Switching e-mail addresses doesn't have to hurt

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In many ways, changing your e-mail address is harder than changing your mailing address. There's no post office to make sure that your mail gets forwarded and senders are notified of the switch. Plus, you have to deal with transferring contacts and old messages.

Luckily, many of the free e-mail providers offer features and services that make switching your e-mail address a little less painful. For the purposes of this column, I'm assuming you'll be switching to a free e-mail provider such as Gmail, Yahoo or Windows Live Hotmail. Here are some tips:

Choosing the best e-mail service: If you don't already know which you want to use, take a look at the services you already use online. For instance, if you have a fantasy football account through Yahoo and have an account with Flickr (which is owned by Yahoo), you may want to go with a Yahoo e-mail address. But if you use a lot of Google-owned services, you may want a Gmail account. Your decision might also hinge on which free e-mail provider has your desired e-mail address available. Yahoo recently opened up two new free e-mail domains, and, which work exactly like an address but have more e-mail names available because they're newer.

All things being equal, I think Gmail provides the most flexibility, simplest interface and best features of any of the free e-mail services, although Yahoo offers more services to help you switch. I'd suggest you go with one of the free services because you'll be able to keep that even if you move or change cable or Internet providers.

Transferring your contacts: If you're switching to a Yahoo account, the company offers an easy wizard to transfer contacts from about 20 e-mail providers, including AOL, Hotmail, Comcast, Gmail, Earthlink, Juno and Netzero.

To access the wizard, sign into your new Yahoo inbox, click on "Options," then on "Import Contacts" and follow the instructions. If you want to use the wizard to import e-mail from your old account, you may want to clean it out of all but the essential messages. Your old contacts and old messages will be imported gradually and all of the old messages will be marked as new. If you are switching to Hotmail or Gmail, you can download your old contacts as a Comma Separated Values (.CSV) file and then import that file into your new e-mail account. If you have an account that won't let you export contacts as a .CSV file (such as AOL), you can import your old contacts into a new Yahoo account, then download them as a .csv file and import them into your desired non-Yahoo e-mail service. To do this, follow the steps above for creating a new Yahoo account and once the contacts have been imported, click on "Options," then "Mail Options" then "Contacts Options" and then "Import/Export" and follow the instructions to export your contacts as a .csv file. Contacts can also be exported as a .csv file from Microsoft Outlook.

Transferring old messages: If you aren't switching to Yahoo and only have a small number of old messages you want to transfer, you could simply forward them from your old account to your new one. But, if you have a lot of old messages and are switching to Gmail, you may be able to use the "Mail Fetcher," which will not only forward all of your existing messages, it will also check your old account periodically and forward any new message to your Gmail account. Hotmail does not provide a way to let you import messages from your old account. The only easy way to forward messages from a Yahoo account is to sign up for Yahoo's "Mail Plus" option, which costs $20 a year.

Letting people you know you've moved: You could e-mail everyone in your address book from your new address letting them know about your switch, but some of your contacts may be put off by this or not remember the next time they want to send you a message. Another option is to make the switch gradually, so when you get a message sent to your old address, forward it to your new address and then respond to the sender from there. You could also set the out-of-office or vacation reply on your old address to automatically send a response saying you've switched to a new e-mail address.

Dealing with new mail coming into your old account: If you don't want to miss important messages that may still be sent to your old e-mail address, you may be able to configure the old address to automatically forward all new messages to your new address. Before you do this, I'd recommend unsubscribing from as many e-mail lists as possible, so your new inbox doesn't get clogged with junk mail coming into your old inbox. To use the Mail Fetcher option in Gmail, sign into your inbox, click on "Settings," then click on the "Accounts" tab and then click "Add another mail account."

Etan Horowitz can be reached at or 407-420-5447. To read his technology blog, visit