business email applications and services
Electronic mail, or e-mail, is by far the most popular use of Internet-based technology and is a fast cheap and convenient way of communicating, both externally and within a company. Used properly it can help you and your business to work smarter and not harder.
What do I need to send e-mail?
You simply write your message on one computer and send it a person on another computer or similar device, either on your IT network or over the Internet. The technology you use to send messages over the Internet depends on how much use you expect to make of e-mail and other Internet applications, and whether you expect to transfer large files, but you can simply use a stand-alone PC with a modem, a dedicated telephone type device or a 'Smart' mobile phone or PDA (Personal Digital Asssistant).
For e-mail sent outside your company your Internet Service Provider (ISP) acts as your central post office, routing your messages to their destination and storing messages sent to you until you are ready to download them. To be able to send and receive e-mail you only need to register with a free online 'webmail' service using any appropriate Internet connected device - but you need an Internet connection to be able to refer to saved messages. To save and store an archive of email 'locally' on your own PC or device you need e-mail software, which you may already have as part of your company's IT network program or operating system. If not, popular packages such as Microsoft Outlook Express or Netscape Communicator can be freely and easily obtained as part of the standard browsers used to access the Web.
The more advanced functions to look out for are:
- an address book, which creates entries automatically for every message you send or receive
- automatic message handling - rules and filters which can forward your messages or alert you to messages from a particular sender
- formatting features - similar to those in wordprocessed documents
- dial-in features, so you can pick up your e-mail from a remote location
- security functions to protect messages or files from unauthorised access
- anti-virus software to detect and neutralise potentially harmful e-mail attachments is now a necessity
- anti-'spam' software to filter out unsolicited commercial e-mail
E-mail isn't just a virtual fax
Initially you may be tempted to use e-mail like a virtual fax, with one person nominated to send and receive messages, and even to print it out messages and distribute them manually. But there are a few differences from fax to bear in mind:
- fax is immediate - as soon as it has been sent it is received, or you get an error message. E-mail used with a dial-up account has to be collected on a regular basis, although this process can be automated through e-mail software. (Some ISPs offer a service whereby if e-mail arrives for you, the ISP will call your Internet server, which will recognise the "calling line identity" (CLI) without answering it, and make a return call to initiate the Internet connection. This is normally done using a digital ISDN telephone line rather than an analogue line, and the ISP will make a charge for the service.)
- e-mail can be delayed by problems with either the sender's or receiver's ISP, although if it cannot be delivered to the recipient's mailbox for some reason the sender will usually get an error message within an hour or two. The recipient of your message also has to remember to download their mailbox.
- legitimate e-mail can be mistakenly fitered out or blocked by misconfigured anti-spam or security software.
Once e-mail becomes an established part of your business operation you may wish to network it around your office - to use internally like an electronic memo system, and for individual workstation PC users to be able to send and receive external e-mail at their desks. At this stage you may need e-mail server software on the computer that is connected to the Internet or an enhanced service from your ISP.
What are the advantages of using e-mail?
- flexibility - you can "attach" any sort of digital file to a message, such as a spreadsheet or image, to an e-mail - you just have to be sure the recipient has the software to read and/or use it. However, the sending or receiving ISP may limit the size of e-mails or attachments.
- price - the cost of an e-mail is the same regardless of distance, as your Internet connection is charged at local call rates, and however many people you send it to
- speed - an e-mail should reach its recipient in minutes, or at the most within a few hours
- convenience - your message will be stored until the recipient is ready to read it, and you can easily send the same message to a large number of people, saving paper and postage costs
- a permanent record - unlike telephone calls, a record can be kept of messages and replies, and even when a message was received
Your company's e-mail address is part of your company's image, so choose it with care. The same applies to the messages you send, so make sure you pay as much attention to them as you would to any paper-based communications - see our information sheets on domain names and netiquette for further advice.
Reviewed January 2011
last updated : 21/01/2011
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