It’s a common problem: You have Microsoft Outlook at work, a different e-mail program at home, and a smartphone in your pocket, all with independent inboxes and outboxes. Ideally, all your devices should communicate, so that when you receive or reply to a message on one, it’s reflected on all of them. But they don’t do that.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. It’s called Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP for short), and it allows for two-way communication between your e-mail account and your PCs. That means whatever program or computer you use to access your e-mail, you’ll always see the same thing. There are several ways to set it up, but the easiest is to use Gmail, Google’s free e-mail service, which recently added IMAP support. And because Gmail can pull messages from most existing e-mail accounts, it’s a cinch to route everything to one inbox.

Just open a new account at, and enable the IMAP setting (it only takes one click). You can even create a custom “from” address so that outbound mail will appear to come from any domain you choose (e.g.,, rather than from your Gmail address. Oh, and did I mention that it’s free?

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Rick Broida is the author of CNET’s [Cheapskate blog.