Ask the MACist - Email While On The Road

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Welcome to the latest edition of 'Ask the MACist', the column where I answer your Macintosh and other technology questions. Our question this week comes from Jill in Silverlake. She asks: I travel quite a bit for work and need to check my email on the road. What's the best way to do that?

Accessing your email while out of town and away from your home or office is usually pretty easy to accomplish. Fortunately, most email providers (ISP's) offer ways to check email without the need for specific software other than a web browser like Safari or Firefox. For the more sophisticated and demanding user, there are a few other things to do which will allow you access to your important email while on the road as well. But for the most part, its better to just use a simple tool to accomplish your task.

Of course, the easiest way is to not even bother bringing along a laptop at all and just access your email via an internet cafe, Kinko's or hotel business center using a web browser. Most modern ISPs provide this service, called Web Mail, which allows you to go to their main website, or another site they designate, and log in using your email address and password to access your email online. No need for your own computer or anything, just a convenient one to borrow or rent for a few minutes (or hours).

ask the MACist Unfortunately, as convenient and easy as the above is, its not nearly as secure as it should be. Unless you know how to browse the web and then delete your browser history and not save passwords or other important info, you run the risk of having your information accessible by people other than yourself. However, if you take a few basic precautions such as deleting the browser history, the browser cache and not saving passwords, using a public computer to check your email is less of a risk. Heck, I've even done it on occasion when I didn't have my laptop handy, or ever worse, its battery was exhausted.

Another option is to have your laptop with you and be able to use it to get online and check your email via web browser. If you happen to be in a hotel with internet in the room then follow the hotel's instructions to connect your computer via Ethernet cable and get online. If you want to find a wireless network then just look for available networks in the airport pull down menu at the top right of your screen. When you see a wireless network you want to connect to, select it. If the network needs a password you will have to know what that is. If its someplace like a T-Mobile Hotspot, select the tmobile network and then launch Firefox or Safari. Then, you will get a T-Mobile sign-on page where you can decide how you want to pay for access.

After you get that worked out you will then be connected to the internet. At this point you could most-likely use your Mail application of choice (like Apple Mail or Entourage) to receive and send your email. However, I still recommend that you use a web browser to maximize security. When you connect to your ISP's web page and sign on to get your email, your data is almost certainly encrypted by a technology known as SSL and therefore protected from prying eyes and computers. I say almost certainly due to that rare occasion where someone's ISP isn't encrypting browser traffic for email. If that's the case with your ISP, I suggest you find a new one. If you need some alternatives, just ask!

Ok, that's it for this week's 'Ask the MACist.' But remember, if you have a question about anything Mac, Mac-related, or even something about other tech like TiVo, Blackberry or even Windows, send it to me, The MACist, at: themacist at gmail dot com.

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photo by julie70 from flickr