Email and Mobile Devices

January 21, 2011

In today’s connected world, many of us have multiple devices that can be used for email. It’s not unusual for someone to have a desktop, a laptop (primarily for travel), a smart phone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, etc), and a tablet PC like an iPad.

There is a lot of overlap in function between all of these devices, but the one function they are all commonly used for is email. But when you have multiple devices all accessing the same email account, it can be confusing. That’s where we come in!

Most of us have a computer that is our primary workstation. This could be a desktop or a laptop. This is where we do most of our emailing. Then we have one or more devices that are more mobile that we also use for email. For this example, let’s say we have a desktop for our primary work station, an iPhone, and also a laptop which we use when we travel.

How you access your email on your primary workstation has a big effect on this. If you access your email though a website, that makes this less complicated than if you use an email client. For this example, let’s say that our email address is through Google Mail (Gmail). We have the option to access our email through a web browser (Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome, etc) by going to www.gmail.com or we can use an email client (Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird, etc.). An email client is a computer program that downloads  your email to the computer you are on.

When we access our email using a web browser, all of the email is stored on the email server and is not stored on the local computer. There are several advantages to this. If your hard drive crashes or if your computer was stolen or destroyed in a fire, all of your email would be safe and sound on the email server and you can access it from any internet connected computer.

There are also several disadvantages to this approach. Accessing your email through a web browser isn’t as easy to use and doesn’t have as many features as using an email client. In addition, you have to be vigilant about keeping  your inbox, sent folder, and deleted items clean or you will run out of storage space on your account. When you run out of storage space, you can’t get any new email until you free up some space.

When you use an email client on your primary workstation, email is downloaded from the email server to your workstation. Your email client can be set so that it leaves email on the email server. But, like using a web browser to access your email, you can run out of space on your email account pretty quickly. All it takes is for one person to email you a bunch of pictures. Because of that, we recommend that you set it to delete email from the email server once it has been downloaded to your primary workstation. Assuming you take our recommendation and set it to delete when downloaded, your email server will stay nice and clean and you won’t have to worry about running out of space.

Of course, there are disadvantages to this approach. Once email has been downloaded to your primary workstation, it is stored there, and only there. Accessing it when you are away will require remote control software. In addition, you’ll need to back up your email so that you don’t lose it in case of hard drive crash, theft, or disaster.

Mobile devices, on the other hand, should be set so that when they download email, they leave it on the server. This is the default setting for most mobile devices. That way, if your mobile device downloads it, it will still go to your primary workstation. If you set all of your email settings the way we are describing, then all email will go to your desktop. Email will only go to your mobile devices if they download the email before your desktop does. So when you are away from your desktop, it’s important to close down your email client so that it doesn’t download email. That way, email will go to your mobile devices.

The bottom line is this.

If you don’t keep and store a lot of email, then we recommend accessing your email through a web browser when on your primary workstation. All of your email will also go to your mobile devices too.

If, however, you keep and store a lot of email, use an email client on your primary workstation. Set it so that once email is downloaded, it is deleted from the email server. Make sure you back up the email on  your primary workstation both locally and offsite so that if something happens to your hard drive or the computer, you won’t lose all of your email. When you are away, make sure you close down your email client so that your mobile devices can get your email.

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