Would you believe that the first computer to computer message was sent in 1969!  Then in 1971 the first networked email system was created, laying the groundwork for email as we know it today.

Now, we rely on email to ensure that important messages are routed to their destination, near instantly, anywhere around the world.  In fact, an amazing 269 billion emails are sent every day between roughly 3.7 billion email users worldwide.

You might be thinking that’s a lot of email per person, but a good proportion of that is spam mail.   Actually, around 60% of all email messages around the world are considered spam! In 2004 a survey estimated that lost productivity, due to spam, cost internet users in the US roughly $21.58 billion!

Things are getting better though. Spam filters are improving, which means that although the same percentage of mail is spam, we get to see less of it.   Modern email servers and programs are becoming smarter and are able to filter out these messages before we see them.

Rewind the clocks again – this time to the 80’s.   During this time, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) had begun connecting people around the world.   They started hosting email services for their customers, as back then, email was the first practical use of this new “Internet”.    It became common to see email addresses like @aol.com, @bellaliant.net etc.

A standard called POP/SMTP was setup so that mail programs could reliably connect to any mail server.   POP (Post Office Protocol) is the language your computer uses to download new messages from your mail server.   SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol) was the language used to do the opposite – send the message to a mail server.   The way it works is mail is delivered to your mail server,  POP is then used to move the mail from the server to your computer. When you send a mail – it gets sent to the recipient server via SMTP.  Simple!

This worked well in the age where everyone had one computer and one email address.   However now we have cell phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, work computers, home computers etc.   Using POP/SMTP only one of these devices gets email.   So, there’s an option you can enable with POP to say “leave the message on the server”.  When this is switched on, mail is copied to your computer, but left on the server for other devices to download.

Great, so now you can have email on more than one computer.   But what if you delete an email or put it in a folder on your computer.  None of the other computers are aware of this, so you have to delete from each computer, or file your email on each device.    Clearly this old way of dealing with emails was not built for modern day needs.

This need for synchronised email on multiple devices has led to new email technologies such as Gmail or Microsoft Exchange.   They’re still able to route email to any email address in the world, but where they differ is how your email program downloads your email from them.   In fact, with Gmail, a lot of users don’t actually download their email, instead they just “view” it via the web.   The email never resides on the computer – it’s always on Google’s servers, ready to be accessed via any web browser.   This has the advantage that you don’t need to configure a mail client/program to read your email.   You can go to anyone’s computer anywhere in the world and securely access, file and send emails.   If you do choose to have email stored on your computer or cell phone, it’s synchronised with the server.   This means that if you file an email in a folder, it’s filed in the same folder on every device.  Delete an email and it’s deleted from every device.   Microsoft Exchange works in a similar way but is more business oriented.  Business’ can scale their users from 1 to thousands and get synchronised mail, contacts and calendars.   I use Exchange, and if you’re a business owner who needs to use email, I suggest you do the same!

Now, one last tip.  You might have a free email from your Internet provider.  For example, an @bellaliant.net email address.  It’s free so why change?   Well what happens if you change Internet provider sometime in the future?  You’re going to lose access to that email address.   Think of all the times, you’ve had to give your email address when signing up to services.   For example, I’ve had several customers use their ISP email address when setting up an Apple ID (needed for setting up iPads, iPhones etc.).   If you forget your password, they’ll send a reset link to your email address, however if you’ve changed Internet provider, you won’t be able to receive this (which makes things complicated – believe me!).  The solution to this – sign up with a third party such as Gmail.com, Outlook.com etc.   These will move with you when you change providers.   And if you choose a service such as Gmail, you’ll get the advanced synchronising for free too!

Until next time, if you have any questions, please “email” me at my “Microsoft Exchange” hosted email address of [email protected]