You can get your e-mail on the road

January 31, 2002|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

If you depend on e-mail, leaving your home base can be a pain. At the office, you can't read your home e-mail. At home, you may want to read messages from work. On the road, you may find yourself lugging a laptop across the country for no other purpose than checking your mail.

Life doesn't have to be that complicated. The world is full of Net-connected computers - in offices, homes, airports, hotels and cyber cafes. As long as you can beg, borrow or rent one, you can probably get your mail.

You do have to know a few tricks about how e-mail moves on the Internet and (if you're a customer) on AOL. They're a bit different.

Most Internet service providers have e-mail servers which handle incoming messages using a communications scheme known as POP3 (for Post Office Protocol). They handle outgoing messages using the Simple Mail Transport Protocol, or SMTP. You'll need to remember these terms when you configure an e-mail program.

To receive from a POP3 server, you need an e-mail program (or "client") that understands the exchange language. These include Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express (which is bundled with Windows), and programs such as Eudora and Pegasus.

When you set up an e-mail client the first time, you have to tell it the name of the e-mail server you're using, which usually takes the form of "Something" is usually a variant of the ISP's name. For example, if I use an Internet provider called BlobNet, the mail server will have a name that looks like If you don't know the name of the server, ask your ISP's mail administrator. You'll also need your account name (the name you use to sign on) and your password.

The key thing to remember is that once you're logged onto the Internet, you can use your e-mail client to retrieve mail from any POP3 server - as long as you have an account on that server and it allows remote access.

In Outlook Express, you can create accounts to retrieve mail from different servers by clicking on Tools and then Accounts. Select the New button, and you'll be prompted for the name of the server, your e-mail account name and your password.

You'll also have to tell Outlook what outgoing (SMTP) mail server to use. This is trickier. You might not be able to use your home-based provider's SMTP server. To thwart spammers, most of them block users outside their system from using their servers to send mail. Instead, you'll have to enter the name of the SMTP server on the system you used to log in. So, you'll be using the local e-mail server to send mail while retrieving messages from the remote system.

Let's say you have a computer at work and you want to access your home e-mail account. Chances are good the computer has Outlook Express installed. You can start it, add your home account, and read your mail at work. If your office allows remote POP3 access you also can set up your home PC to get your office e-mail.

The universal nature of e-mail is even more useful if you're traveling without a PC but do have access to a computer with an Internet connection. You don't want to use the PC's Outlook Express program to download mail from your POP3 account - it's insecure and inconsiderate on someone else's computer. But you can use a free, Web-based e-mail system to grab e-mail from your personal account.

Microsoft Hotmail and Yahoo Mail make it particularly easy, so I'll use them as an example. All you have to do is set up an account by visiting or mail

This will provide with a new e-mail address (such as, but you don't have to use it as anything other than a gateway to your mail server. That's because both services allow you to check mail from other POP3 systems. In Yahoo, click on Options when you log in. On Hotmail, it's under Hotmail Services.

Once you've set up HotMail or Yahoo Mail with the address of the e-mail server and account you want to access, they'll download the messages from your home account - no fuss and no muss.

Just remember that any message you send from Hotmail or Yahoo will have your Web mail account as the return address. If you want people to respond to your home e-mail server, give them your home e-mail address in the body of the message.

Also, whether you're setting up Outlook Express or a Web-based server to access a remote e-mail account, it's a good idea to check a box that says "Leave mail on server." That way messages won't be permanently removed until you download them at home.

Now for AOL, which uses a proprietary mail system that communicates with the Internet but isn't compliant with POP3: You can access your mail from any PC connected to the Internet, regardless of whether the computer is running AOL's software.

Just point your Web browser to, which is AOL's Internet gateway. Enter your screen name and password in the sign-on box and your AOL mail will appear in your Web browser. Unfortunately, you'll also hear the familiar but annoying "You've Got Mail" greeting. I guess it's a small price to pay for mobility.

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