Working With E-Mail

E-mail has become one of the most important applications for computer users. It is quickly replacing the Post Office snail mail. With e-mail we can send variety of messages including video e-mail, pictures, links to Internet information, and more. Most e-mail users tend to save all e-mail. That can become a problem because e-mail systems have limits. Further, when Microsoft Outlook e-mail or a computer’s hard disk crashes all e-mail can be lost. In this article we examine in simple terms how e-mail works, Outlook’s limits, Gmail, and more to help you work more effectively with your e-mail.

A simple explanation has e-mail work similar to the postal mail with mail boxes and post offices. The mail boxes are our computers that hold the e-mail messages after they have been retrieved from an Internet post office. An Internet post office is a computer called a server that is most often dedicated to sending, receiving, and routing e-mail messages. The receiving side is often a POP3 (post office protocol 3) server, and the sending side is a SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) server. Both POP3 and SMTP are performed by the same computer. For example, at one time the mail servers for Comcast e-mail were (I think that it is currently for the POP3 server) and Verizon has used and for e-mail servers. The current post office mail servers for Comcast and Verizon can be found by searching their web sites or calling customer support.

E-mail is created on our computer – the mail box. After it is composed it is sent to the e-mail server post office at your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The e-mail server checks the mail received to assure it was from you (and not some bulk e-mail distributor), then routes it to the destination post office server. This takes from seconds to minutes to complete. The e-mail message is held at the post office server until the recipient signs in to view or retrieve their e-mail. Generally, the e-mail is checked for attachments that could be viruses (EXE and similar files), and they are stripped from the e-mail. E-mail attachments have size limits. For some e-mail servers the limit may be 10 MB and with others is around 16 MB.

E-mail differs from on-line chat applications. Chatting applications transfer messages between actively connected users. E-mail messages while delivered to the post office, they reside at the post office until they are picked up by the message recipient. With e-mail there is less of a need to coordinate sending and receiving times between the parties using e-mail. Flash mobs may use e-mail to set the general time of flash mob event, and chatting to coordinate activities while the event is going on.

Home and business computers use Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail, and other programs like the free Thunderbird to manage the mail box on the computer. These programs can be configured leave mail at the post office for several days or until deleted, filter spam messages, maintain a list of contacts and more. The mail and contacts used by these programs are files stored on the computer’s disk drive. The Microsoft Outlook key files are PST files. At one time contacts were stored in separate address book files (WAB and PAB files). Outlook Express e-mail files were DBX files. Windows Live Mail uses EML as the main file extension. To view these files as e-mail messages, you run the appropriate Windows program, Outlook, Outlook Express, or Windows Live Mail.

The e-mail files are stored in very specific locations in Windows computers. The locations are different for Windows XP and Windows 7. In Windows XP they are located under the user account in Documents and Settings. In Windows 7 they are stored in the user account under Users. The easiest way to find these files is to search for the file extension in the Documents and Settings or the User folders. When you find them, it is good to make note of the folder in which they reside because this can be helpful in recovering e-mail messages.

The size of these files is also important. Computers users including myself tend to save all e-mail messages. It seems easier on a computer to do this as compared to saving all mail we ever received from the post office because the messages reside in the small computer box and do not fill our home. However, saving all e-mail is not a good idea. First as the e-mail files increase in size they tend to make Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Live Mail work slower. This is particularly noticeable on older XP systems with less than 1 GB or Random Access Memory (RAM). Swapping data between the disk and RAM is much slower than working with files in RAM. The old Outlook limit was around 2 GB. After that on older Windows systems Outlook tends to mess up. On newer system I have seen e-mail files a 4 GB in size or larger. Since these files grow slowly in size, the performance degradation slowly and unnoticeable increases. Just as we tend to gain weight as we age. Deleting old messages permits Outlook and other e-mail software to maintain a level of performance close to what was when originally installed. In my case I am using a iPhone calorie monitoring App to slowly work my weight down to the level when I was in my 30’s.

The real problems with e-mail happens when out computer disk drive fails. Disk drives do fail with age. They have a life expectancy of about 100,000 power on hours (POH) or more. This is like a pet’s life span roughly 12 years. The disks life depends upon how well it is kept (cool or hot), the power it is fed (nice clean power with few if any outages), and how many hours a day it is powered on. When a disk drive fails, the computer user then realizes how dependent upon e-mail they have become and the saved e-mail messages (spam and all) take on a value that exceeds the current price of precious metals.

Searching for and then copying the PST, DBX or EML files to an external drive backs up all the mail box computer e-mail. It then can be imported into Outlook, Outlook Express and Windows Live Mail using the file import feature in each e-mail program so that nothing is lost.

Many computer users have moved to Internet-based e-mail like Yahoo mail, Gmail, and others. Internet e-mail saves all e-mail messages in the post office server. Internet e-mail services limit the amount of free storage space you may use for e-mail. In the case of Gmail it is roughly 7 GB. Other e-mail services provide similar storage capacity. The benefits here are that the e-mail messages are stored on an Internet server (in the Cloud), you can access your e-mail form any computer at any time, that smart phones and other mobile devices can be used to access your e-mail, and you can bring several e-mail accounts into a single e-mail account. So your various and far- flung e-mails can be consolidated into a single e-mail.

The bad thing with Internet e-mail is that it is often the focus of hacking attacks. Recently, a customer brought by a system that had their Gmail account hacked. I tried to recover the e-mail messages to no avail. With Gmail and other free Internet-based e-mail services, support is almost non-existent. There are no humans to help. If Gmail provided human help, they would probably wipe out U.S. unemployment. Sometimes the Gmail messages can be found in the deleted files area. However, in this case they were wiped clean and no e-mail messages could be recovered. This attack originated from Lagos, Nigeria. It used the address book to send a false message soliciting money. The money was needed to help the e-mail account owner, who was according to the false e-mail, stranded in Europe. There is a technique to save e-mail messages in the event an account is hacked. Two Internet e-mail accounts with separate and unique passwords are used to back up all e-mails. In the event one account is hacked, the other account saves the e-mail.