Eric Baker

Hints & tips

v7.2  01 February 2018  © Eric Baker

How do I decide between webmail and doing it offline?

I don't think there's really a choice nowadays. For personal emails the idea of locking them away on one computer just seems weird when you want to send and receive emails on your phone and tablet as well as computers. So it makes sense to entrust your emails to the cloud and accept that the provider might be inspecting our mail then trying to sell us stuff on the basis of what they find.

There are security issues - if you log in at some internet cafe you might then find your email account hijacked by someone demanding a ransom to hand it back or sending "emergency, send cash to me in Phuket" emails to your friends. I use quite complex passwords and 2 step verification (Gmail and Yahoo) so I need to put in a code texted to my phone if I log in on a new computer.

I use gmail for two different accounts (the gmail one plus the one linked to my web hosting account) and all our emailing is web based:
Email diagram
In that diagram our yahoo webmail is just used as a secondary account for newsletters etc. Our Gmail account is the interesting one. It collects all incoming mail for our Gmail and accounts into one Inbox (but you can see which account each email was sent to). All emails we do not delete are left indefinitely in Gmail so it works well hooking a smartphone or tablet to the Gmail account using IMAP. When sending mail it defaults to the account in the from box but there's a dropdown to let you send it from Gmail instead.


So which is the best webmail?

Gmail, Yahoo Mail and (was Hotmail) are the obvious top three. All free. Strange that Apple hasn't had a real go at this market. Here's the yahoo interface:
Yahoo email

I do have a Gmail account and find it pretty easy to use. It also has a very accurate spam filter as I sometimes get waves of spam on that account (used to be 100+ per day, more like 5 now). It also allows IMAP synchronisation with a local email client, eg a smartphone or tablet. Gmail's very strong on searching your emails and you can assign one or more labels of your choice to each email. Then click on a label, say Holidays, and you'll only see emails tagged as holiday-related. When you Archive emails they disappear from your Inbox but are still there when you click on All mail or do a search. Best of all is the way gmail handles 'conversations'. If you send someone an email then they reply to it then you reply back and so on, most email systems will litter your Inbox and Sent folders with multiple versions of the email and it's very hard to know if the latest is in Sent or Inbox. Gmail does it so much better - as long as the subject and from/to don't change it shows just a single version of the email and whether you look in Sent or Inbox you see the same complete, up to date version. Brilliant! In the screengrab on the right the numbers in brackets show how many back and forth emails there are in the 'conversation'. In practice it means you rarely have to look at Sent emails.

Gmail is the one to choose (as at least one of your email accounts) if you go for an Android smartphone and/or tablet. As soon as you hook one to your Gmail account everything works nicely; maps, Play Store etc.

The email account to avoid is the one offered by your broadband supplier - use it and that is a big barrier to moving to a different supplier in future. I've got a Plusnet email account but I haven't looked at it for years. Use Gmail or Outlook or Yahoo and moving ISP or to a new computer is really simple.

Why do I get spam?

The spammers are always looking out for genuine email addresses to plague. They get addresses from all over the place:
So you haven't done anything wrong or stupid by getting spammed. If your email system filters spams effectively you can live with it. If not you can always abandon the email account and open a new one - but you'll still get contacts trying to use the dead one years later.

The screenshot below shows how little spam we get nowadays, with much of it so stupid that they'll send the same message several times from different spoof addresses within an hour or so.

Gmail logo

Gmail emails

How can I back up important emails?

If you use webmail then online backups are part of the deal (free email service in exchage for invasion of privacy). If they are stored locally, backing up is difficult but vital. But I don't imagine many people outside companies use email based on one computer any more.

I still do not like all my emails being under the control of some giant foreign corporation that treats my private correspondance as if it's their property. You can always 'print' important emails to a local disk as pdfs (eg with Primo, see below). I also back up my Gmail account to Thunderbird sporadically.

How do you insert a picture in an email?

You can send pictures as attachments. Basically it's a matter of not inflicting huge files on friends so you need to find a way of shrinking the images before sending them. I use Faststone Viewer:

Faststone resize

Inline image in gmail In Gmail you can insert pictures directly into the text of the email. That keeps the email small. How the images display on receipt varies by email system. Gmail shows them very well.

Gmail doesn't do anything to help resize images you attach - I believe some other email services (eg Outlook?) are better at this.

Gmail pics

How do I create a pdf to save or email?

Primo options A pdf displays well on just about any device, is often far more compact than a Word document with images in it and is hard for most people to alter. So it's just to be viewed and/or printed it's much better to email a pdf than a Word document (which tends to display badly as an attachment, which may be insecure and you should not in any case assume that everyone can view it).

Libre Office can export pdfs as can modern versions of Office. Otherwise PrimoPDF is free and can create pdfs from anything you can print. I use it a lot to make pdf copies of important emails. For example, I'll create a pdf of an email with hosting details and passwords in a folder under a website on my local drive. Then when I want to check something a year later it's much easier looking in a local Hosting & domain details folder than looking for some old email. Making pdf copies of important emails means I'm much less dependent on having access to old emails - I rarely need to look at any over a month old.

Primo pdf