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Help File: E-mail server settings demystified

Sunday, March 28, 2010; G04

Q: No one seems to be able to give me the server settings I need to continue using my poor old Netscape 7.0 to access my new e-mail.

A: Considering that version of the long-since-abandoned Netscape program dates to 2002, I wasn't surprised by this reader's plea for help.

The first step to solving this issue is to download and install the free, open-source Mozilla Thunderbird (http://getthunderbird.com). That can automatically import messages, settings and addresses from Netscape and will bring numerous other improvements-- such as the ability to configure itself automatically for many e-mail services after you enter your user name and password.

The second step is to realize that there is no such thing as "server settings for my program." E-mail runs on Internet standards that should let you plug the same account details into any program, regardless of whether your provider explicitly supports it. Trust me on this: I've set up dozens of different mail clients on computers, smartphones and other gadgets, and the drill has been the same almost every time.

Here are the details you'll need beyond your user name, password and e-mail address: the incoming mail-server address (sometimes labeled a POP server, after the Post Office Protocol used by many mail services); the outgoing mail-server address (often called an SMTP server, short for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol); and whether you need to turn on any encryption (usually "SSL") for those server computers.

It doesn't matter if you get those parameters off a tech-support page written for a different mail application; you just need to know where your software would have you enter this info. In a Windows program, go to its Tools menu and look for an "Accounts" item or, if that doesn't exist, "Options." On a Mac program, go to the menu named after the application itself, near the top-left corner of the screen, and select "Preferences."

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 robp@washpost.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.

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