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Looking at Your Email From Afar

Checking your e-mail while on the road is possible in a number of ways, some of which are relatively expensive, and/or require support from a fairly advanced Information Technology (IT) department. I ...

November 1, 2001  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Checking your e-mail while on the road is possible in a number of ways, some of which are relatively expensive, and/or require support from a fairly advanced Information Technology (IT) department. I am continuously surprised at the range of efficiency of the measures for keeping up with e-mail that staff from different companies have, while traveling or simply working from home. There are many issues involved, and no absolute best way, even if cost is not an issue.


The first question is, of course, “Why keep up?” The answer depends partly on the extent to which you use e-mail relative to telephone, cellphone, fax, etc., and also how competitive you have, or wish, to be. Some people work on the theory that better communication with home office simply increases their work load.


For me, the best communication on the road is a mixture of about 15% cellphone and 75% cellphone and e-mail, with the balance by fax and standard telephones. The farther I am from home, the more I use e-mail, due to cost and the sometimes cumbersome nature of overseas calls, as well as the problem of the time-change between regions.

Most digital cell phones can accept short e-mail messages, but typing messages on a cell phone keyboard is no fun. I find such messages useful when in marginal reception areas or when answering the phone is impractical, whether during meetings or while flying.


The main approaches are to use a webmail address, to dial in long distance to company servers or use a worldwide Internet Service Provider (ISP). Each has its wrinkles, as discussed below.


In this system, your mailbox is on a mail server that is accessible from any computer with access to the Internet. This means that you can use Internet cafes, hotels, customer offices, or anywhere else you can get your hands on a keyboard that is on the World Wide Web. There are so many organizations providing webmail services free, that there is no need to pay for one.

Microsoft’s Hotmail is by far the most popular at www.hotmail.com. Others are at www.yahoo.com and www.canada.com. The latter includes convenient access to most Canadian newspapers and is great for keeping up with news back home, as well as mail. I used Canada.com for a couple of years, but now use Hotmail, since it is faster and Microsoft has largely overcome the problem of vast amounts of spam that used to plague Hotmail (refer to sidebar).

Security when using other people’s computers has to be considered, particularly those open to the public. Hotmail allows you to indicate that you are on a public or shared computer, immediately before you sign on. Always log off email servers and do not simply close the software. These two actions avoid a history of your work being left for the next user. However, it is still possible for the person providing the computer to be set up to monitor your work, just as a hotel or customer’s office can listen in to your phone calls.

One simple and effective security approach is to send sensitive information in the form or password protected files prepared by Word, Excel or similar software.

You can configure Hotmail and most of its competitors to read mail from your main mailbox at your ISP. In Hotmail, click on “Options” then “POP mail retrieval settings” This is possible only if your company security policy allows such access. I find this to be useful when traveling.


It is normally quite simple to dial your normal ISP, if your computer is set up appropriately. If you use a modem in the office, then all that is required is to add the long distance access codes to the number. If you access the Internet through the company LAN, then a separate dial-up procedure has to be set up. This is quite easy with Windows. Look for “dial-up connections” under “help” in Windows Explorer. Whoever is responsible for administering email at your company will have to authorize such access and provide passwords, etc. The most convenient way to work is to have full access to your company network by phone, and many companies provide this, but some are shy of security issues or costs.

It is not always easy to make a long distance call when traveling, particularly from foreign hotels. It is MUCH easier to find a computer with web access in Europe than a payphone with a data jack. Not many offices will allow a visitor to tear into their phone systems to connect his computer, while most will make one of their own computers on the web available.


If you use an ISP which offers local dial-up ports worldwide access, then local, or modest long-distance calls, can be used from most locations.

AT&T has a vast worldwide network, and is heavily promoted as a system for business.

AOL is by far the largest ISP in the world, with about 25 million subscribers, which is several times more than the nearest competitors.

There is a way to get the best of both worlds, although the AOL tech support people I asked advise that it does not work. I have a Quebec-based ISP (Videotron) that gives excellent service in our area. If I sign on to AOL as a user and simply minimize the AOL window, by clicking the box in the top right corner, I can then open Outlook and access my same regular mailbox. Essentially, I am using AOL simply to provide Internet access. The normal Outlook configuration is smart enough to find my mail, even although I do not dial up to Videotron. This access is worth the cost of an AOL account, even although I do not make any significant use of AOL software.

AOL’s new policy of making its Instant Messaging available to non-AOL subscribers is also useful. More on that next month.P&PC

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