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A Smarter Way to Fetch E-Mail

July 19, 2006, New York Times, A Smarter Way to Fetch E-Mail, by David Pogue.

I know everybody's sick to death of hearing about Apple's latest i-product, so I promise not to even mention its name in this newsletter. But as I was trying to get my e-mail set up on that cellphone, I stumbled upon a delicious secret feature of Gmail, Google's fast, free, fantastic Web-based e-mail service. This is a trick that can help everyone, whether you have a cellphone or not.

One big drawback of the Mail program on Apple's phone is that it has no spam filter. That's not a big deal if your e-mail comes from AOL, Yahoo or Gmail, because those services have pretty good spam filters of their own. But if you have some other kind of account-like a standard POP account (provided by your cable company, for example), you may be overrun by junk mail.

I kept hearing from people who told me how they solved this problem: "Oh, I just forward my mail to Gmail," they say. "Then I set up my new phone to check my Gmail account instead of my regular address."

Well, all right; it's easy enough to make your e-mail program auto-forward incoming mail your Gmail address. But there's a huge problem with that setup: Now all of your messages appear to have come from you, the forwarder. If you hit Reply on your phone, the response doesn't go to the original sender; it goes right back to YOU! It gets sent back to your desktop computer (or whatever computer is doing the forwarding).

Clearly, that's no good. So I asked my tech guru, Brian Jepson, if there's any solution-and he told me about Gmail's new Mail Fetcher service. My problem was solved in five minutes.

In essence, this feature tells Gmail to fetch messages from your existing POP account, so that it all shows up at Gmail.com. Better yet, Mail Fetcher offers you the chance to have outgoing messages stamped with your regular e-mail address. In other words, Gmail.com becomes a free, invisible mail processing center, leaving no trace of its involvement. The people you correspond with will never know that their messages, or your responses, went anywhere but straight to your computer and back.

You can still check mail with Outlook, Mail, Entourage, or whatever program you're using now. But now you've solved the spam problem on your phone-and better yet, you can now check your regular POP e-mail-up to five accounts, in fact-at Gmail.com, from any computer in the world! Now, if all you want to do is keep in touch with e-mail while you're on vacation, you can leave your laptop at home.

Here's how you set up this free, no-downsides arrangement. Suppose that your real e-mail address is chris456@comcast.com.

First, sign up for a free Gmail account at www.gmail.com.

Once your account is active, visit Gmail.com. Click Settings, then Accounts. Under "Get mail from other accounts," click "Add another email account." Fill the e-mail settings for your main address: name, password, mail server address.

If you like, you can also turn on "Leave a copy of retrieved message on the server." That means that you'll also be able to check your mail from Outlook, Mail, or whatever e-mail program you use, just as you always have. The Gmail account will just be a backup, a secondary, Web-based way to do e-mail.

As you complete the setup process in Gmail, a message says: "You can now retrieve mail from this account. Would you also like to be able to send mail as chris456@comcast.com?"

Click "Yes, I want to be able to send mail as chris456@comcast.com."

In other words, when you reply, your main e-mail address, not Gmail's, will be the return address. It won't matter whether you send from Gmail.com or from your phone; it will all look like it came from Outlook, Mail, or whatever.

You can add up to five e-mail accounts this way, consolidating them all in one place-a very neat trick. Gmail seems to check for new messages about every five minutes, and there's also a "Check mail now" button.

I know this is all sounds much more technical than my usual writings; there's no way around it. The bottom line, though, is that Gmail's Mail Fetcher system solves a big problem for smartphone owners, and-by making your mail available on the Web-another big one for travelers. Nice.

This week's Pogue's Posts blog.

Visit David Pogue on the Web at DavidPogue.com.

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