Email services compared
Don't know how to get your business email? Here are some popular options
There are many ways of handling email in your business. Some are free and some cost. Some offer only basic features, while some let you do all kinds of clever things. This article looks at three of the main ways of managing email, covering the pros and cons of each.
Webmail usually means a free service, like Microsoft's Hotmail. You access email using a web browser (like Internet Explorer), hence the name. Usually, you can't get your own company domain name and have to use the webmail company's address instead, although some providers are starting to offer this as an option.
Webmail is generally very easy to use. You can access it from virtually any web broswer, meaning that you can read new emails no matter whether you're at your desk in the office or in an internet cafe somewhere. Most of the main webmail providers offer some spam filtering as standard, so your inbox won't fill up with rubbish.
However, free webmail is often funded by advertising. That means you'll see adverts when you login to check your mail. Some webmail services even append advertising to the bottom of emails you send through their system - fine if you're writing to your friends, but maybe not-so-fine when you're contacting an important client.
You sometimes receive limited storage space with webmail services, although the affordability of computer hardware means that most providers are more generous now than they have ever been. More of an issue is how professional your company's emails will look. That alone means it's usually worth spending a few pounds for a professional email address based on your company domain name (e.g. email@example.com).
POP3 lets you download your email from your internet service provider (ISP) to a program on your computer like Outlook Express. Some ISPs will let you register a company domain name but mostly you use the ISP's address. However, you usually get at least one POP3 account free with your internet connection, and many ISPs include spam filtering and virus scanning as part of the package.
POP3 email is also quite easy to set up. Your internet service provider will give you details of a server to log into, along with your username and password. Once you've entered these into your email software of choice you're ready to go.
Beware if your business employs anyone else though: you'll probably only get a limited number of addresses as standard, and multiple accounts and passwords make it difficult to manage lots of different users. POP3 email is also very limited in functionality; you can forward emails, but that's about it. You can't manage the email centrally, backup or archive easily.
�If you go on holiday you can set up an automatic reply to let people know when you'll be back.�
Exchange is Microsoft's "messaging and collaboration server". It lets you do much more than simply forward or download your emails, and has been designed for businesses that use email to work together. It gives you an easy way to manage your email, company-wide.
Exchange gives you centralised, secure email, with extensive spam filtering built in. With Microsoft Outlook 2003 you can set any number of rules to manage your mail - perhaps highlighting all mails with particular keywords in them, or flagging up messages from important clients. Its information rights management even lets you lock an email so the recipient cannot forward it further.
You can pick up your email through Exchange with a wide range of clients and devices including web-browsers, Pocket PCs, SmartPhones and Blackberries. You can implement a company-wide address book so that everyone's details are on-hand, and if you go on holiday you can set up an automatic reply to messages to let the sender know when you'll be back.
Finally, Exchange goes beyond just email. It has a built-in calendar function, which means all your company's employees can manage their time electronically. Scheduling meetings becomes easy because - when calendars are shared - your employees can see when each other are free without picking up the phone.
Of course, there is a price for all this. Unlike the other two options, Exchange isn't free, and doesn't normally come bundled with an internet connection. It takes considerable expertise to set it up on your own server, although you can buy it as a software service and leave that up to someone else.