Mossberg’s Mailbox

Switching to Web-based Email

Published on June 29, 2006
by Walt Mossberg

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about switching to a Web-based email service, viewing PDF files on Macs and antivirus programs that support Windows ME.

Q: I use an email address provided by my Internet service provider and access my email using Microsoft Outlook. I would like a more portable email address that isn’t tied to any one ISP, and an email program that is independent of any particular computer. What can you suggest?

The obvious answer is a Web-based email service that has a decent Web-based interface that can be accessed from any computer. There are lots of these, including Yahoo Mail, Microsoft’s Windows Live Mail (formerly Hotmail) and Google’s Gmail. I am not a fan of Gmail, which I believe has too many quirks and too few options for users to avoid them. Windows Live Mail is promising, but my favorite among these leading services is Yahoo Mail.

Q: I am thinking of switching to Apple, but I am wondering if Macs come with free Adobe Reader software, like some Windows computers do.

No, Macs don’t include Adobe Reader, which allows the viewing of PDF documents — but they don’t need it. The Mac operating system allows you to open and create PDF documents, right out of the box, without any additional software. If you get a PDF file as an email attachment, you can just double-click it and it opens. Even better, any program running on the Mac can save almost anything as a PDF file. For instance, you can save a Web page as a PDF file that can be opened in Adobe Reader on Windows. Adobe charges money for software that does that.

However, if you prefer Adobe Reader, there is a free Mac version, very similar to the Windows version, that you can download at

Q: Do you know of any antivirus programs that are continuing to support Windows ME in their newest versions?

The latest version of Grisoft’s very good AVG Anti-Virus program still works with the ancient Windows ME operating system, according to the company’s Web site, at

Q: Last week, in answering a question about the speakerphone function on another Windows Mobile phone, you claimed that, on the Motorola Q, a multistep software process is needed to turn on the speakerphone. But isn’t that wrong? Isn’t there a hardware button that does that?

Yes, I erred when I wrote that. I just blanked on the hardware button, which I certainly knew about, having carried a Q for a couple of weeks while testing it. We have already run a formal correction, and I hereby apologize to Motorola for implying that the process was clumsy, when it’s simple.

* * *

Because of the volume of email I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by email, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at

Return to: Switching to Web-based Email