Webmail – what’s the point?

Andrew Watson, Royal Society Research Professor at the University of East Anglia, says in the Times today:-

We non-media-savvy scientists at the University of East Anglia have learnt a hard lesson this week…

Indeed, and a significant part of that lesson should be don’t leave email on the servers for years! I mean, really, how stupid is that?

But it made me wonder – is this because they used webmail? I don’t, and I never have, because I’ve never been convinced it’s secure and I’ve never seen the point. My email client is set to delete mail from the server as soon as it’s downloaded; I believe that’s the only sensible way. OK, my email has no value to hackers, but a small part of it is sensitive, and I take care to see that it stays private.

The trouble is, with the forecast growth of Cloud Computing, something I think is a deeply suspect concept, everything, software and data alike, is held on remote servers, usually on the other side of the world, over which you have no control, and they will contain so much data that, almost by default, the Cloud will become the mother lode for hackers, making the events at UEA pale into insignificance.

Why on earth webmail, currently the main feature of the embryonic Cloud, is so popular, I will never know. Everyone gets an email account with their broadband account, so why they don’t use it baffles me. If they worry about the hassles of changing addresses when they change ISP, they can, for a modest outlay, buy their own domain name, and use the email facility that comes with it, thus keeping the same address no matter how often they change ISP. I did that years ago, when I needed a “corporate” identity. That need has passed, but I kept the domain name.

Back in the days of dial-up, services like Hotmail were popular with  travellers, as it meant they could access their email from anywhere in the world with Internet access. Since broadband achieved market domination, and Internet cafes became so widespread, email can be accessed from anywhere no matter what the account. Actually, even back when dial-up ruled, you could access any mail account no matter where you were, as long as you could get online – it just wasn’t as easy, or quick, as it was with Hotmail, and when you’re paying by the minute, that matters.

That’s no longer the case, though, and why people continue to use Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and even Gmail – who’d have thought the world needed another webmail service? – is a mystery to me. I can understand it if people needed a confidential email account, and while many go down that route, choosing cryptic names, very few actually need to.

I know many people who have perfectly good ISP email accounts lying fallow, while putting up with the all-too-frequent hassles of webmail. Indeed, I’ve just spent a couple of days trying to convince one such person, plagued by the vagaries of Yahoo, to use her ISP account instead, to no avail. When I ask why, all I get is the email equivalent of a blank look.

As far as webmail is concerned, as you may have gathered by now, I want no part of it. The stuff I actually want is downloaded to Outlook, after being scanned for viruses and assorted crap, and filtered through Mailwasher Pro, the best $40 I’ve ever spent (there’s a free version for the skint, but it won’t handle multiple accounts and has no support). And as it hits my Inbox, it’s deleted from the server. The only mail that isn’t is the spam that’s caught by the server-side filters, and I don’t care about that.

The Cloud, too, will have to get by without me. If I want to use an app – as it might be, a word processor – I don’t want one so cut-down and emaciated, to make it small enough to work at a sensible speed on the Net, that it’s barely functional. I want word. And hey, I’ve got it.

The Cloud will probably attract net-book users, with a minute hard drive, or new PC users who don’t want to invest in software (but hey, Open Office is fine, and free, with Mozilla Thunderbird for email), as long as they accept that they have zero control over its security, and their data, even if it’s copied to their own machine, cannot be guaranteed safe. After all, I bet the guys at UEA thought their old emails were perfectly safe, too. If they thought about them at all…

2 thoughts on “Webmail – what’s the point?

    • Hi,

      Just subscribed myself via a browser I keep for WordPress problems (no WordPress cookies, so it doesn’t recognise me and treats me as a stranger), and it works fine.

      Type your email address into the box, a few second later WordPress will send you an email – click where prompted to confirm, which takes you to a page to set how you want to be updated, and you’re done.


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