currently use Hotmail, and I am aware of some of the shortcomings of the free service. Since Comcast is my Internet provider, I have access to its e-mail if I choose to use it. If I used Comcast, would I be able to store messages locally?

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Q: I currently use Hotmail, and I am aware of some of the shortcomings of the free service. Since Comcast is my Internet provider, I have access to its e-mail if I choose to use it. If I used Comcast, would I be able to store messages locally? It is my understanding that I would be able to have those messages go into Outlook and have its functionality since Comcast is a service I pay for vs. the free Hotmail. In a recent column, you mentioned Internet providers that offer domain-name registration for nominal amounts. What would that provide that switching to Comcast does not? How would I find those providers?

— Susan Byington

A: Yes, if you have a Comcast e-mail account, you can use third-party e-mail programs, including Microsoft Outlook, to download the mail to your local machine. All you need to do is check the FAQ at comcast.net for instructions to set up your e-mail application. In fact, you can set your e-mail program to either download the mail and delete them from the server, or to leave the mail on the server so you can access using a Web browser in any computer. The downside of leaving mail on the server is that you may eventually exceed your storage limit. Comcast e-mail addresses come with 250 megabytes of storage.

You can also use Outlook to download mail from Windows Live Mail or Hotmail accounts, though you’ll first need to download the Outlook Connector for Windows Live Hotmail. You can find out more at: support.microsoft.com/kb/287424. Windows Live Hotmail accounts, by the way, come with 5 gigabytes of storage.

So what’s the advantage of e-mail you pay for over free Web-based e-mail accounts? One big advantage is that you don’t have to look at advertising. You also generally get better performance.

Whether you’re using a free e-mail provider or paying for an e-mail account, however, an e-mail client such as Microsoft Outlook generally offers a host of tools you won’t find in Web-browser e-mail programs.

As for having your own domain name, the main advantage with respect to e-mail is that you have more flexibility in selecting the name of your account, and you can keep that e-mail account name even if you switch Internet service providers. You can simply search the Internet for domain name registrar to find a bunch of businesses willing to help you find and register a domain name. The cost ranges from about $5 per year to about $15 per year, with discounts for multiyear leases. These businesses are also generally set up to host your Web site or FTP site, and they provide other services as well.

Q: I’m suddenly encountering a small but highly irritating problem when trying to load Excel 7 files from Windows Explorer. All I used to have to do was double-click on the data file, and it would start Excel and load the file. But when I do it now, Excel starts and then I receive an error message saying it can’t find the file. What gives?

— Brad Austin

A: I had the same thing happen to me. And, while I can’t tell you what caused that behavior, I did find a way to fix it.

What’s going on is that when you double-click on an Excel data file in Windows Explorer, a dynamic data exchange (DDE) message is sent to Excel, instructing it to open the workbook that you double-clicked. There is a setting in Excel, however, that instructs the program to ignore DDE messages sent from other applications. While I can’t say how that setting got set, I can tell you how to undo it.

In Excel, click on the Microsoft Office button in the upper-left corner, then click on Excel Options. Select Advanced on the menu that appears and then scroll down until you see the “Ignore other applications” check box. Clear the check from the box and click OK. That should fix you right up.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.