This post is a variation on the “Where Did My Messages Go” article I published a while back, as it warrants publishing again. Also, in an upcoming release of Web Mail, a proactive explanation similar to this is going to be incorporated into the First Time User dialog that comes up the very first time you log in to Web Mail, to try and head off this confusion and make sure users understand it when they begin using Web Mail.
Note: everywhere below that I refer to Outlook or Outlook Express, that applies to any email software you have installed on your computer whether it is EarthLink Mailbox, Eudora, Thunderbird, etc. They are all POP3 email clients and all work the same way.)
In the Web Mail Feedback mailbox (click the Feedback link inside Web Mail), one of the most common sources of questions continues to be users who get confused about the difference between Web Mail and other email software like Outlook Express or EarthLink Mailbox. The questions usually take the form of “Why were my messages deleted without my permission?” or “Why did my messages just disappear while I was using Web Mail?” and they often use much more aggressive language than that. These users are frustrated or angry because they don’t understand what happened. Then the next time they go into their other email software, their “lost” messages magically appear. Then we get another round of questions with the theme of “Why do my messages go to my Outlook Express, I want them to go to Web Mail?” or “How come I can get my messages in my Outlook at work but then I can’t see them when I’m at home?”
This article is going to answer all of those questions, and when we get them in the Feedback mailbox, I’m going to just refer the user to this article.
First I want to make two things crystal clear up front, because these questions are asked frequently:
- For any unique email address you have on EarthLink, there is only one mailbox. There is not a Web Mail mailbox and an Outlook Mailbox. There is one mailbox. It is a physical folder named Inbox on our server and it is where we deliver all of your new messages (except Known Spam and Suspect Email, which are just other folders). Both Web Mail and Outlook Express read from this same mailbox.
- I’ve investigated hundreds of user reports of lost messages, and I’ve not yet found a single case where EarthLink ever deleted a message from a user’s Inbox. It just doesn’t happen. So if you had messages in your Inbox that disappeared, the explanation is in this article. EarthLink will never intentionally delete any messages from any user’s Inbox. And barring some catastrophe that would probably affect thousands of users at once, it never happens accidently either.
So with that out of the way, let’s proceed with the full explanation of how things work.
When you check email using any email software running locally on your computer (like Outlook Express, EarthLink Mailbox, Thurderbird, etc.) that application checks the mailbox on our server for new messages, and then retrieves a copy of the messages from our server and puts them on your local computer hard drive to be viewed by your email software. And unless you have changed the default settings of your software, it then deletes the copies on our server for you automatically. This is what is meant by “retrieving” your mail. Most email applications do this automatically when they are run, and then continue to do so on timed intervals unless you shut them down. Once a message has been retrieved by your email software (Outlook etc.), the only copy of that message now lives inside that software, and cannot be viewed from any other computer, or from Web Mail, or in any other email software.
Web Mail on the other hand, is a way to view messages that are still on our servers, using only your web browser (hence the name Web Mail) and not requiring you to install any software. And Web Mail does not make any local copies of messages onto your computer, it only views messages that are on our server. So you can check Web Mail from multiple computers and see the exact same messages, plus any new ones that have arrived. If you only use Web Mail and never use other software to check email, the only way a message can ever be deleted from your Inbox is if you delete it yourself while using Web Mail. Otherwise we just leave all your messages in your Inbox for as long as you own the account.
You can summarize the difference like this:
WebMail – allows you to view and manage your messages inside your mailbox without ever taking them out of the mailbox. The mailbox lives on an EarthLink server, not on your computer.
Outlook Express and other POP software – removes all messages from your mailbox so that you can view and manage them on your own computer. But you can change the settings to also leave copies in the mailbox.
The two scenarios where users sometimes perceive that they have lost messages are:
- They use both Web Mail and some other software to check email, and the other software deletes the messages from our server, making the messages no longer accessible from Web Mail. In a surprising number of cases, the user doesn’t realize they are using other email software, they have it running automatically and just ignore it. Or they clicked an email link in a web page or document somewhere and that caused their computer to automatically open the “default” email program on that computer, and that software is set to just automatically download new messages. This is why we get reports that a user was working inside Web Mail, and all of sudden their messages just disappeared. That is because that other software just performed an automatic email check and deleted those messages. When we check the logs for that user, these cases are obvious. We see both Web Mail access to the mailbox and other software using POP access (what all other email software uses for EarthLink), occurring at about the same time.
- The user is checking email from multiple computers, and they see messages in Outlook Express on one computer, but then they can’t see them from the other computer, either using Web Mail or any other software. These scenarios are often at home vs. at work. Obviously the messages were retrieved and deleted by one computer and now can’t be retrieved by the other one.
So, how do you manage this? The solution is a setting that exists in all POP Mail software like Outlook Express and Earthlink Mailbox. That setting is usually called “Leave a copy of messages on server” or “Leave messages on the server”. It will be found in the Account settings in your email software. In Outlook Express, click Tools / Accounts / Properties / Advanced and check the box there. In EarthLink Mailbox click Tools / Settings / Accounts / Edit and check the box there. Once you have done this, that software will no longer remove any messages from the server, it will only retrieve copies of them. And those messages are then still accessible to Web Mail, and to other email software you may be running on that computer or another computer.
If you make this change, keep in mind you still have to delete messages sometimes to prevent your mailbox from filling up to its quota. You can do this in Web Mail, or you can occasionally do a manual delete from within your other software (most software allows this by right-clicking the message or selecting multiple messages before doing the right-click, and then selecting Delete). But now deletes won’t happen unknown to you and confuse you. My recommendation is that if you regularly use Web Mail, then you should set all other email software you use to leave messages on the server and only delete from within Web Mail. If you use other email software from multiple computers and you rarely use Web Mail, then let one computer be your master and only allow it to delete the messages from the server. Or always use Web Mail from other computers. Knowing how things work now, you can work out your own system for managing your messages on multiple computers.
My own preference is that I always use Web Mail exclusively, and I occasionally will start up Outlook just to retrieve and archive old messages when I approach my mailbox quota. What I give up by only using Web Mail is that I can’t work offline, but I’m always online anyway. I don’t need to review and compose my email while I’m on a plane.
Here’s one last tip about how you can use your POP software (Outlook Express) to archive messages occasionally. POP software can only see the Inbox folder on the server, and if you have created other folders in Web Mail to sort and store your messages on the server, those can’t be seen by Outlook Express or other POP software. So what you do is, in WebMail, move the messages to be archived into the Inbox, and then retrieve them with your other software and move them to the local folder you want them archived in. It is a little cumbersome, but you can move 200 messages at a time in Web Mail (go to Preferences / Web Mail options and set the messages-per-page up to 200). And in your Outlook Express, you can easily move the entire Inbox to another folder in a single action. So you can archive a few thousand messages from several folders in under 5 minutes not counting download time.