AOL alternatives

NOTE: Aid4Mail is software that will convert and archive many different types of mailboxes. If you wish to provide a sample personal filing cabinet (.pfc) file to the author of Aid4Mail to help him possibly add AOL to the list of formats that can be converted, please let me know

NOTE: you can now use third party e-mail programs to receive/send your AOL mail

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AOL e-mail info/links: Conversion from or leaving AOL: (address books and/or messages) Ways you can use your AOL internet connection with other e-mail programs: Ways you can use your AOL address, other than AOL's built in program:
(NOTE: you can now use third party e-mail programs to receive/send your AOL mail. This section needs to be edited/deleted.) Why most e-mail programs don't work with AOL (and why AOL's mail program won't let you check non-AOL accounts)

Many people want to use a program besides the one that comes with AOL to access mail sent to their AOL accounts. Basically, this is not possible because AOL is not an Internet Service Provider, at least not in the strict sense of the term "ISP".

The "Internet" operates on a Network using a standard called "TCP/IP." Macs, Windows, and most computers sold today have TCP/IP capability. Once you are hooked into your ISP (or your campus computer, office computer, etc.), you are on the Internet, part of this massive TCP/IP network.

There's a saying that "nobody knows you're a dog on the Internet." What this means is that no one can tell if you are using a Mac, a Wintel machine, a modem, ethernet or what have you. You are simply a number (an IP number). You are like every other computer on the Internet. Once connected, you look the same as a computer given the address, say

AOL, however, does not give you a TCP/IP connection. Yes, you can access the World Wide Web, send and receive e-mail, access Usenet newsgroups, etc. But what you are doing is accessing AOL's machines, which then act as a gateway to the Internet. Think of the Internet as a giant library, with stacks and stacks of books, and each dialup company as a doorway to the library. With an ISP, you can actually go in to the library and pick any book and bring it back. With AOL, you don't really go into the library proper; you can only stop at the circulation desk and ask the librarians to go to the stacks and get a book. (Thanks to Jonathan Rynd for analogy.)

The Internet also has standards for e-mail, namely POP3 and IMAP4 for mail collection and SMTP for sending mail. AOL does not use these standards either. Since Internet e-mail programs use POP3 and/or IMAP4 and SMTP, they won't pick up your AOL e-mail. See also what AOL has to say on this topic. Also informative is AOL's indication that they supply non-standard Internet access

Also, many ISPs and Internet mail servers allow you to set your mail to be forwarded or to enable autoreplies while you are away from the office. As far as I know, AOL allows neither option.

This is not to say that AOL is not for you. While I don't have a need for AOL, there are some cases (no pun intended) in which I recommend AOL:
  1. You have a need/desire for the AOL sites/services you can only get on AOL. (You might not be able to get a specific site on a regular ISP, but similar sites will be out there)
  2. They are the only place in your area to offer a local phone number (Doublecheck The List of ISPs)
  3. You travel a lot and they offer numbers in the places you travel to better than other services (I normally recommend local ISPs, but check out ATT/MCI/Netcom, etc.)
  4. Price of unlimited access. ($19.95/month unlimited became the ISP national standard long before AOL thought of this, and now AOL is a couple of dollars higher)

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