The recent rise of the World Wide Web has created a whole new category of email designed around HTML. These Web-based email servers do not require an email reader. The user simply visits the Web site with an Internet browser and accesses the email through a Web interface. The user's email is therefore accessible from any computer that can reach the Internet. Portals such as Yahoo! and Hotmail offer Web-based email services. These services are often free—or almost free—because the provider makes enough money on advertising to support the whole infrastructure.
Web-based email is versatile and easy to use. The option is a good choice for non-technical home users who are accustomed to the Web and don't want to have to configure and troubleshoot an email application. Some corporations now use Web-based email in certain situations because their firewalls permit HTTP traffic and prevent SMTP. Web-based email might seem insecure at a glance. Anyone on the Internet knows how to reach the Yahoo! site and can probably figure out how to reach the Yahoo! mail site. But it is important to remember that traditional email isn't that secure either, unless you take steps to secure it. Anyone who has your username and password can probably check your mail. The major Web-based email sites provide secure logon and other safeguards. If you're considering a small, local, Web-based email service, it is a good idea to find out about security for the system.
The biggest complaint about Web-based email is usually its performance. Because the mail system has no real presence on the client computer (other than a Web browser), all the details of composing, opening, and moving messages take place across the bottleneck of a network connection. By contrast, a traditional email reader downloads any new messages at the beginning of a session, and all actions related to composing and storing messages take place on the client. Despite the performance penalty, the extreme convenience of Web-based email—you can check for mail from nearly any Internet-connected computer in the world without any reconfiguration—ensures that it will remain an important option for many Internet users.
By the Way
The primary purpose of Web-based email is to provide a user with a means of sending and receiving messages. Although Web-based email might seem like a whole new concept, it isn't so different from the ordinary email system depicted in Figure 18.1. The difference is that, with Web-based email, the software for reading and sending email resides on the email server and the recipient accesses that software through a Web interface. Behind the scenes, Web-based email systems still use SMTP for transmitting email messages across the network.