Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Email Fundamentals Revisited

By Al Lubarsky

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

Now that you have mastered getting an email account set up and running on a Mac, perhaps a few more pointers would be of help in improving the email experience? If you aren’t quite that far along yet, the first article, “A Mac Beginners Guide to Email Programs,” appeared in the Pi Journal in Feb 2004 and is available on the Electric Pi portion of the Pi Web site. While version numbers and some features have evolved since then, most of those considerations and tips still apply.

Those that have been busy sending -- and mostly receiving-- email probably have more than a question or two. We’ll try to help you answer several general ones that pop up occasionally on the Pi’s TCS forums and elsewhere.

Given that all recent Macs will run Mac OS X and that Apple’s newest models (the Intel-based ones) won’t allow Mac OS 9 applications to run even in the Classic environment, we’ll limit discussion to the Apple Mail application, which is included with all versions of Mac OS X -- with only a few words reserved for some alternatives.

Dial Up

By some published accounts it seems that only about one-third of home computer users are still primarily using dial-up service with their Internet service provider (ISP). For Mac users and especially Pi members, this probably means you are using the TCS Explorer system as a dial-up ISP – a great value by the way—or are perhaps still dialing up to reach your AOL screen name for some reason. No matter which ISP is involved, most dial-up users would probably like to download their messages as rapidly as possible and free up the phone line for other uses. Assuming that this is to be your only, or primary, access for using email, setting up Apple Mail to download messages using POP (Post Office Protocol) will usually be best (see Figures 1 and 2). The Pi and other ISPs typically have policies about how much incoming mail may be kept on their servers, usually specified either in quantity (e.g. 50 MB) or by time periods. Either way, it is less troublesome to select settings that prevent build up of unneeded email on the server. Otherwise, the dreaded Alerts will eventually warn that you risk having new incoming email bounced. Hints on overcoming that condition are provided later.

Higher Speed Connections

With easier and faster access to the Internet, the practical choices for handling email expand. Again, Apple Mail makes this easy. Those using higher speed services often use more than one Mac, either on a small Local Area Network at home, or from a work location. If your email provider offers it, the usual choice here is to set up Apple Mail for Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), which is the alternative choice to POP. (Actually the third choice for type is “.mac” which is used only for Apple’s email service of the same name.) With IMAP, email remains on the server and can be manipulated from more than one Mac (or PC). For details, see the University of Washington Web site on IMAP at www.imap.org. However, again when dealing with servers where storage space is limited, it is important to delete older items from the server.

Use of higher speed connections also makes Web-based email more practical. Here, the mail remains on the server and is read and manipulated using a Web browser, such as Apple’s Safari. The Pi’s mail server features this service, too: https://mail.wap.org/.

Web mail is especially useful in deleting mail from the Pi’s server before (or after!) receiving an over capacity alert. Using Safari or Firefox,* log on, check the box next to the emails selected for deletion, and click “Delete.” The screen should refresh with red Xs. Click “Purge” and the offending emails are gone forever, unless you’ve previously downloaded them to another, safer place.

More About Web and Other Email

Both Yahoo and Google provide Web-based email and AOL email is available for Apple mail. Each has its unique features and limitations. However, in addition to allowing access via a Web browser or proprietary interface (AOL), all three can be set up to be assessable via Apple Mail. In the case of Yahoo, which offers 1 GB of free on-line storage, and Google’s gmail which provides over 2 GB per account—both without monetary charge—there are instructions available to have your email downloaded to an Apple Mail inbox using POP. Reading gmail with the Apple Mail application allows you to avoid the sometimes annoying marginal ads (referred to as Sponsored Links). It doesn’t prevent whatever other commercial value Google or Yahoo may gain through having access to your email. For AOL users, the AOL Service Assistant application allows AOL to operate directly with not only Apple Mail using IMAP, but also integrates data stored by AOL into Apple’s Address Book and Safari.

Cautions and Warnings

It’s been about 75 years since Secretary of State Henry Stimson proclaimed as US national policy, “Gentlemen don’t read other people’s mail.” To date, no one has reported seeing a valid RFC (internet standard) or US law that forces an ISP to disclose private information. So the threat of email evesdropping is probably someplace between Stimson’s idealism and security-based paranoia.

Another issue is spam. A recent article in the trade press shows that less than 2% of all email represents valid or desired content. One 24-hour sample of 122,000+ emails at a server results in forwarding only 2,000 on to the addressees. Unfortunately, this means that email is rapidly becoming less effective as a communications tool since at least several of the 120,000 emails that bit the dust may have been notices that your out-of-town meeting was cancelled.

There is also some concern that using Web based mail servers is inherently risky. Both Google and Yahoo use data mining and analysis tools to place advertisements, collect general data and, of course, to respond to law enforcement agency requests, sometimes without warrants or court approval. If anyone knows what AOL does (or should do) with the data it collects, she or he could probably help turn Time Warner’s business model around.

There have been lots of articles and admonishments on safe email behavior. The head of the Department of Homeland Security’s latest quote comes to mind, ”I don’t use email. One reason is when you write an email, you have to be mindful of the fact that nothing ever disappears. It can be deleted, but it is still in the system somewhere.” My own advice is best summarized by the sign on a desk in the five-sided puzzle palace, “Paranoids have enemies, too!”

Happy emailing!

* While other browsers will handle this, avoid using Microsoft Internet Explorer for Mac. For some reason, the Purge function on the Pi’s Web mail service doesn’t work. There are many other valid reasons for avoiding IE on Macs, too.