Recently I was attending a North Carolina real estate broker post licensing course. We had a brief discussion on email. Though I no longer work in the world of email, being someone with over ten email accounts, I do have some opinions on what works for people.
I have never been particularly fond of AOL mail though I understand you can now use products such as Thunderbird to read your AOL mail. I personally want the people who provide email services to focus on sending, receiving, and archiving email. When they get much beyond that, they may or may not be providing services that I want.
Let me state up front that I believe in standards. If we could all focus on standards things would be a lot better. Of course we cannot even agree on which standards, so a lot is still left to the individual.
Here are my best recommendations. No matter what you do, you are almost always better off getting an email services vendor that supports IMAP and POP. If want some information on what IMAP and POP are, I can suggest checking out this support site article at Webmail.us where I used to work.
Assuming your employer doesn't provide you with email or you want an additional email account outside of your employer's email system (normally a very good idea), here are some quick thoughts.
Gmail is probably the best of the free email systems, but if you are really going to do this email stuff right, go ahead and get yourself your own domain and pay for your own email accounts. It is not that expensive. The least expensive of these solutions that I have personally tried is Everyone.net. According to the referenced page their solution starts at $35 which is what I paid them last January.
Unfortunately the only way to really know if email works well, is to use it seriously and extensively. I did not do that to my everyone.net account. I was able to set it up to work with my Mac mail client and to access it through their webmail interface. So it works, I just do not know how well.
I do have a number of email accounts still hosted with my former employer, Webmail.us . They continue to do a very good job of keeping their systems humming. One of my accounts has been with them over two years and has seen almost no interruption in service. Their pricing starts at $60 for five one gigabyte mailboxes if you already own your domain. They have a fourteen day free trial. Their webmail client is fast, includes a calendar, RSS, contact manager and a task list among other features. They also have real support which you might well need if this is the first time you have managed your own email. They do not do web hosting, so they aren't a complete solution for everyone. That is unless all you want is email.
I am a big believer in owning your own domain. I wrote about it earlier in a post, "No longer a world of anonymous post office boxes on the internet."
The important thing to remember is that once you get your domain setup completed, you'll probably never have to do anything with it unless you switch to another email services provider. It is worth the time and effort up front to get your own domain.
In general the people who focus on email do a better job, because that is all they do, so in the long run, you will get better service
You can rely on your internet service provider, but if you do that, in addition to not having your own domain unless you go through their business services, you may well have trouble sending email remotely unless you use whatever clunky webmail interface they have bought (not to be confused with the company Webmail.us which has a very sophisticated, fast AJAX based webmail interface).
Companies that focus on email have their systems designed so that it does not matter what internet service provider you use. Usually you will be able to send email using their systems with Thunderbird, Outlook, or Apple Mail unless you get stuck behind a firewall in a hotel which might require you to use a webmail client not matter whose system you have.
The other choice for getting your own email, and this requires even more technical expertise is a contract with a hosting company. It provides you with a hosted domain and email accounts. I use three different hosting companies, but the one with the best email is Hostway. They use Sitemail which has one of the best user interfaces that I have seen. It isn't IMAP and doesn't have flexible mail box sizes, but it works very well, and I do get a very reliable place for my website with FTP access which is something that is important to me. I believe my Hostway account costs around $150 per year. I also use IX Web Hosting which has plans as low at $4.95 per month.
There are lots of choices out there, but do not short change your self on something as important as email. There are plenty of other email providers out there, which I haven't taken the time to mention since I have no practical experience with them. Each has their own story, but the ones I have discussed are ones where I have had varying degrees of personal experience with a hosted domain name and serious email. I am currently trying a free hosted domain from Google, but I am not ready to pass judgment on that yet other than you cannot beat the price which is free.
It does not take the technical expertise that it once did to have high quality standards based email. It you are comfortable using a browser, most of these systems are simple enough for a non technical person to work through with some live help which is unfortunately hard to find with many email companies so make that a priority if you need it.
Just let your inner Geek shine through, or bug one of your technical friends. The next time sometimes asks you for your email address, you will be glad you went to the trouble to get your own domain with a name which means something to you.
Today marks another special day. This is the first day of my regular posts to my Coastalnc.org website which focuses on living and moving to North Carolina's Crystal coast. It would probably come as no surprise if I told you that I have an email account that ends in coastalnc.org.