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The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet

by Peter Kent

See All Formats & Editions

Easily accessible and fun overview of everything the Internet has to offer The new edition weeds out some coverage of lesser used Internet features (such as Archie and Gopher) replacing them with hot up-to-date coverage of live audio, conferencing, and push media The Complete Idiot s Guide to the Internet, 4th Edition is an updated version of one of Que s


Easily accessible and fun overview of everything the Internet has to offer The new edition weeds out some coverage of lesser used Internet features (such as Archie and Gopher) replacing them with hot up-to-date coverage of live audio, conferencing, and push media The Complete Idiot s Guide to the Internet, 4th Edition is an updated version of one of Que s best-selling Complete Idiot s Guides Special Lycos Yellow Pages section highlights the best of the most popular Lycos Web sites New users are especially concerned about security and online transactions according to recent surveys. This book will cut through the myths and explain the tools and concepts surrounding these for this audience

  • Provides an easily accessible and fun overview of everything the Internet has to offer
  • Weeds out some coverage of lesser-used Internet features (such as Archie and Gopher) replacing them with hot up-to-date coverage of live audio, conferencing, and push media
  • Includes a special Lycos Yellow Pages section, which highlights the best of the most popular Lycos Web sites

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Read an Excerpt

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet, Fifth Edition - CH02 - The Premier Internet Tool: Email <br>Fifth Edition8- 2 -8The Premier Internet Tool: Email

[Figures are not included in this sample chapter]

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet,

Fifth Edition

- 2 -

The Premier Internet Tool: Email

In This Chapter

  • Which email program are you using?
  • All about email addresses
  • Setting up your email program
  • Sending a message
  • Retrieving your messages--then what?
  • Sending files across the Internet
  • Avoiding fights

Some of you may think the title of this chapter is a joke. It's not. Although
email may not be exciting, cool, or compelling, it is the most popular and, in many
ways, the most useful Internet service. More people use email on any given day than
use any other Internet service. Tens of millions of messages fly across the wires
each day--five million from America Online alone (at least it was five million the
last time I checked, but it's probably several times that by now). According to Wired
magazine, publishing via email--newsletters, bulletins, even small books--is growing
very quickly, perhaps more quickly than publishing on the World Wide Web.

Despite all the glitz of the Web (you'll learn about that glitz in Chapter 4,
"The World of the World Wide Web," Chapter 5, "More About the Web,"
Chapter 6, "Forms, Applets, and Other Web Weirdness," and Chapter 7, "Web
Multimedia"), the potential of Internet Phone systems (Chapter 14, "Internet
Conferences: Voice on the Net, White Boards, and More"), and the excitement--for
some--of the many chat systems (Chapter 13, "Yak, Yak, Yak: Chatting in Cyberspace"),
email is probably the most productive tool there is. It's a sort of Internet workhorse,
getting the work done without any great fanfare.

After spending huge sums of money polling Internet users, we've come to the conclusion
that the very first thing Internet users want to do is send email messages. It's
not too threatening, and it's an understandable concept: You're sending a letter.
The only differences are that you don't take it to the post office and that it's
much faster. So that's what I'm going to start with: how to send an email message.

Dial-in Terminal (Shell) Accounts

If you are working with a dial-in terminal account (also known as a shell account),
this information on email--beyond the basic principles--won't help you much. To learn
more about working with email with your type of account, you can use the autoresponder
to get the mail chapters from The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet.
Of course, to use the autoresponder, you need to be able to send an email message!
So, if necessary, ask your service provider how to send the first message. When you've
got that figured out, send email to ciginternet@mcp.com with allmail
in the Subject line to receive the email chapters.

What Email System?

Which email system do you use? If you are a member of an online service, you have
a built-in mail system. But if you are not a member of one of the major online services,
who the heck knows what you are using for email! I don't. For that matter, even with
an online service, there are different options; CompuServe, for instance, offers
a number of different programs you can use.

Basically, it all depends on what your service provider set you up with. You might
be using Netscape, a World Wide Web browser (discussed in Chapter 4) that has a built-in
email program. Or perhaps you're using Microsoft Exchange, which comes with Windows
95 and NT4, or if you are working with a very recent version of Windows 95 (yes,
there are different versions of Windows 95, but we won't get into that) or Windows
98, you might be using Outlook Express. You could be using Eudora, which is one of
the most popular email programs on the Internet, or perhaps Pegasus. Or you might
be using something else entirely. Luckily, the email concepts are all the same, regardless
of the type of program you are using--even if the buttons you click are different.

Start with What You Were Given

I suggest you start off using the email program that you were given when you set
up your account. You may be able to use something else later. If you'd like to try
Eudora later, go to http://www.qualcomm.com/. (You'll see how to use a URL,
one of these Web addresses, in Chapter 4.) A free version called Eudora Light is
available for the Macintosh and Windows. My current favorite is AK-Mail, a shareware
email program (http://akmail.com/). You can find Pegasus at http://www.pegasus.usa.com/.

To POP or Not to POP

POP (Post Office Protocol) is a very common system used for handling Internet
email. A POP server receives email that's been sent to you and holds it until
you use your mail program to retrieve it. However, POP's not ubiquitous; some online
services and many companies do not use POP.

Why do you care what system is used to hold your mail? After all, all you really
care about is the program you use to collect and read the mail, not what arcane system
your company or service provider uses. However, the POP issue becomes important if
you want to change mail programs. In general, the best and most advanced email programs
are designed to be used with POP servers. So if you need some specific email features
and have decided you want to switch to another mail program, you may find you can't
do so.

Suppose that you have an America Online or CompuServe account. The mail programs
provided by these systems are quite basic. They lack many features that programs
such as AK-Mail and Eudora have, such as advanced filtering. (Filtering allows you
to automatically carry out actions on incoming email depending on the characteristics
of that mail. For instance, you could set up the program to automatically delete
all the email messages received from your boss. That way you won't be lying when
you tell him you didn't receive his message.) But you may be stuck with what you've
got. At the time of this writing, you could not use a POP program with an America
Online account, so you couldn't install Eudora or AK-Mail or any other POP program.
On the other hand, CompuServe now does provide POP mail, but you have to sign
up for this optional service (it's free; use GO POPMAIL to find more information).

Another common mail system, IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), is generally
used by corporate networks, not Internet service providers. If you're using a corporate
network, you probably won't have much choice about which mail program you can use.

You Have a New Address!

I recently discovered how you can tell an absolute beginner on the Internet: He
often talks about his email number, equating email with telephones. They are both
electronic, after all. However, you have an email address. That address has
three parts:

  • Your account name
  • The "at" sign (@)
  • Your domain name

What's your account name? It's almost always the name you use to log on to your
Internet account. For instance, when I log on to my CompuServe account, I have to
type 71601,1266. That's my account name. When I log on to MSN, I use CIGInternet,
and on AOL, I use PeKent. (Note that the CompuServe account name is a special
case; when using this account in an email address, I have to replace the comma with
a period, like this: 71601.1266@compuserve.com.)

After your account name, you use the @ sign. Why? How else would the Internet
mail system know where the account name ends and the domain name starts?

Finally, you use the domain name, which is the address of your company, your service
provider, or your online service. Think of it as the street part of an address: one
street (the domain name) can be used for thousands of account names.

Account Names: They're All the Same

CompuServe calls the account name a User ID, MSN calls it a Member
Name, and AOL calls it a Screen Name. In addition, you might
hear the account name called a username or logon ID. All these
names mean the same thing: the name by which you are identified when you log on to
your account. However, I discovered that some large service providers (mainly the
phone companies, for some reason, who "don't quite get it") do something
a little odd. You get some strange number as the account name, and you get another
name to use when accessing your email. Someone at AT&T's WorldNet gave me a flip
answer as to why they do this, using a sort of "well, of course, we have
to do this, but you probably wouldn't understand" tone of voice; I wasn't

Where do you get the domain name? If you haven't been told already, ask the system
administrator or tech support people. (Later in this chapter you'll learn the domain
names of the larger online services.)

A Word About Setup

You might need to set up your email system before it will work. In many
cases, this setup will already be done for you. If you are with one of the online
services, you don't need to worry--it's done for you. Some of the Internet service
providers also do all this configuring stuff for you. Others, however, expect you
to get into your program and enter some information. It doesn't have to be difficult.
The following figure shows some of the options you can configure in Netscape Messenger,
the new email program that comes, along with Navigator, as part of the Netscape Communicator
package, but the options will be similar in other programs.

Pronouncing Your Email Address Here's the "correct" way to
say an email address out loud. You say "dot" for the periods and "at"
for the @ sign. Thus, pkent@topfloor.com is "p kent at topfloor dot

One of several mail-related panels in Netscape Messenger's Preferences dialog
box, in which you can configure the mail program before you use it.

Whatever program you have, you may have to enter the following information:

  • Incoming Mail Server. This is usually a POP account, although if
    you're on a corporate network it may be an IMAP (Internet Message Access protocol)
    account. When you connect to your service provider, your email program needs to check
    with the mail server (a program running on your service provider's system) to see
    if any mail has arrived. This mail server holds the messages that arrive for you
    until your mail program asks for them. Your account name is usually the same as the
    account name that you use to log on to your service. You might need to enter the
    full account name and the server hostname (for instance, in Netscape Messenger, I
    enter pkent, my account name, in the Mail Server User Name box, and then enter
    the server name--topfloor.com--in the Incoming Mail Server text box,
    and click the POP option button). On some systems, such as Eudora, you may
    have to enter the account name and server name all together in one box.

  • SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Potocol) Server. This mail program is used
    to send mail. While the POP account holds your incoming mail, the SMTP server
    transmits your messages onto the Internet. This time you'll enter a hostname (mail.usa.net,
    for instance) or maybe a number (something like that your
    service provider has given to you.

  • Password. You'll need to enter your password so the email program can
    check the POP for mail. This password is generally the same one you use to log onto
    the system. Some programs, however, don't request your password until the first time
    you log on to retrieve your mail.

  • Real Name. This is, yes, your actual name. Most mail programs will send
    your name along with the email address when you send email in the From line of the

  • Return or Reply To Address. You can make the email program place a different
    Reply To address on your messages. For instance, if you send mail from work but want
    to receive responses to those messages at home, you'd use a different Reply To address.
    If you do this, make sure you enter the full address (such as pkent@topfloor.com).

  • All Sorts of Other Stuff. You can get a good mail program to do all sorts
    of things. You can tell it how often to check the POP to see if new mail has arrived,
    choose the font you want the message displayed in, and get the program to automatically
    include the original message when you reply to a message. You can even tell it to
    leave messages at the POP server after you retrieve them. This might be handy if
    you like to check your mail from work; if you configure the program to leave the
    messages at the POP, you can retrieve them again when you get home, using the program
    on your home machine. You can also define how the program will handle attachments,
    but that is a complicated subject that I'll get to in the later section "Sending
    Files Is Getting Easier."

What Else Can I Do with My Mail Program?

You might be able to do lots of things. Check your documentation or Help files, or
browse through the configuration dialog boxes to see what you can do. Note, however,
that the online services' email programs generally have a limited number of choices.
Email programs such as Eudora, Pegasus, AK-Mail, and those included with Netscape
Communicator and Internet Explorer have many more choices.

There are so many email programs around, I can't help you configure them all.
If you have trouble configuring your program, check the documentation or call the
service's technical support. As I've said before, if your service doesn't want to
help, find another service!

Sending a Message

Now that you understand addresses and have configured the mail program, you can
send a message. So who can you mail a message to? You may already have friends and
colleagues whom you can bother with your flippant "Hey, I've finally made it
onto the Internet" message. Or mail me at testmail@topfloor.com, and
I'll send a response back to you. (To do that, I'll use something called an autoresponder,
a program that automatically replies to messages that it receives.)

So start your email program, and then open the window in which you are going to
write the message. You may have to double-click an icon or choose a menu option that
opens the mail's Compose window. For instance, in Eudora, once the program is open,
you click the New Message button on the toolbar or choose Message,
New Message.

Online Services

If you are working in one of the CompuServe programs, choose Mail, Create
New Mail
. In AOL, choose Mail, Compose Mail. In MSN, you'll open
the Communicate menu and select Send or Read Email. (If you're still
working with the old version of the MSN software, click the big Email bar
in MSN Central.) If you are using Netscape's email program, there are all sorts of
ways to begin: select File, New, Message, for instance.

In all the email programs, the Compose window has certain common elements. Some
programs have a few extras. Here's what you might find:

  • To. This line is for the address of the person you are mailing to. If
    you are using an online service and you are sending a message to another member of
    that service, all you need to use is the person's account name. For instance, if
    you are an AOL member and you're mailing to another AOL member with the screen name
    of PeKent, that's all you need to enter. To mail to that member from a service other
    than AOL, however, you enter the full address: pekent@aol.com. (I'll explain
    more about mailing to online services in the section "We Are All One: Sending
    Email to Online Services," later in this chapter.)

  • From. Not all mail programs show this line, but it shows your email address,
    which is included in the message header (the clutter at the top of an Internet message).
    It lets the recipient know who to reply to.

  • Reply To. You may have both a From address (to show which account
    the message came from) and a Reply To address (to get the recipient to reply to a
    different address).

  • Subject. This line is a sort of message title--a few words summarizing
    the contents. The recipient can scan through a list of subjects to see what each
    message is about. (Some mail programs won't let you send a message unless you fill
    in the Subject line; others, perhaps most, don't mind if you leave it blank.)

  • Cc. You can enter an address here to send a copy to someone other than
    the person whose address you placed in the To line.

  • Bc. This means "blind copy." As with the Cc line, a copy of
    the message will be sent to the address (or addresses) you place in the Bc (or Bcc)
    line; however, the recipient of the original message won't be able to tell that the
    Bcc address received a copy. (If you use Cc, the recipient of the original message
    sees a Cc line in the header.)

  • Attachments. This option is for sending computer files along with the
    message. (Again, I'll get to that later in this chapter, in the section "Sending
    Files Is Getting Easier.")

  • A big blank area. This area is where you type your message.

Don't Cc to a list! If you want to mail a message to a large list of
people, don't put all the addresses into the Cc line. Addresses in the Cc line will
be visible to all recipients, and most people don't like the idea of their email
address being given away to strangers. Instead, put the list into the Bcc line. Addresses
in the Bcc line will not be displayed anywhere in the email message.

Email programs vary greatly, and not all programs have all these features. Again,
the online service mail programs tend to be a bit limited. The following figures
show the Compose window in two very different mail programs.

This is AK-Mail, my current favorite.

This is CompuServe's mail composition window.

Go ahead and type a To address. Email testmail@topfloor.com, and you'll
get a response. Or email to your own address. If you use an online service, you might
as well use the entire Internet address (for instance, on AOL type name@aol.com).
The message will probably go out onto the Internet and then turn around and come
back to you. I'll explain those online service addresses in the next section.

We Are All One: Sending Email to Online Services

One of the especially nice things about the Internet, from an email point of view,
is that because all the online services are now connected to the Internet, you can
send email between online services. (Not so long ago the online services were completely
separate; you could only email someone on a service if you had an account with that
service.) Perhaps you have an America Online account because AOL sent you a disk
in the mail. Perhaps your brother has a CompuServe account because he's a geek, and
that's where the geeks have been hanging out for years. (Before you email me to complain,
I've had a CompuServe account for almost 15 years.) You can send email to each other,
using the Internet as a sort of bridge. How? You just have to know the other person's
account name on that service and that service's domain name.

For instance, CompuServe has this Internet domain name: compuserve.com.
Say you want to send an email message to someone at CompuServe who has the account
name (or User ID as it's called on CompuServe) of 71601,1266. You add the
two together with the @ in the middle. Then you have 71601,1266@compuserve.com.
However, you can't have a comma in an Internet address. So you replace it with a
period, and you end up with 71601.1266@compuserve.com. (Some CompuServe
users have "proper" email addresses, names instead of numbers. If you use
CompuServe and want one of these real addresses, use GO REGISTER.) The following
table lists a few services and tells you how to send email to them.

Sending email to other services

Service Method of Addressing
America Online Add @aol.com to the end of an America Online address.
CompuServe Replace the comma in the User ID with a period, and then add @compuserve.com
to the end.
GEnie Add @genie.geis.com to the end of a GEnie address.
MCImail Add @mcimail.com to the end of an MCImail address.
Microsoft Network Add @msn.com to the end of the MSN Member name.
Prodigy Add @prodigy.com to the end of the user's Prodigy address.

These addresses are quite easy. Of course, there are more complicated Internet addresses,
but you'll rarely run into them. If you have trouble emailing someone, though, call
and ask exactly what you must type as his email address. (There's no rule
that says you can't use the telephone anymore.)

Write the Message

Now that you have the address onscreen, write your message--whatever you want
to say. Then send the message. How's that done? There's usually a big Send
button, or maybe a menu option that says Send or Mail. What happens
when you click the button? That depends on the program and whether you are logged
on at the moment. Generally, if you are logged on, the mail is sent immediately.
Not always, though. Some programs will put the message in a queue and won't send
the message until told to do so. Others will send the message immediately, and if
you are not logged on, they will try to log on first. Watch closely, and you'll usually
see what's happening. A message will let you know if the message is being sent. If
it hasn't been sent, look for some kind of Send Immediately menu option or
perhaps Send Queued Messages. Whether the message should be sent immediately
or put in a queue is often one of the configuration options available to you.

Where'd It Go? Incoming Email

You've sent yourself an email message, but where did it go? It went out into the
electronic wilderness to wander around for a few seconds or maybe a few minutes.
Sometimes email messages can take a few hours to reach their destinations. Very occasionally,
it even takes a few days. (Generally, the message comes back in a few minutes, especially
if you're sending yourself a message, unless you mistyped the address, in which case
you'll get a special message telling you that it's a bad address.)

Now it's time to check for incoming email. If you are using an online service,
as soon as you log on you'll see a message saying that email has arrived. If you
are already online, you may see a message telling you that mail has arrived,
or you may need to check periodically; you may find a Get New Mail menu option. If
you are working with an Internet service provider, you generally won't be informed
of incoming mail; rather your email program has to go and check. Either you can do
that manually (for instance, in Eudora, there's a File, Check Mail
command), or you can configure the program to check automatically every so often.

Fancy Fonts

Some of the online services allow you to use fancy text formatting features. For
example, MSN and AOL let you use colors, indents, different fonts, bold, italic,
and so on. But in general these features only work in messages sent within
the online services. Internet email is plain text--nothing fancy. Don't bother getting
fancy in your Internet email because the online service's email system will strip
out all that attractive stuff when the message is sent out onto the Internet. However,
there is a system you can use to send formatted email, if both you and the recipient
have the right type of mail program--HTML Mail. We'll take a quick look at HTML Mail
in Chapter 3, "Advanced Email: HTML and Encryption."

What Now?

What can you do with your incoming email? All sorts of things. I think I'm pretty
safe in saying that every email program allows you to read incoming messages.
Most programs also let you print and save messages (if your program doesn't, you
need another). You can also delete them, forward them to someone else, and reply
directly to the sender. These commands should be easy to find. Generally you'll have
toolbar buttons for the most important commands, and more options will be available
if you dig around a little in the menus, too.

A Word About Quoting

It's a good idea to quote when you respond to a message. This means that you include
part or all of the original message. Some programs automatically quote the original
message. Different programs mark quoted messages in different ways; usually, you'll
see a "greater than" symbol (>) at the beginning of each
line. The following figure shows a reply message that contains a quote from the original

Quote the original message when responding to remind the sender what he said.

You aren't required to quote. But if you don't, the recipient might not know what
you are talking about. I receive scores of messages a day, and I know people who
get hundreds. (Of course, the radiation emitted from their computer screens is probably
frying their brains.) If you respond to a message without reminding the recipient
exactly which of the 200 messages he sent out last week (or which of the five he
sent to you) you are responding to, he might be slightly confused. Quoting is especially
important when sending messages to mailing lists and newsgroups (discussed in Chapter
9, "Newsgroups: The Source of All Wisdom"), where your message might be
read by people who didn't read the message to which you are responding.

Sending Files Is Getting Easier

I used to hate sending files. Not because it's so difficult to send files across
the Internet (although it is--or at least used to be until very recently), but because
it was sort of embarrassing to admit how difficult it was. Now before you misunderstand,
let me say that I did know how to send files across the Internet. However,
very few other people seemed to understand, and even when they did understand, they
didn't seem to have software that worked properly. Unless both parties involved (the
sender and the recipient) understand the process and have the correct software, things
sometimes won't work.

I recall, for instance, the incredible problems I had transferring computer files
to a magazine early in 1995. It didn't matter what transmission format I used (I'll
discuss that in a moment), nor what program I was working with; the staff at the
magazine couldn't seem to open those files--never mind that this magazine just happened
to be a major Internet magazine. Today the situation is much improved, and
the problems inherent in file transfers are, for many users, a thing of the past.
Still, the situation isn't perfect, and problems can still occur.

Files are commonly sent across cyberspace in one of four ways:

  • MIME. Multimedia Internet Mail Extensions is a system designed to make
    sending files across the Internet easier. It converts the file to text, sends it
    with the message, and converts it back at the other end. (You can send only text
    files in the Internet's email system, hence the need to convert files to text.) What's
    the difference between uuencode and MIME? Whereas uuencode, the following method,
    is a sort of quick fix, MIME was intended to be a nicely integrated system that works
    transparently so that all you have to do is select the file you want to send, and
    MIME does the rest. MIME also has a method for identifying the type of file that
    is being transferred. (MIME is now used on the World Wide Web to identify multimedia
    files linked to Web pages.) MIME is the most common method used for sending files
    across the Internet these days. Most users now have email programs that handle the
    file transfer, but a few have to use utilities to convert a MIMEd file back to its
    original format.

  • uuencode. In this system, a computer file is converted to plain ASCII
    text. It may start out as a sound file or a word processing file, but when it's converted
    it looks like gibberish text. This process is called uuencoding. An encoded
    file can be placed into an email message and sent. The person at the other end must
    then either receive the message with a mail program that can convert uuencoded files
    back to their original format or save the message as a text file and uudecode
    it--convert it back to its original format--using a special utility. This system
    is falling out of favor because most email programs now handle MIME.

  • BinHex. This system is used on the Macintosh, and it's very similar to
    uuencode. Files are converted into text and then converted back at the other end.
    It seems to be dying out, though (relatively speaking; please don't email me to tell
    me it's alive and well, and how the Macintosh is a better machine, and how Bill Gates
    should be crucified for stealing Macintosh design features...). Even many Macintosh
    mail programs use MIME and uuencode.

  • Online Service Systems. Each of the online services has a file-transfer
    system. In AOL and CompuServe, you can attach a file to a message and then send that
    message to another member of the same online service. In MSN, you can insert all
    sorts of things directly into messages--pictures, formatted text, or computer files--and
    then send them to other MSN members.

Now, here's the problem. If you want to send a message to another person on the
Internet, you may have to know which system to use. The following guidelines can
help you make a good decision:

1. The first time you have to send a file to someone, just go ahead and
use whatever system your mail program works with. A couple of years ago you'd have
a fifty-fifty chance of the file getting through, but these days it will probably
work. If it doesn't, though, move on to the next step.

2. Check to see if the other person has an account on the same online service
you do. Even if you've been given an Internet email address that is obviously not
an online service, ask just in case. It's more reliable to send a file between CompuServe
accounts, between AOL accounts, or between MSN accounts, for instance, than to use
MIME, BinHex, or uuencode. (You'll find that many people--especially geeks--have
accounts on two or more services.) I used to tell people that it's far more
reliable to use the online service rather than the other systems, but the gap is

3. If you have to use the Internet email system, check to see which system
the recipient can work with (MIME, uuencode, or BinHex). In the past I've advised
that you shouldn't simply pick one and send the file because if the recipient
didn't have the right software, he wouldn't be able to use the file. However, these
days MIME is in fairly wide use, so if you're not able to check with the recipient
first, you could try MIME, and it will probably work. (However, see the following
discussion of the online services.) The most popular POP mail programs all work with
MIME: Eudora, Netscape Communicator's mail program (Messenger), Pegasus, Microsoft
Internet Mail, Outlook Express, and so on.

4. Consider which file-transfer systems are built into your email program.
If you are lucky, the system that's built into your email program is the same system
the recipient uses--but if that was the case, you wouldn't have had a problem in
the first place. However, the program may have two or more systems built in, so that
you can choose one or the other. For example, Eudora Light can send files using MIME
or BinHex--but it can't send files using uuencode. (At least, Eudora can't do so
directly. However, you'll see in a moment how to send uuencoded messages even if
it's not built into your email program.) Netscape Navigator has both MIME and uuencode,
so you can use either. Many mail programs only work with MIME, though.

What if you don't have a match? Or what if the recipient has an online service
account? Or if you have an online service account? Some of the online services
may not work with either MIME or uuencode. The major online services have recently
been upgrading their mail services so you can use MIME--perhaps. You can send files
to and from CompuServe using MIME, although to receive them you may have to upgrade
your mail system (use the GO NEWMAIL command). AOL also allows file transfers
to and from the Internet. Surprisingly, MSN didn't allow incoming and outgoing file
attachments until recently; version 2.5 of the MSN software, which uses Outlook Express
as the mail program, does work with attachments, so if you have an earlier
version, you might want to upgrade.

Note, however, that even if an online service's mail system uses MIME, it may not
do so properly. For instance, I found that when I sent a file from CompuServe
to an Internet account the file was transferred correctly, but without a filename.
CompuServe had trouble accepting incoming files that had MIME attachments, too. AOL,
on the other hand, may strip out the file extension on incoming files, yet
transfer outgoing files correctly, although the new version 4.0 seems to work well.
(By the way, the online services' mail systems are very slow; I think they employ
people to retype all the incoming messages. I'm not sure what they do with attachments,
but attachments slow down incoming mail even further.) If you are working with a
service that won't work with MIME or uuencode, you'll have to use a utility to convert
the incoming file for you, which I'll discuss next.

Conversion Utilities

There are things you can do to get around incompatibilities between your mail system
and the recipient's, but they may be a hassle. Say you want to send someone a file
using uuencode because that's the only thing he can work with. But you have a CompuServe
account, which means your email program won't automatically uudecode files. You can
go to one of the software archives mentioned in Appendix C, "All the Software
You'll Ever Need," and download a uuencode program. (For instance, if you use
Windows, you can use a program called Wincode.) Then you use that program to convert
the file to a text file, you copy the text from the file and paste it into the message,
and you send the message. (And then you cross your fingers.)

How about MIME? Say someone just sent you a MIME-encoded file, but you have a
mail program that won't decode MIME attachments. What can you do? Go to the software
libraries and search for MIME. For instance, I use little DOS programs called Mpack
and Munpack. You can save the message you received as a text file (virtually all
email programs let you do this, generally with the File, Save As command),
and then use Munpack to convert that text file to the original file format. (Mpack
and Munpack are also available for the Macintosh and for UNIX systems.)

How about BinHex? I sometimes receive files from Macintosh users; I use a Windows
program called StuffIt Expander to extract the file from BinHex. (StuffIt Expander
was originally a Macintosh program, so Mac versions are available, too, of course;
it also works with uuencoded files and archive files such as .SIT and .ZIP files--see
Chapter 15, "What on Earth Are All Those File Types?," for more information.
You can find these programs at http://www.aladdinsys.com/.)

If you are lucky, though, your email program has MIME and uuencode built in, as
well as some kind of command that lets you insert or attach a file. For instance,
in Eudora Light, choose Message, Attach File and use the small
drop-down list at the top of the Compose window to choose between BinHex and
MIME. In AOL, click the Attach button; in CompuServe (see the next
figure), use the Mail, Send File command in the main window, or click
the Attach File button in the Create Mail window.

Sending a file with your email is usually as simple as clicking a button and
selecting the file.

Cool Things You Can Do with Email

Once you understand your email system and realize that it won't bite, you might begin
to enjoy using it. The following list contains suggestions of some things you might
want to do with your email program:

  • Create a mailing list. You can create a special mailing list that contains
    the email addresses of many people. For instance, if you want to send a message to
    everyone in your department (or family, or club) at the same time, you can create
    a mailing list. Put all the addresses in the list, and then send the message to the
    list. Everyone on the list receives the message, and you save time and hassle. Some
    programs will have a mailing list dialog box of some sort; others let you create
    a nickname or alias for the mailing list and then associate the addresses with it.

  • Create an address book. Virtually all email systems have address books,
    and they're usually quite easy to use. You can store a person's complicated email
    address and then retrieve it quickly using the person's real name.

  • Use aliases. An alias, sometimes known as a nickname, is a simple
    identifier you give to someone in your address book. Instead of typing peter kent
    or pkent@topfloor.com, for instance, you could just type a simple alias such
    as pk to address a message to that person.

  • Work with mail while you're offline. Most programs these days let you
    read and write email offline. The program quickly logs on to send and retrieve messages,
    and then logs off again automatically. This feature is of particular importance with
    services that charge you for the amount of time you are online.

  • Forward your mail. After being on the Internet for a while, there's a
    risk of attaining real geekhood by getting multiple Internet accounts, such as one
    with your favorite online service, one at work, one with a cheap service provider,
    and so on. (Right now, I have about eight, I think.) That's a lot of trouble logging
    on to check for email. However, some services let you forward your email to another
    account so that if a message arrives at, say, the account you use at home, you can
    have it automatically sent on to you at work. Ask your service provider how to do
    this; you may need to log on to your shell account to set this up (discussed in Chapter
    19, "21 Questions: The Complete Internet FAQ"). Although most Internet
    service providers let you do this, the online services generally don't.

  • Create a vacation message. When you go on vacation, your email doesn't
    stop. That's why so many cybergeeks never go on vacation, or take a laptop if they
    do: They can't bear the thought of missing all those messages. Still, if you manage
    to break away, you may be able to set a special vacation message, an automatic response
    to any incoming mail that says basically, "I'm away, be back soon." (You
    get to write the response message.) Again, ask your service provider. The online
    services generally don't have this service.

  • Filter your files. Sophisticated email programs have file-filtering capabilities.
    You can tell the program to look at incoming mail and carry out certain actions according
    to what it finds. You can place email from your newsgroups into special inboxes,
    grab only the message subject if the message is very long, delete mail from certain
    people or organizations, and so on.

Caution: Email Can Be Dangerous!

The more I use email, the more I believe that it can be a dangerous tool. There are
three main problems: 1) people often don't realize the implications of what they
are saying, 2) people often misinterpret what others are saying, and 3) people are
comfortable typing things into a computer that they would never say to a person face-to-face.
Consequently, online fights are common both in private (between email correspondents)
and in public (in the newsgroups and mailing lists).

The real problem is that when you send an email message, the recipient can't see
your face or hear your tone of voice. Of course, when you write a letter, you have
the same problem, but email is replacing conversations as well as letters. The U.S.
Post Office is as busy as ever, so I figure email is mainly replacing conversations.
That contributes to the problem because people are writing messages in a chatty conversational
style, forgetting that email lacks all the visual and auditory "cues" that
go along with a conversation.

In the interests of world peace, I give you these email guidelines to follow:

  • Don't write something you will regret later. Lawsuits have been based
    on the contents of electronic messages, so consider what you are writing and whether
    you would want it to be read by someone other than the recipient. A message can always
    be forwarded, read over the recipient's shoulder, printed out and passed around,
    backed up onto the company's archives, and so on. You don't have to use email--there's
    always the telephone. (Oliver North has already learned his lesson!)

  • Consider the tone of your message. It's easy to try to be flippant and
    come out as arrogant or to try to be funny and come out as sarcastic. When you write,
    think about how your words will appear to the recipient.

  • Give the sender the benefit of the doubt. If a person's message sounds
    arrogant or sarcastic, consider that he might be trying to be flippant or funny!
    If you are not sure what the person is saying, ask him to explain.

  • Read before you send. It will give you a chance to fix embarrassing spelling
    and grammatical errors and to reconsider what you've just said. (Some mail programs
    have spell checkers.)

  • Wait a day...or three. If you typed something in anger, wait a few days
    and read the message again. Give yourself a chance to reconsider.

  • Be nice. There's no need for vulgarity or rudeness (except in certain
    newsgroups, where it seems to be a requirement for entrance).

  • Attack the argument, not the person. I've seen fights start when someone
    disagrees with another person's views and sends a message making a personal attack
    upon that person. (This point is more related to mailing lists and newsgroups than
    email proper, but we are on the subject of avoiding fights.) Instead of saying, "Anyone
    who thinks Days of Our Lives is not worth the electrons it's transmitted on
    must be a half-witted moron with all the common sense of the average pineapple,"
    consider saying "You may think it's not very good, but clearly many other people
    find great enjoyment in this show."

  • Use smileys. One way to add some of those missing visual and auditory
    cues is to add smileys--keep reading.

You're Being Baited Some people send rude or vicious messages because
they enjoy getting into a fight like this--where they can fight from the safety
of their computer terminals.

Smile and Be Understood!

Over the past few years, email users have developed a number of ways to clarify the
meaning of messages. You might see <g> at the end of the line, for example.
This means grin and is shorthand for saying, "You know, of course, that what
I just said was a joke, right?" You may also see :-) in the message. Turn this
book sideways, so that the left column of this page is up and the right column is
down, and you'll see that this symbol is a small smiley face. It means the same as
<g>, "Of course, that was a joke, okay?"

Emoticons Galore

Little pictures are commonly known as smileys. But the smiley face, although
by far the most common, is just one of many available symbols. You might see some
of the emoticons in the following table, and you may want to use them. Perhaps you
can create a few of your own.

Share the Smiles

Many people call these character faces "smiley faces." But if you'd like
to impress your friends with a bit of technobabble, you can call them emoticons.
If you really want to impress your colleagues, get hold of The Smiley Dictionary
by Seth Godin. It contains hundreds of these things.

Commonly used emoticons

Emoticon Meaning
:-( Sadness, disappointment
8-) Kinda goofy-looking smile, or wearing glasses
:-> A big smile
;-) A wink
*<|:-) Santa Claus
:-& Tongue-tied
:-o A look of shock
:-p Tongue stuck out
,:-) or 7:^] Ronald Reagan

Personally, I don't like smileys much. They strike me as being just a tiiiny
bit too cutesy. However, I do use them now and again to make absolutely sure
that I'm not misunderstood!

Message Shorthand

There are a couple of other ways people try to liven up their messages. One is to
use obscure acronyms like the ones in this table.

Online shorthand

Acronym Meaning
BTW By the way
FWIW For what it's worth
FYI For your information
IMO In my opinion
IMHO In my humble opinion
LOL Laughing out loud (used as an aside to show your disbelief)
OTFL On the floor, laughing (used as an aside)
PMFBI Pardon me for butting in
PMFJI Pardon me for jumping in
RTFM Read the &*^%# manual
ROTFL or ROFL Rolling on the floor laughing (used as an aside)
ROTFLMAO Same as above, except with "laughing my a** off" added on the end. (You
didn't expect me to say it, did you? This is a family book, and anyway, the editors
won't let me.)
TIA Thanks in advance
YMMV Your mileage may vary

The real benefit of using these is that they confuse the average neophyte. I suggest
that you learn them quickly, so you can pass for a long-term cybergeek.

You'll also see different ways of stressing particular words. (You can't use bold
and italic in most Internet email, remember?) You might see words marked with an
underscore on either side (_now!_) or, perhaps frequently, with an asterisk (*now!*).

The Least You Need to Know

  • There are many different email systems, but the basic procedures all work similarly.

  • Even if your online service lets you use fancy text (colors, different fonts,
    different styles) within the service, that text won't work in Internet messages (see
    Chapter 3 for information on HTML Mail, though).

  • Sending files across the Internet is much easier now than it was just a year
    or so ago, but problems still arise; sending files within the online services
    is always easy.

  • On the Internet, the most common file-transfer method is MIME; uuencode is also
    used now and then. These are often built into mail programs, or you can use external
    utilities to convert the files.

  • Don't send a file until you know which system the recipient is using. Or if you
    do, use MIME.

  • Get to know all the neat little things your email program can do for you, such
    as create mailing lists and filter files.

  • Be careful with email; misunderstandings (and fights) are common.

Meet the Author

Peter Kent has been training computer users and documenting software for the last seventeen years. He is the author of all five of the best-selling editions of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet. He's also written articles that have appeared in Internet World, Windows Magazine, and Computer World; he writes a syndicated newspaper column, Geek News.

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