There are a number of problems with using an email address from AOL, Comcast, Verizon, or any other Internet Service Provider. That problem is that it locks you into having to keep their service if you want to keep their email address. Because of this you should consider switching to an email address that is not tied to an Internet Service Provider.
If you are using AOL mail, it is notorious for butchering the formatting on emails, causing links in emails not to work properly.
Another issue with email systems such as AOL is that they block spam by dropping it completely. This may sound great in the beginning, but what happens when it accidentally blocks real email? Systems such as GMail will put all spam in a spam folder which you can access (it deletes items in this folder after 30 days). This allows you to scan it every so often for legitimate email, or scan when you realize you are missing something.
Gmail is by far the best free email out there. It has all the features you want including webmail access, POP3, spam blocking, etc, and with over 2gigs of space, you literally wont ever need to delete anything.
To sign up for GMail, go to http://www.gmail.com
One major issue with free email systems such as Hotmail is that spammers can sign up for hundreds of free email addresses and spam from them. GMail is combating this by sending verification codes via a cell phone text message. This way legitimate users such as yourself can sign up for the one account you need, but spammers can not sign up for hundreds of accounts.
Once you are signed up, let everyone in your address book know (make sure you send out using the BCC field), and start sending new mail out from your new address. After a while you should be able to stop using your old address, and therefore you wont be tied to your Internet Service Provider.
Instead of folders, GMail uses the concept of "Labels". You can create labels and tag emails with labels. You can also "Star" a message by clicking the star next to it. Starred messages are easier to see, plus you can click the "starred" link on the left to display only starred messages.
Once you have your GMail account, you should install the GMail Firefox Extension. This will allow you to be notified of new email whenever you are using your web browser, it also will give you one click access to your inbox from firefox via the Gmail Icon in the bottom of the browser (use middle click to open it in a new tab).
You will see an "invite your friends" section in the bottom left of the GMail mail page (when logged in). You can use this to invite your friends who still use an ISP email such as aol, verizon, or comcast. Make sure you click "Preview Invite" and then add in a link to this page (http://computeradvice.mikebinns.net/emailAddress.php) so they know why they should change.
Whenever you sign up for things online, you should be careful when using your real email address. If the company is reputable, i.e. your cable company or your bank, you can use your real address. For any other sites, you should set up a "dummy" account at hotmail.com and use that email. If you start getting spam at that address, there is a good chance that one of the people you signed up with sold your address.
One of the main ways that spammers harvest email addresses is by going on websites and taking any ones they find. This is all done automatically with programs so they can harvest thousands of email addresses in no time at all.
If you do find yourself in a position where you have to post your email address online (i.e. if you post in a forum asking for a reply or you have a contact me page on a web site), you should "mask" it by adding something like _nospamrobots_ in the email address (after the @ symbol, i.e. mike@mywe_nospamrobots_bsite.com) and directing people to delete the _nospamrobots_. This way the robots will grab a false email address, while real readers will know your real address.
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