Webmail -My Friend

The gushing was ridiculous. And I was tempted to bask in it like the hero I wanted to be -who wouldn't?

Thom, my client and president of a successful management firm spotted me as I hurried past his office door. When he hollered my name, I stopped in my tracks, closed my eyes and grimaced because I was late for my next appointment. By the time I turned around, he was coming through his doorway, his hand above his head for a high-five.

"You are amazing, Geoff," he said. "My email on the new computer you set up for me is absolutely identical to the way it was on my old computer. I can't tell you how much it means to be up and running right out of the gate!"

I smiled, but couldn't match his enthusiasm because I was struggling to remember any special care I took while migrating his email program. When my memory took hold, the painful truth hit me: Thom used Yahoo!'s web mail and it would have looked basically the same on any computer he used. He had never used any other computers so he didn't know.

He must have sensed that I didn't absorb his compliment, so he added, "You're a genius!" I obliged him with an awkward high-five.

Now I faced an ethical decision. Do I continue to soak up Thom's accolades like a piece of fluffy bread soaks good gravy? Or do I forfeit my delicious title of "genius" and fess up, admitting to Thom that making his email look exactly the same on the new computer took all the technical expertise of logging onto his Yahoo! account?

I had a new grimace -no longer because I was late, but because my tiny bad angel was on my left shoulder screaming "Is there any real harm in Thom thinking that you are brilliant?" My good angel whispered something about karma, honesty and a host of other pleasure-spoiling words.

"Thom, I -I, can't take credit," I said as I began my confession. I felt my bad angel kick my ear in disgust so I know I was doing the right thing despite the agony of it.

As I told Thom, web mail (offered by Yahoo!, Google and others) is stored on the Internet and accessed through a web browser. It offers some advantages over program-based email: It is usually free. People who travel often can count on their web mail looking the same on any computer. Web mail is automatically backed up, and mail users never need to upgrade the software. Nowadays many web mail providers offer generous email storage that compares to the amount of storage used by programs like MS Outlook, Eudora and Mozilla Thunderbird.

Email programs that are installed on your computer still offer more features and utilities than web mail. However, they store messages on the user's actual computer which makes them unavailable while they sit at a computer in an Internet café in Florence. I use both web mail and an email program to have the benefits of each.

I encourage my clients who upgrade their computers often to use web mail. "Don't worry," I say. "Give me a few minutes and I'll have your email set up on your new computer exactly as you like it!"

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