It's that time again--reader Q&A time, that is. This week I answer questions on getting to Gmail messages when you don't have Internet access and how much security software is too much.
Read Your Webmail Without the Web
Reader David is an avid Gmail user who recently spent five weeks in Brazil, where "any form of permanent [Internet] connection was far from possible." In other words, he quickly grew frustrated with Gmail because of his limited connectivity.
After all, Google's mail service lives in your Web browser, and when you can't get online, you can't access your messages (new or old). This is true of other Web-based mail services as well, like Hotmail and Yahoo, but Google recently unveiled a new option for offline mail access.
Known as Gmail Offline, this browser plug-in allows users to read, respond to, and search mail even when there's no Internet connection. It has a nice-looking, simplified interface that's similar to what you typically see in Gmail--but with fewer options.
Unfortunately, for the moment Gmail Offline is available only for Google Chrome. On the plus side, similar plug-ins are forthcoming for Google Calendar and Google Docs.
There is, of course, another option, one that can solve the offline problem for not just Gmail, but also Hotmail and Yahoo Mail Plus: an e-mail client like Windows Live Mail 2011 or Mozilla Thunderbird 6. Programs like these can be configured to download e-mail and store it locally, thus allowing you to read, respond, and search--just like with Gmail Offline. Just make sure you stick with a POP3 configuration rather than IMAP, as the latter requires a live Internet connection for many functions.
Don't Overload Your PC with Security Software
Reader Steve uses a program called Vipre Premium to keep his PC secure. The suite offers antivirus, anti-malware, anti-spyware, a firewall, e-mail protection--basically, the works.
But Steve also runs Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. And Microsoft Security Essentials (though with real-time protection turned off). Steve's question: should he turn on MSE's real-time protection and "run it concurrently with Vipre?"
Short answer: no. Definitely not. In fact, I'd say Steve is running too much security software as it is. And that's a common mistake.
For starters, the Vipre suite is more than sufficient. I can see keeping Malwarebytes Anti-Malware on hand just in case some infection sneaks through, but if you're using the Pro version--which, unlike its freebie sibling, offers real-time scanning--then it's competing with Vipre. In fact, when you overlap security products like that, they can seriously impact system performance and even falsely recognize each other as being a threat.
My advice: Keep your security tools to a bare minimum. In fact, if you're running Windows 7 (which Steve is), you're already adequately equipped to handle the majority of security threats. Windows 7 offers a solid firewall, and its built-in Windows Defender should block most spyware and pop-ups.
Meanwhile, Internet Explorer 9 provides robust protection against phishing, malware, and other browser-related threats. (In fact, some tests have shown it to be the safest browser, period.) Cap that off with Microsoft Security Essentials and browser plug-in Web of Trust, and you've got yourself a nearly bulletproof PC. (I speak from experience: That's my exact configuration, and I haven't had an infection of any kind, well, ever.)
Bottom line: Don't overdo the security software. Too much is not a good thing.
If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: email@example.com.