Ask SIPB - December 11, 2007
This week, we will
explore several ways in which to access
MIT email accounts and the various advantages that
various email clients offer when compared to Webmail.
Why should I use something other than Webmail?
Non-Webmail clients offer the ability to group messages
by thread of replies, advanced searching features,
offline access to old emails, and more!
- Webmail was designed to be an occasional-use client,
not an everyday client
- other clients are greatly customizable
- Webmail is slow
- Webmail is often inaccessible when the rest of the mail system is
- Webmail will occasionally lose its preferences database,
so that (for example) sent messages are not saved
- Other clients have features that can save you time and effort
Furthermore, if you recognize that
keyboard control is faster than mouse control, you
also have the ability to define keyboard shortcuts
to work in your mail client very quickly.
What's a mail client?
In a nutshell, a mail client is a program that allows you
to read your mail, whether it's stored on your computer or
a remote server.
More precisely, a mail client acts as an intermediary between
your computer and the mail server where your mail is stored.
It has to deal with authenticating you to the "Post Office"
server, and the specific details of the mail transfer
protocol in use (usually IMAP, for MIT accounts). It also transfers the mail
that you write from your computer to an outgoing mail server,
which then takes care of delivering it to
email@example.com over the internet.
Okay, you've convinced me. What other client should I use?
Your favorite client may depend on what operating system
you are using. Mozilla's Thunderbird client is available
in precompiled versions for all common OSes from
It's free software, so you can grab the source and build it yourself, too!
Mac OS X ships with a mail reader called just "Mail". On Windows,
common choices are Outlook Express on Windows XP and earlier, and
a new program also named "Mail" on Vista, both of which are included with
the OS. Microsoft Outlook is also a common choice for those with
On Athena itself, you can use Evolution by
clicking the "Mail" button on the panel at the bottom. Other common
choices are the text-based clients
which are faster and a bit more powerful, at the expense of a slightly steeper learning curve than a GUI client.
Pine is in the default Athena configuration, and mutt is
in the SIPB locker (
You can also run Thunderbird out of the
These programs should be available on most other linux systems, too.
In addition, a very popular choice is to forward your e-mail to another web-based mail service. In particular, Gmail's web client is designed for regular use. You can do this by signing up for a Gmail account and typing the Athena command:
Within 4-6 hours, your e-mail should start going to Gmail instead of your MIT inbox. If you want a copy in both places, use a capital
athena% chpobox -s firstname.lastname@example.org
-S instead. To stop redirecting mail, type
I've got my client installed. How do I get it to talk to MIT's mail?
The main things you need to know are the name of your servers
for outgoing (outgoing.mit.edu) and
incoming mail (username.mail.mit.edu).
For most clients, these are the only settings you need. You should
select IMAP rather than POP3 for accessing your mail:
IMAP leaves a copy of your mail on the server, so you can
access it from more than one computer and still have
all your messages available.
In addition, if you have the option to use authentication and encryption
(SSL) for these connections, select them. Authenticated outgoing mail,
although technically not required, will greatly reduce the chances of
your e-mail being erroneously spamscreened by other sites.
IS&T has several detailed tutorials
http://web.mit.edu/ist/topics/email/imap.html that walk through
setting up many common e-mail clients for use with MIT email accounts.
If you already have e-mail set up, you can take a look at
to ensure that you're using authenticated outgoing e-mail.
SIPB wishes you a merry Christmas!
Hark how the bells, loud console bells
All seem to say, "Files went away"
Crashes are here, bringing great fear
To young and old, data loss untold
"Ding, dong, ding, dong" "Parity wrong"
"Does not compute" "Will now reboot"
One seems to hear warnings each year
"Backups are needed"; they go unheeded
chkdsk knowing the great risk
Then users hear, "Your files disappeared"
God rest ye merry Redmond men,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Windows updates will
Come out on Patch Tuesday,
To save us all from hackers' powers
When programs go astray,
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.
From Gates our heavenly CEO
A blessed Vista came,
And unto certain beta testers
Brought tidings of the same
It feels a bit like OS X
But is a lot more lame
O tidings of even more upgrades (just get a Mac!)
O tidings of even more upgrades.
Bring your laptop, Jeanette, Isabelle,
Bring your laptop, come hurry and run
There's wireless here! Tell the folk of the village
Now they can punt where'er they are
Ah, ah, beautiful is the router
Ah, ah, beautiful are the files
To ask us a question, send email to email@example.com. We'll try to answer you
quickly, and we can address your question in our next column. You
can also stop by our office in W20-557 or call us at x3-7788 if you
need help. Copies of each column and pointers to additional
information are posted on our website: http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/