Law Office Computing
June 1, 1999
Observations of a Road Warrior
In the last few years I have spent a great deal of time on the road. Access to my email allows me to manage my time efficiently and keep in touch with my colleagues and clients while I am away. And, because I travel all over the United States, Canada and Mexico, getting access to my email server in Tucson is often difficult. I organize much of my life around my email, which gets sorted and stored in my calendar, my task list, my contact list and various project folders on my notebook computer, and I need to have one place and one place only where all of my email goes and is collected. When I am not traveling, my notebook computer is part of my office network and I am able to update and synchronize the information on it with the information stored on my main computer. All mail sent to me at any of a variety of addresses that I use ends up on that computer. My notebook computer is set up so that mail that is downloaded to it is automatically copied onto the main computer. Technological glitches aside, this Aall mail - one computer@ modality has served me well. Indeed, when I have to deal with folks who have multiple email addresses that they never check, it becomes maddening.
There are many ways you can get your mail while you are on the road. Many remote access methods take mail off the server after downloading it and that destroys my system of organization. Many of the free email programs create a Website that you can access from any computer that has access to the Internet. The problem is that your email is on the Internet not on one of your computers. And if it is necessary to save information within your system you must forward your email messages onto your main computer. For a variety of reasons that is not easy to do. The solution to the dilemma that I have adopted is the use of an Internet Service Provider that allows broad national and international access by way of a local number in every city that you visit or by way of an 800 number.
The Local Number Solution
America On Line did this best many years ago. I suspect that they still have more local numbers in more out of the way places than any of the other national services. I am impressed with their software and the ubiquity of their high-speed access. Unfortunately at the moment, the AOL Proprietary Email is incompatible with my Aall email - one computer@ system. If you do not care about all email on one computer or if you are willing to use AOL as your only email program, I don=t think that you can do better in today=s market. For $22.00 a month you get unlimited access to the Internet and unlimited access to your email from wherever you may be in this wide wide world. That is a remarkable bargain. The AOL bargain is even bigger however because it allows you to have 5 email addresses and 5 individual mailboxes for that one price. There is a reason why AOL is far and away the biggest provider of online access and that is that it delivers a tremendous amount of bang for the buck. The problem that at an address like ----- @aol.com is terminally uncool among the Internet intelligencia. The current disparaging synonym for ordinary and mundane is the observation that the object of disparagement is Aso terribly AOL@, which is usually said with a tone of disgust and a haughty look. If it bothers you to have your local Technology Witch Doctor sneer when you give your email address then you need to look elsewhere for a solution. Fortunately there is an elegant and cheap solution available at http://www.iname.com where you can get a cool email address that will forward the mail to your AOL account. A mail address like firstname.lastname@example.org is available there for $29 year and you can set it up to forward your mail to AOL or any address you wish with a few mouse clicks. The combination is one very good solution and I believe AOL has more local numbers in out of the way places than anybody.
The National ISP=s
Many of the places I go are unfortunately inhabited by folks with a high level of digital coolness. AOL simply won=t do. As a result I have to maintain my secret admirer status outside of my friends and family. I have an iname (email@example.com) but there are other solutions. There are only a few national Internet Service Providers that provide an 800 number as well as local numbers wherever you may go. Over the last year I have tested ATT WorldNet, Prodigy Internet, Sprint=s Earthlink, and most recently the old standby CompuServe. I don=t recommend ATT WorldNet at all because if you don=t like their service it is really hard to cancel. They do not allow you to cancel your account on line and instead you must call an 800 number, wander through a never-ending phone tree, and then whine to a snippy operator about why you want to cancel your service. Since Worldnet is far from the best of the bunch I don=t think it=s even worth trying. Prodigy Internet just does not have enough features and reliability to make it a contender. I have used Earthlink for the last 6 months, but on a recent trip I could not find a local access number in the little town where I was and the 800 service refused to provide access at any reasonable speed. Moreover, the Earthlink software started having problems interacting with my server and I eventually had to dial direct, at an outrageous price, in order to get some very important messages. When I got back I decided to try the old standby, CompuServe, which had served me well in the >80's, but failed to make the cut to the Windows world. I knew that CompuServe was making a real effort at a comeback and given the tender and loving relationship that we once had I decided to give it a go. What I discovered is that the new CompuServe does everything that I need and it does it for $10.00 a month. The first thing that I did was to try and find a place where I had been over the last two years that did not have a local CompuServe number. I could not find one. Then I started to fantasize about out of the way places that I might visit and once again every one of them had a CompuServe number. Then I tried the 800 number and it worked beautifully and connected me at an acceptable 33k. The local number in Tucson connected at 51k, which is the highest speed access that I have ever gotten using a modem. The CompuServe interface is a knock off of the new highly acclaimed AOL 4.0 interface and the online help file is easy to use and written in plain English. You get 150 minutes a month for $9.95 plus a $6.00 an hour surcharge for use of the 800 number. You can get full-time access, if that is what you want, for $21.95 a month, which is the standard competitive price. And if you use CompuServe for your full time Internet service provider your email address will be janedoe@CompuServe.com. Since CompuServe has such a venerable history, your witch doctor friends will approve of your exceedingly cool email address.
I will continue to monitor the Road Warrior email situation. There are many things in the offing, including the new Palm Pilot Wireless Email, the Blackberry Wireless Email System, and several other portable email appliances. Stay tuned.