E‑mail (short for electronic mail) is a fast and convenient way to communicate with others. You can use e‑mail to:
Send and receive e‑mail messages. You can send an e‑mail message to any person with an e‑mail address. The message arrives in the recipient’s e‑mail inbox within seconds or minutes—despite whether he or she is your next-door neighbor or lives halfway around the world. You can receive messages from anyone who knows your e‑mail address, and then read and reply to those messages.
Send and receive files. In addition to typical text-based e-mail messages, you can send almost any type of file in an e‑mail message, including documents, pictures, and music. A file sent in an e‑mail message is called an attachment.
Send messages to groups of people. You can send an e‑mail message to many people simultaneously. Recipients can reply to the whole group, allowing for group discussions.
Forward messages. When you receive an e‑mail message, you can forward it to others without re-typing it.
One advantage that e‑mail has over the telephone or regular mail is its convenience. You can send a message at any time of day or night. If the recipients aren’t in front of their computers or online (connected to the Internet) when you send the message, they’ll find it waiting for them the next time they check their e‑mail. If they are online, you might get a reply within minutes.
Sending e‑mail is also free. Unlike sending a regular letter, no stamp or fee is required, no matter where the recipient lives. The only charges that apply are those that you pay for an Internet connection or a specific e‑mail program.
What do I need before I can use e‑mail?
To use e‑mail, you need three things:
An Internet connection. To connect your computer to the Internet, you must first sign up with an Internet service provider (ISP). An ISP provides you with access to the Internet, usually for a monthly fee. You also need a modem. See What do I need to connect to the Internet?
An e‑mail program or web-based e‑mail service. You can download or purchase e‑mail programs from Microsoft or another provider. E‑mail programs often have more features and are faster to search than most web-based e‑mail services. Before you set up an e‑mail program, you’ll need to get some information from your ISP: usually your e‑mail address, password, the names of your incoming and outgoing e‑mail servers, and certain other details.
If you don’t want to download or purchase an e‑mail program, you can instead sign up with a free web-based e‑mail service, such as Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail, or Yahoo! Mail. These services allow you to check your e‑mail with a web browser from any computer connected to the Internet—even a computer that belongs to someone else or is in a public location such as a library.
An e‑mail address. You get an e‑mail address from your ISP or web-based e‑mail service when you sign up. An e‑mail address consists of a user name (a nickname you choose, not necessarily your real name), the @ sign, and the name of your ISP or web-based e‑mail provider—for example, firstname.lastname@example.org