Network: On hols but still online

There are ways to stay connected if you can't stand the thought of doing without your e-mail while on holiday.
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The Independent Culture
JUST BECAUSE you go on holiday abroad this summer is no reason to lose contact with your e-mail. But it is best to set-up an account on one of several web-based e-mail systems if you wish to keep reading mail.

Twice this year I have been the victim of my own naive optimism, assuming that checking while abroad for incoming e-mail would be easy. I have an account with Microsoft Network, which was simple to set up on my own PC. I assumed that abroad I would be able to walk into an Internet cafe, dial into MSN, give my password and read my mail. Alas, it was not as simple as that.

Early in the year, I was in Northern Cyprus for a month. In the major tourist town, Kyrenia, it was easy to find Internet cafes, but impossible to gain access to MSN. I tried at four Net cafes and all were unable to dial into MSN's international contact number. The proprietors were unable to give a clear explanation, but the problem seemed to be that to open a connection the PCs needed the original start-up CDs, which were not available.

I visited the region's only Internet service provider, in Nicosia, and staff spent hours trying to access MSN for me. Their technician used the proper start-up CD, but without success. The error message he received indicated it was impossible to access MSN from Northern Cyprus because there was no established local area network connection. As Northern Cyprus is occupied by Turkey without international recognition, this seemed a possible explanation.

A few weeks later, I was in Egypt. Again my optimism defeated my journalistic cynicism. There was no shortage of Internet cafes, but their PCs, too, were unable to dial into MSN. In theory, says MSN, it should be possible to dial into its service from anywhere in the world, using a local or international phone number, after setting up the PC or laptop in the correct configuration. (But be warned: using an international call to access e- mail may work out very expensive.)

The other major ISPs also say international access should work. In practice, admits MSN, it can be very difficult. "It is a technical thing which is not user-friendly," says Simon Marks, an MSN spokesman.

A more practical means of accessing e-mail for the vast majority of ISPs which use POP3 servers is to use web-based e-mail systems, such as Microsoft's Hotmail (www.hotmail.com). Registration is simple and free. Access the site, choose "options" and "mail-handling" icons, choose POP Mail and insert details of your e-mail accounts, including passwords.

You can opt to have copies, rather than originals, go to Hotmail, ensuring that when you arrive home you will have stored all the e-mails sent to you. This is an advantage over accessing your own e-mail address from an Internet cafe, where your PC will not automatically have a record of received mails.

But Hotmail is not without its problems. When I set up an account I not only received copies of all new incoming e-mail, but copies of dozens of old mails. I am in the habit of not deleting all e-mails when received, and one of my e-mail accounts, on Poptel, stores mails on the server. Consequently, these were forwarded to Hotmail each time I opened it up. At least it gave me a strong incentive to sort through old mails and delete them.

A similar service to Hotmail is provided by AOL, but only for its customers. They can log on to www.aol.com/netmail/ to receive copies of mails. Yahoo provides a free web-based mail system (www.yahoo.co.uk), which can read mail from any POP3 provider. AmExMail, a service operated in the US by USA.Net with American Express, also provides free access to e-mail. Although the service was developed for AmEx's customers, there is no bar from anyone using it and registration is simple (www.amexmail.com).

Demon also provides e-mail access to customers from anywhere in the world, through the website (www.demon.net/services/mail/webmail.html). It plans a second free service through a partnership with Infonet, enabling customers to access Demon e-mail accounts from 32 countries using local call rates. Authentication will be the same as normal Demon sign-in. The service is part of a drive by Demon to justify a continued pounds 10 a month charge, while competing with free-serve competitors. You can also phone an English language support service in the countries where the service operates, at local call charge rates.

So e-mail addicts can relax on holiday, realising they are only a short text message away.

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