How do I set up email on my computer?

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One of the most common questions I am asked is “how to set up email on a computer“. So here goes… This article is written primarily for beginners who want to download and store messages at the local machine.

Email messages, as you probably know, don’t come directly to your computer. They instead arrive at a web server machine (computer that’s connected to the net 24/7) and are stored there. To download email to your computer from this web server you need to connect to the remote machine using an email program or email client. But before that you have to set up the email account and configure it with the correct settings in the email program.

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There are many types of email accounts, tons of email programs to choose from and different operating systems. So it’s not possible to cover each variation individually. However, the good news is that most of the steps in setting up the email account are the same. For instance, whether you want to set up Hotmail on Windows Live Mail Vista, Gmail on Windows XP Outlook Express or set up your ISP email on Thunderbird running on a Linux computer, the basic steps are similar with only a few changes. What I do advise it to use a bit of common sense whenever you get stuck. FYI, Windows Live Mail, Outlook Express and Thunderbird are three popular email programs (clients).

First find out if you can indeed set up email on your computer

You can set up email on a computer only if it’s permitted. To download messages from a web server to a computer the email account should have POP or IMAP access. POP (or POP3) and IMAP are email protocols – in simple terms, technologies used for transferring email.

Thus, the first thing is to get in touch with your email service provider to know if your email account has either POP or IMAP enabled. Here is information on some of the popular email accounts:

Which email program can you use?

Once you’ve confirmed POP and/or IMAP access of your email account, you need to choose a program in which you have to set up the email on your computer. This depends on the operating system you are running. Here is a quick checklist of the most popular operating systems and the email programs one can use on them.

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