email accountsIn the last 15 years, I have had at least four different primary email addresses. My first email account was on MSN Hotmail (now Windows Live Hotmail), then I shifted to Yahoo Mail for some time, then to Google mail followed by Google Apps for Gmail.

Creating a new email account is easy (and often free) but the big problem is that you can’t completely ignore the old inbox (unless the service supports auto-forward) because some of your past contacts may still try to reach you on your previous (primary) addresses. 

Now if you are in a similar situation as me and maintain two or more email addresses, here are some solutions that will help you check for new mail across all your web email accounts from a central location without having to log into individual accounts.

Option #1: Use a Desktop based mail client

Gmail, Google Apps for Mail and now Windows Live Hotmail officially support the POP3 protocol so you can check mails in any of these accounts though desktop mail clients like Microsoft Outlook, ThunderBird, Windows Live Mail or Eudura.

Since the free version of Yahoo! Mail doesn’t offer auto-forward or POP access facility, there’s a simple workaround – you can either use WebMail (for ThunderBird) or YPOPs and manage your Yahoo! emails from any desktop mail client.

Another good alternative here is Zimbra Desktop – it’s an Outlook like desktop software (developed by Yahoo) that will help you check mails across all your Yahoo! accounts for free. Zimbra is available on Mac, Windows and Linux.

If you prefer reading and replying to emails on the service provider’s website itself but need some sort of a desktop notifier to ping you as soon as new messages land in any of your inboxes, get ePrompter – this runs in the Windows system tray and can retrieve messages from all your web mail accounts at pre-defined intervals.

Option #2: Check mails on any computer

If you work across multiple computers, it may take lot of effort for you to install and configure desktop mail clients on all these individual machines. What you therefore need is ThunderBird Portable – it’s just like the desktop version of ThunderBird except that all settings and data are stored on the USB drive so you can easily carry it around and check mails on multiple email accounts from any computer anywhere.

Alternatively, you may try web based services like Fuser and Mail2Web that help you check all your email accounts on a single website. They provide a common inbox for all your web email accounts where you can send as well receive messages without having to log separately into any of you different mail accounts.

Fuser works with Microsoft Exchange as well so you check both personal and work related email simultaneously. Mail2Web offers a WAP version of the website optimized for the small screen of your mobile phones.

Option #3: Let one email address rule them all

The solutions that we discussed so far involved pulling up emails from multiple web accounts into one central location. What if all the messages that reach your secondary inboxes are pushed automatically to your main email address so you can check them in the web browser itself without having to configure anything?

There are two services that can help us here – the good old Gmail and the second is NutShellMail – it’s new and awesome.

Let’s start with Gmail. This Google mail service includes a featured called Mail Fetcher that will help download messages from up to five other email accounts into your central Gmail inbox. Thus you can check even non-Gmail accounts from Gmail as long as they support POP access (e.g., Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo Mail Plus).

Things get much simpler if you want to use your Gmail (or Google Apps) account as a secondary address because Gmail can auto-forward all incoming messages to any other email account so you really don’t have to check your Gmail account ever except for any false positives that get caught in the Spam folder.

Next in this category is NutShellMail – it’s a relatively new web service that takes a different but very original approach to dealing with email.

Let’s assume that your main address is on Gmail but all the junk newsletters reach your Yahoo! address. You also maintain an AOL account because some of your old college friends still have that address.

Now NutShellMail is a web based service that will monitor all your secondary email addresses in the background and will send you a digest mail containing a list of messages that may have arrived in any your web mail accounts. You can click on the subject line of any message to read the contents.

This service will also come handy in places like your office where you can’t check personal mails (on say Gmail or Yahoo!) as access to the mail website has been blocked due to company policies. You can configure NutShellMail and it will send you snapshots of all your inboxes on a recurring schedule.

Also see: Backup Your Outlook PST to Gmail