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Using Multiple ISPs


This page provides guidance on how to work with a number of Dial Up Network (DUN) Connections in your Browser and other applications requiring a TCP/IP "socket". It was on of the first of the Howto Articles and was written in response to a number of Emails requesting guidance on how to proceed after registering for Freeserve. It is based on our own experience and system so can not cover all eventualities. It will provide the principles of how to convert and use Email when there are a number of ISPs and connections and some guidance on newsgroups and newsgroup readers. Finally there are some examples of configuring common Email software using the starting Wizards and reconfiguring them at a later stage to use multiple or different ISPs again based on our own experiences and using Freeserve and Freezone, two Free ISPs as the examples. I have tried to identify all the Differences with Freezone in Orange.

In general there will be a stage of evaluation of a new ISP during which you will want to keep all existing systems unchanged and operate in parallel. After that choices have to be made on which will be you main ISP providing your Email service and a transition to that system retaining your address books, previous Email etc. In some cases such as OU students and tutors you may have to retain two systems in parallel with the OU FirstClass accessed via your ISP and TCP/IP as well as standard Email and Newsgroup access via your chosen ISP's servers.

General Internet Access and Browsers

This is perhaps the easiest part of a change over and in practice you may use end up using several ISPs for Web Browsing and TCP/IP "sockets" depending on circumstances. We have often had 4 DUN connections available to us and chosen the one which experienced showed was fastest to connect or for transfers depending on the time of day and whether we were on a Mobile or conventional telephone connection. Browsers and most Application Programmes will check if a TCP/IP connection is open and use it. The only problem you may meet is if one of the ISPs (Freeserve is an example) configures the Browser to use a proxy server (cache) to speed up access. This will probably block other ISPs (see below for how to change this setting) Once you have experience of the connections you can (re)set the default connection which will be automatically opened when a TCP/IP link is required.

Email Applications

Background: When it comes to Email and Newsgroups it is not quite so simple as the ISPs impose a number of restrictions on how you access their services. It is useful to understand how and why they do this. Firstly one needs to appreciate that every connection to the Internet has a unique address. When you open a TCP/IP connection through an ISP you are allocated a temporary address by the ISP from their "pool" of addresses for as long as the connection is open. This means that they can identify packets coming from and going to their own addresses and impose restrictions on the grounds of, for example, security or to restrict the use of their resources such as mail servers, newsgroup servers or caches. These days no mainstream providers will allow anyone to use their mail servers for fear of spaming and some, including Freeserve and Tiscali, check that the access to your own mailbox comes from somebody logged in via one of their own addresses. In practice this means that the Email programme has to call up the appropriate DUN connection and only the latest programmes will allow easy access to several Email servers. This gives problems whilst one is testing and during the transition to a new provider.

Email Applications: There are two largely independent Email applications built into Windows 95 and Internet Explorer. Netscape also has an in-built Email application and there are many others such as Pegusus and Eudora. We will only deal with the Microsoft ones here as they are the only ones we have experience of but the principles are the same. The most powerful of those from Microsoft comes in four versions - the version built into Windows 95 is called Exchange and it provides Email and Fax services with a common address book accessible from other Office applications. This was upgraded and renamed Messaging at the time of Service Pack 1 to avoid confusion with the Exchange Server used on large networks. The same framework of profiles and services is used by Outlook 97 (part of Office 97), which adds diary, scheduling, tasks, contact management and journal functions. The latest version is available free as Outlook 98 and offers even more functionality and the latest Email standards but requires Internet Explorer 4 to be loaded. We use Outlook for Fax and Email - Outlook 97 on the Toshiba Libretto and Outlook 98 on the desktop and move the files between them as required when we travel.

Microsoft Internet Mail: There is a simpler alternative Email application which started life as "Internet Mail" which was loaded as part of Internet Explorer 3 along with "Internet News". This is a simple mail package which does not handle faxes but is still quite adequate and handles most Email formats. Instructions for setting it up are given at the bottom of this page.

Microsoft Outlook Express: The replacement - Outlook Express - handles both Mail and News. It will also handle multiple mail accounts with different providers more easily than any other package - the catch is that it is part of Internet Explorer 4 and may not be suitable for lower powered machines. We ran IE4 on our Dell Pentium 120 with only 24 MBytes of RAM with no problems but have not loaded it yet on our Libretto with a 75 MHz processor and 16 MBytes of RAM. Outlook Express is ideal for testing a new ISP and we found it very easy to set up for Freeserve. There are now full instructions on setup and use in the new Howto Article on Recovering from Internet and Email Disasters - what you need to do to restore contact (uses Freeserve, Freezone and Fasthosts as examples) so I will not waste time repeating them in full. The ISP Email servers are referred to as Accounts and the program can make independent connection to each ISP or dial them up in turn to collect mail whilst sending any outgoing mail via the "default account". In setting up Accounts and most Email applications remember:

Microsoft Exchange/Messaging and Outlook 97/98: These are more powerful and versatile in many ways but because of that can be more difficult to configure. They all use the same framework of Profiles and Services - these are key words in all that follows. You can have a number of independent Profiles each of which can have a number of independent or common Services. Every Profile must have a set of Personal Folders into which the messages you send and receive are put. If there are two users they can have different Profiles and different sets of Personal Folders. On the other hand you can have separate Profiles for different ISPs and mail clients sharing the same Personal Folders. You also need a Personal Address Book which contains your Email and Fax addresses - the type of address book entry determines how the message is sent by the Transport Services. You can choose a number of transport Services including Microsoft Fax, Internet E-mail (POP3/SMTP) and special services for CompuServe, MSN etc. This all allows considerable flexibility and our recommendation is to:

Personal Folder files have the ending .PST and default locations vary between Exchange, Messaging and Outlook. We have retained the original location of C:\Exchange as it is easy then to back them up and move between machines. Address books can be changed at any time but we also keep them in C:\Exchange along with the Archive Folders which can be made periodically.

Configuring Profiles and Services: The initial configuration is carried out in Mail (Mail and Fax in some versions of Windows) in the Control Panel. Here you are presented with the current profile and list of its Services and the option of viewing other Profiles and adding Profiles. You can change your current profile in other places but you only place you can Show Profiles, select the Default Profile and Add Profiles is reached through Control Panel -> Mail (and Fax). When you have created a new Profile you can copy existing Services to it. You can also copy a whole existing Profile to a new name and modify it but we have found that sometimes the original profile forgets its Internet Email Service settings if you do not close down and reboot before making any modifications to your new Profile! It is perhaps safest the first time to add a new profile which leads one through the process via a wizard (as described below) - this should leave your existing system intact other than asking which profile you want to use each time you call Exchange/Messaging or Outlook.

Tip - If you want one or more Shortcuts (Icons) to start specific profiles in Outlook:

Some Detailed Examples of Configuration

Internet Mail Setup

The following procedures is the one we employed on the Libretto to set up Internet Mail (the Email system loaded with Internet Explorer 3) from scratch to get an extra Email system. First start Internet Mail from the start menu and - like most of the Microsoft packages - it automatically takes one through a setup wizard the first time you call it. The Wizard for Internet Mail asks the following questions for which I give answers for a John Smith who has registered john@jsmith.freeserve.co.uk with password johnpass with Freeserve or has an email address of the form jsmith@freezone.co.uk. You can check or change the above from the pull down menu Mail->Options on the Server and Connection tabs. These tabs also allow you to disconnect after the call has finished and to set a reply address. The other tabs are self explanatory and allow a lot of customisation. Outlook Express is very similar although you may have to check the defaults more carefully on the Options tab for the sort of mail it uses. HTML mail allows formatted mail but many will not be able to display it properly.

Internet News: Once you have Internet mail running you can set up Internet News in the same way as above with the news server set to news.freeserve.net if you have Freeserve or news.tiscali.co.uk if you have Tiscali. The new Outlook Express is much better and integrates both into the one package but needs Internet Explorer 4 to be loaded which is we have not done on the Libretto.

Exchange/Messaging and Outlook 97/98

Setting up a new Profile: The following example sets up a new Profile with just an Internet E-Mail Service using Freeserve as ISP. It assumes is being set up for a John Smith who has registered john@jsmith.freeserve.co.uk with password johnpass or has an email address of the form jsmith@freezone.co.uk.

Choosing the Profile: You can choose the profile which is used by default by : Multiple Services: You can add a number of Internet Mail Services to the same profile but there are a few points to watch:

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