What is Email?
Email in its simplest form is a text message which is transferred from sender to recipient via the Internet or Local Network (office based email). In this article we will only concern ourselves with email which travels via the internet.
In today's many formats, including HTML emails, these messages are still transmitted around the internet in text format. Pictures and code are converted and sent in text form and decoded into the required graphics and text by the email reader when the recipient views the message.
The word ‘email' itself stands for ‘electronic mail', and the life of an email could be described as follows ……
• You create an email with words (and possibly pictures) on your computer. When you ‘send' the email using your Email program (such as Outlook Express) or webmail interface (a web page which allows you to send, receive and manage email from within your web browser), the message is converted into an electronic form which can be read and processed by the various mail servers connected to the internet. We all know that electronic files are compiled mostly in unrecognisable text, be that binary or other code).
• Your email program then connects to the internet and connects to a DNS server which directs it on to the recipient's email server. Once connected to the recipient's email server, the message is then accepted and stored in the file which holds all of the recipient's email messages.
• The recipient then opens their email program and ‘instructs' it to send and/or receive email messages. Their email program also connects to the internet and then on to their email server. The email server will let the program know that there is email available and the program will download this to their computer for them to view.
This is the simplest explanation, but some forms of email work differently (including web mail and IMAP), and we will look at those a little later. The really remarkable thing abut email is that a message can be sent and received by the recipient within seconds from on ‘end' of the world to another and, of-course, holds that distinct advantage over and above the letter mail that we send and receive via postal or mail carriers (such as the post office, etc.).
Electronic mail has been in existence since 1971 when computer engineer Ray Tomlinson created and sent his first electronic mail message and earnt himself the accolade of being the Inventor of Email. Ray realised the need to have a generic system for the sending and receiving of mail messages across networks and subsequently the internet. It was Ray that introduced the use of the infamous @ symbol in email addresses, and which was an idea born of the need for a character which wasn't normally included in people's names and was not a number. The use of the @ character is vital for computer systems and servers to recognise what is an email message. One wonders if Ray had any idea that billions of emails would be flowing on a daily basis around the internet 32 years later.
What do you need to use Email.
There are actually many components to create an email system and you personally will need at least the following to even consider sending or receiving emails…
• A computer or access to a computer (such as those available for short term use at libraries and Internet or Cyber Cafes. Note: libraries in England are now committed to providing free use of the internet using their computer terminals provided for the public.
• A web browser or email client (an email program such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape, Eudora, etc, etc).
• Internet access (such as that provided by AOL, BT, Earthlink, etc, etc).
• An email account.
The other components are enhancements and features that aim to improve the construction of emails (such as ‘stationary') and security (such as email virus scanners and spam software).
Let's consider each of the vital components in a bit more detail…
Computer – you could be forgiven for thinking that we mean just a desktop computer with keyboard, mouse, monitor and modem, but we do mean to include all other forms of equipment that enable you to send and receive emails. This includes WAP enabled mobile telephones, Handheld computers (such as PDA's), and public access terminals (have you seen the internet enabled public telephone terminals on Airports? And there are a growing number of public telephones that also offer email facilities). You can now even use your television and satellite receiver to compose, send, receive and read emails. In the rapidly growing technology market, many new things could be added to this list over the coming years as electronic goods get more complex and feature rich.
Web Browser (or Email Client see below) – By ‘web browser' we mean something such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape's Navigator (the two most widely used) which offer a means to view web pages and content on the internet or World Wide Web (WWW). Email that offers you web based access (such as Inbox 4 Us email accounts) allow you to access, compose, send, store, receive and view your email messages from within the web browser itself. This from of access allows you to do all this from anywhere in the world. WAP mobile telephones and pocket or handheld computers (PDA's) use different types of ‘browser' to those used with your desktop computer. Mobile telephones will be equipped with a very simple browser which uses very few resources for instance.
Email Client – by this we mean a software program such as Microsoft's Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape's Composer and Eudora name but a few. These program's are often called email clients. The purpose of these email programs are to compose, store, manage, send receive and view email messages on your desktop. This enables you to do this in whatever environment you chose, although the comfort of your own home is the obvious choice. These programs will also store email messages for you for later viewing and handling as well as the ability to forward the message at the click of a button. Email programs also utilise extra components, such as virus scanners and digital signatures which come as ‘plug ins' (add on components) and enhance or improve your email experience.
Internet access – by this we mean an Internet Service Provider (ISP) account, such as BT or AOL to name but a few. These companies offer a connection through their servers to the internet, and this occurs with the use of a modem. We also mean to cover other means of access such as that which Mobile telephones and handheld computers (PDA's) use which include WAP, GSM and Bluetooth. For instance, you may have a WAP enabled phone, but the WAP service is something that your phone service provider will have to activate on your account for you to use it.
An Email Account – by this we mean an account with an email service provider (such as Inbox 4 Us, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc, etc). There are two main types of email account you can have – a POP3 email account or a webmail account. A POP3 email accont offers you access via your Email Program (Email Client) such as Microsoft's Outlook and Netscape's Composer, where as webmail is accessible from the internet. Most email service providers offer either or both forms of access. You usually get one free POP3 email account when you sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as AOL, BT, etc, etc., but you can only normally access these accounts using a connection to that particular ISP unless you use the webmail access option. Many users find this restriction a burden, and opt for independent email service providers (such as Inbox 4 Us) to gain access using their Email Program to handle email using any connection, be it with their ISP, their Laptop and Mobile phone connection or any computer, with a browser or email program, any where in the world.