Friday, June 18, 2004

Why you might end up using webmail after all

ISPs Blocking Port 25 To Curb Spam Hurts The Honest Guy

I've been using Outlook 2002 ever since I've started using a Pocket PC PDA to synchronize my address book, schedule and other stuff. By that time, I'd already upgraded to broadband and was weaning myself off AOL's webmail and strictly using Outlook to access my POP3 email account from my then beloved ISP. Capacity was never a concern since I stored everything on my own computer. Recently, I've been getting lots of SPAM, sometimes around 40 each day. After going to college and getting a university hosted email account, I've found that it's a lot more convenient using that address because most people I associate with are from my school. However, you don't get to use a school account forever.

Now I'll admit that when Gmail was first announced on April Fools Day, I knew they had broken the generous 10 MB limit my ISP provided as well as the 50 MB barrier my school provided. I knew they raised the bar on usability and changed the way we think about email. They made organization seems so convenient, and search a breeze. But I didn't care. I wanted it because it was Google.

With that said, some say (and this comes from the CNET article linked from the article above) that most spam comes from zombie computers infected with easily avoided viruses and their brethren scum. At all times of the day, zombie computers will be doing the bidding of their spamming necromancers, all without the knowledge of their hosts. ISPs know that this costs them lots of money and the easiest solution would be to close the default port for sending mail and open another that virus writers won't be able to easily discern. While some providers such as Bell South finally resorted to closing port 25, others have stopped short, manually closing ports only for the seriously afflicted. The solution sounds easy, but Comcast, with well over 5 million high speed internet subscribers, says it will simply cost too much to explain to all of the affected customers.

After all this, what happens if the virus writers figure out how to scan for the port used for SMTP mail sending and adapt accordingly? What about people who think that avoiding viruses for a year is worth spending $30 or downloading free antivirus software?


Webmail, or even better, free webmail with all the ads and spam (yes, even if you don't give away your email address) and limited storage and accessibility (you need to be online to read mail), helps you avoid this mess. You might still get the viruses, unless you use a service like Yahoo (premium), but other people don't. Now, I've done several scans on my computer and still get mail bounced back saying I was sending illegal attachments and what not from both my accounts. If you're often away from home, you'll also find yourself resorting to using your ISP provided webmail in all its limited glory. If you change ISPs, you'll find your access to your ISP provided email will be restricted. I haven't got this all figured out, but, it looks like webmail may be the right choice for a lot of people who use broadband, but who aren't lucky enough to host their own email.

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