Sunday, February 7, 2010;
Q: I'm changing Internet providers and will have to switch my e-mail address. To avoid this problem in the future, I'm thinking of switching to a Web-mail service. Should I go with Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo?
A: Looking beyond your Internet provider for your e-mail can end the need to send change-of-address notices every few years. It should also get you better access: Mass-market mail services such as Comcast's or Verizon's use an old system, Post Office Protocol, that works poorly unless you read your mail only on one computer or on their Web-mail sites.
Among those three free Web-mail services, I'd rule out Yahoo first because it doesn't let you download messages to a computer unless you pay $20 a year for a "Yahoo Plus" account. I've also been disappointed with Yahoo's spam filter and find its Web interface a mess.
Hotmail does allow downloading -- a huge plus, since it means you can never lose access to your e-mail -- but only via POP. Its spam filter needs work, and it adds an annoying advertising tagline to every message you send, but the site looks cleaner than Yahoo.
But you have to be okay with Google's computers scanning the text of your messages to match up relevant ads.
One free option this reader didn't recommend comes from AOL, which also offers POP and IMAP access but, in my experience, has an ineffectual spam filter.
You can also often get a permanent e-mail address at your college's alumni Web site or by registering your own domain name. In each case, you can then have mail sent to that address forwarded automatically to the inbox of your choice -- at a service like Gmail or your regular Internet provider's. To send mail from the new account, you only need to change your mail program's settings.
Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.