For Gary E. Sprigg, electronic mail has become a lifeline. As a systems integrator for Prism Systems Inc. in Lisle, Ill., he's out of the office at least once a week, installing computer systems that digitize voter records. When he's on the road, Sprigg, 54, depends on E-mail to converse with his colleagues back in the home office. More important, it lets him stay in touch with his wife, whom Sprigg met last year via E-mail while on a business trip in Paris. "It's important, as newlyweds, for us to keep in contact," says the twice-married Sprigg.
Without a doubt, E-mail has become more than just a power tool for bustling road warriors. It's an integral part of life in the Information Age. And choosing the right E-mail software or service to help you stay in touch while you're traveling is a critical decision.
For a majority of executive nomads, the most vital electronic inbox they have to tap into is the one established on their corporate office network. In some cases, workers don't have a choice. Their companies install a "client" version of the company's E-mail program on their laptops. Many software programs work adequately for this, including Lotus Development's cc:Mail, Qualcomm's Eudora Pro, and CE Software's QuickMail Pro. Regis McKenna, founder of the McKenna Group, a high-tech consulting firm in Palo Alto, Calif., recently used QuickMail Pro to revise and submit a book review to a London newspaper. "I really do love it," says McKenna, who devotes an hour a day to his E-mail. "I do believe that what you don't know in terms of E-mail can hurt you."
The most flexible software for tapping into your corporate inbox from the road is Eudora Pro. It sorts messages and tosses out unwanted junk mail. It also makes it easy to channel mail into a variety of folders. And it can automatically respond to E-mail, saying, for example, that you are on vacation.
Perhaps the most ingenious E-mail is available through Web-based services such as Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) and Excite Inc.'s Excite Mail (www.mailexcite.com). These free E-mail services allow subscribers to pick up messages from any device capable of accessing the Web. That means you don't need to lug your laptop around to get your mail--just use a friend's computer. What's more, you can have other E-mail--from your corporate intranet inbox or your Internet service provider (ISP)--forwarded to these Web sites for pickup.
WORTH THE HASSLE. Web services aren't hassle-free, though. Getting mail forwarded to one of the free sites can be maddening. You have to track down some archaic information, such as the "POP3 server name," by poking through the various E-mail clients that you already use. Inevitably, for most users it means a call to an ISP or the corporate technical support staff. Still, it's probably worth the hassle if it means you can check E-mail from one central inbox.
POBox.com works in reverse. While Hotmail collects E-mail from several sources into one place, POBox.com forwards mail sent to one location to several different destinations. The biggest benefit is that members can give out just one E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org life. Even if you change jobs, POBox will redirect your E-mail to your new location.
The service is loaded with extras. POBox can sort and send E-mail to different accounts based on the messages' subject, sender, or keywords. It also will filter out junk E-mail. POBox can even deliver urgent mail to an alphanumeric pager. Cost: $15 for the basic service and $20 more for extras, such as instant notification on a pager.
That may be the ultimate dream of the harried road warrior: Instead of chasing E-mail, it chases you.