1998
Property of Kalvin Richter