'ISP' vs 'server" - What's the dif?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Q. I’m confused about the difference between my Internet connection provider and my server. In my case, if Comcast is my provider, does that make Outlook my server?

A. Internet terminology can be confusing and as a result it is frequently used incorrectly. An Internet Service Provider or ISP is any entity that provides access to the Internet. Popular ISPs include Earthlink, Verizon, Charter, Cox, Comcast, and many others.

A server is a computer that "serves" data upon request. For example, every Web site resides on a server. When you type a Web address into your browser (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox), your browser then sends a request to the host server upon which the Web site resides. That server responds to the request and “serves” (retrieves) the Web page so it can then be displayed by your browser.

Email resides on a mail server. When you check for new mail on Comcast, for example, you are connecting to Comcast's mail server. Within this context, Comcast is also your Internet Service Provider. Your email software (such as Outlook or Thunderbird) provides your username and password to Comcast's mail server, which permits access to your email. Your messages are then retrieved by your mail program and downloaded into your computer where they can be viewed. Outlook is not a server, it is software, also known as an application.

With Web-based mail such as Yahoo! Mail or Gmail, it's a little different in that your mail resides on Yahoo's or Gmail's mail server. You can then view it there, as you would any other Web page, by using your Web browser.

Q. When I go to my Sent Items folder in Outlook Express, it should show the name of the person I sent something to, the Subject, Date, Time, etc. In my case, the Subject isn’t being shown, and I can’t figure out where it went. Can you help me, Mr. M?

A. Those column headers are optional, so you can toggle them on and off. If you right-click any column header, then select Columns, you will see where you can place a check mark beside each column heading that you want to display.

It sounds like you may have toggled off the Subject column heading, so I would suggest taking a look to see if the check mark beside Subject was removed. If Subject is checked, but it is not appearing, then it's probably being hidden by another column that’s overlapping it. In that case, click the small vertical bar that separates each column heading. Drag the bars to the left and right to expand or compress each column until you can see the Subject column.

Here's a little-known bonus tip: If you double-click the little vertical bar between columns, each respective column will resize to accommodate the length of the longest item in that column. This works throughout Windows, so give it a try!

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