Email on Two Computers (or One Computer and a Phone)

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Joe checks his e-mail on two computers, and messages tend to end up on one or the other. He asked the Office & Business Software forum for advice.

I suspect you're using the Post Office Protocol (POP3) to download email to your PCs. Most e-mail clients (programs such as Outlook, Windows Live Mail, and Thunderbird) default to POP3.

Once upon a time, that made sense. But in a world where people check mail on multiple computers and other devices, it's an invitation to frustration.

POP3 works by downloading the new mail to your PC, and then, assuming you leave it with its default options, deleting it from the server. (Before your mail comes to you, it's sitting on a server somewhere in the Internet. Your client's job is to bring the mail to your PC and present it to you in a readable form.) Messages therefore end up only on the PC to which you first downloaded them.

And you'll have problems even if you tell your client to leave the mail on the server. For instance, you'll have to delete messages separately on each computer.

That's why, if you're going to be checking your mail on two or more devices, it's best to avoid POP3.

Here are two ways to do that. Each requires a particular type of support from your email service--such as Gmail, Yahoo, or your ISP. Most support at least one; many support both.

Use web mail. Your email service almost certainly has a web-based interface. And if it doesn't, you can always configure Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or Gmail to pick up your messages from the other service. Either way, you'll have to learn a whole new user interface, but that may be easier than fiddling with your client's account settings.

With web mail, there is no local client, so it simply isn't an issue. Your mail is the same no matter what you use to look at it.

Use IMAP. POP3 isn't the only mail protocol in the world. If your mail service supports the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), you can set up your client to use that. Rather than simply downloading, IMAP syncs your local client inbox with the one on your email service's server. That way, every computer or phone you check your mail with, provided you set up IMAP on all of them, sees the same messages.

In Outlook 2007 (other Microsoft clients are very similar), select Tools, Account Settings. In the E-mail tab's toolbar, click New (Outlook won't let you change a POP3 account to IMAP; you have to create a new one). On the second page of the resulting wizard, check Manually configure server settings or additional server types. When you get to the page with all the fields, be sure to select IMAP in the Account Type field.

And when you're sure everything is working, delete the old POP3 account settings.

By the way, these two solutions work together. You can, for instance, check email on the web on your computer, and via IMAP on your smartphone's client.

Read the original forum discussion.

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