Ken Colburn: Gmail has a very small learning curve, and I promise you that it will drastically change your e-mail life in a very good way!
Q. I use Outlook Express on my laptop for my Cox e-mail account but keep running into problems sending out e-mail when I travel. I can receive the mail just fine, but I get errors when I try to send mail, but only when I am not home. - Lydia
A. In the early days of e-mail, most of us used only one machine in one location to send and receive our messages. So programs like Outlook Express did a fine job of managing our mail interactions. As we have become more mobile or more likely to use more than one computer, programs like Outlook Express present challenges to being flexible about how and where we get our e-mail.
The reason you are having a problem sending messages from the road via Outlook Express is because the program is specifically configured to send mail out via the Cox mail system. When you are on the road, you are no longer connecting to the Internet via a Cox connection, and you are not permitted to send mail from another Internet provider through the Cox mail system.
This restriction was implemented by all Internet providers years ago to stem the tide of spam that was sent via unauthorized systems on the networks.
Simply put, you can only send messages via the Cox mail system if you are on a Cox Internet connection. Your Outlook Express is configured to use the Cox outgoing mail system or SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) server, so it gets denied access when you are on the road. If you knew what the SMTP settings were for the new network that you are connecting to from the road, you could change the setting temporarily to get it to work. But there are several more elegant solutions available.
The first option is to use the Cox "webmail" interface instead of Outlook Express when you are on the road, which can be accessed by going to http://webmail.cox.net.
The nice thing about webmail systems is that you don't even have to use your own laptop to access them, as they can be reached via any Internet-connected computer.
The downside to using the Cox webmail interface while you are on the road is that it's rather sparse, won't have all the contacts you have stored in Outlook Express and adds a new place that you will have to look for "sent messages" in the future.
If you transferred all your contacts to the Cox webmail system and stopped using Outlook Express even while you were at home, you could eliminate all but one of the problems: the lackluster webmail system itself.
My recommendation is that you bypass all of the Cox options and sign up for a free Google Gmail account (http://gmail.com), which can be configured to check your Cox e-mail account and mark all messages as coming from Cox.
You can also set up Gmail to automatically make your messages look like they are coming from your Cox e-mail account for all outgoing messages or just those that were originally sent to your Cox account.
You can export your contacts from Outlook Express (File, Export, Address Book) as a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file, which Gmail can very quickly import (Contacts/Import).
Once you have it all set up, use Gmail at home, on the road, on your friend's computer or anywhere you can access the Internet. You will always have your most current contacts, messages and sent mail, no matter where you are.
Additionally, Gmail has a plethora of other useful tools that can make dealing with spam or messages from many accounts very efficient. Gmail is so popular, especially with the tech-savvy crowd, that you likely have many friends or family members who can help you get converted.
This approach also gives you another cool option; stop giving out your private Cox e-mail address to anyone you don't explicitly trust and give them your Gmail address instead (shopping sites, subscriptions sign up forms, etc.). By doing that, you can easily see messages from people you care about in the Inbox, as Gmail will mark the messages separately or allow you to click on your Cox messages only.
Gmail has a very small learning curve, and I promise you that it will drastically change your e-mail life in a very good way!
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR (92.3 FM) and at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to email@example.com.