Q: How do I set up email on my laptop so that it will send out through Outlook?

A: Outlook & Outlook Express have long been the standards for Windows users when it comes to sending and receiving email, but unless you are a corporate user or have other special circumstances, I’d recommend you consider some alternatives now.

Outlook requires that you configure the program for your specific email provider’s incoming and outgoing mail servers, which you can generally get the details for by going to the support section of your provider’s website.

The problem with this method of email usage is that you will live and die with this one computer. If the computer malfunctions, you lose it or you are out and about without it, you have no email.

Another problem for mobile users is that if you take your laptop on the road, often times you won’t be able to send any mail while you are connected to other networks because your outgoing mail setting won’t work on foreign networks.

Using Outlook also means that you have all your important contacts and past messages on that one machine, which means you better be diligent and know how to backup the Outlook data files.

A much better solution would be to use a webmail program so that you can get to your email account from any computer that has an Internet connection and you eliminate the chance of ever losing everything because your contacts, messages and replies all live “in the cloud.”

You are no longer tied to any one machine when it comes to your email, which has many benefits.

It’s especially helpful for users that want to access email from home and work because it becomes seamless; everything that you send and receive will appear exactly the same no matter where you are checking your mail.

This is very handy when you are at work and you want to look up or confirm a message that you sent when you were at home.  And all of this becomes even more useful if you have a smartphone because the same seamless use is available on your phone.

My favorite webmail system is Google’s Gmail, which is free and extremely powerful.

Getting Gmail to connect with your email account is fairly straightforward (again, you should be able to find the steps on your providers support website — or use Google’s help at http://goo.gl/TjzGN — and the built-in tools are amazing.

Gmail’s spam filters are second to none, the search capabilities are what you would expect from the leaders in search and you even get 7GB of space to store file attachments.

The conversation view, which is now common with many email systems, groups relevant messages together so that you can easily follow a string of messages that occurred over time from multiple senders, even if they weren’t all cc’d in the same message.

If you deal with a large quantity of mail, their new Priority Inbox feature may become your new best friend.

Over time, Gmail can start to figure out what you consider important mail based on many signals such as what you open and reply to and separate those messages as they come in so you can get right to the good stuff.

I recognize that change is hard, but I assure you that if you push through the learning curve, you will wonder how you ever lived without webmail.

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

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