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Help Desk

Understanding e-mail

Suppose you write, address, and then send a message to a friend. First, your e-mail program contacts and gives the message to a server program running on one of their computers. Then the e-mail server begins the process of delivering the message. Using the e-mail address to figure out where the message is supposed to go, the server sends the message from computer to computer on the way to your friend's electronic mailbox. These computers are connected through the Internet, and because every e-mail address is unique, they are able to find the correct mailbox.

When the message arrives at its destination, the e-mail server program maintained by your friend's e-mail service provider places messages in her electronic mailbox. When she's ready to check her messages, she uses an e-mail program to retrieve and read them. Although a message might travel a long distance and be delivered by several computers, it usually takes only a few seconds to arrive at any electronic mailbox in the world.

About E-Mail Programs

If you want to create, send, and receive electronic mail, you'll need to use an e-mail program. While some programs must be purchased, many are available for free on the Internet. recommends that you use Microsoft Outlook Express, which is already installed on computers running any version of Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Whatever e-mail program you choose, they all share some common features. First, they list the messages you've received and identify each one by displaying a brief line of information, called a message header. The header lets you know who sent the message, what it's about, as well as the date and time the message was sent. You can open a message by double-clicking a header in the list.

In addition to receiving and reading messages, e-mail programs also let you create and send your own messages. Each program includes a form that helps you create messages by providing the e-mail address of the recipient, the subject of the message, and an area to type your message. Some programs even let you attach files to send.

While all e-mail programs let you send messages, if you choose a very basic program, it might only support plain text messages. Other programs let you format message text by adding color and applying bold or italic formatting to certain words.

If you receive a lot of e-mail, you might want to choose a program that lets you organize the messages you receive into different folders that you create. Some programs even include features that can automatically move incoming messages to appropriate folders or identify and delete unwanted e-mail.

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