This is part 3 of a series on Starting Your Own Website on the Cheap
Until recently setting up your own domain with email required having a business class internet connection, knowledge of how to set up a physical server and email server and someone to run the whole thing. No longer. Today anyone with a couple spare dollars can pick up their own domain and have their own custom email addresses up and running in mere minutes. If you've been following along in this series then you've already purchased a domain and set up DNS for it. Now were going to set up email.
You can, of course, roll your own email server. Just add your home server IP as the MX (Mail Exchange) record on your DNS providers site, set up an email server and away you go. However, even if you are a skilled administrator, I wouldn't recommend this. With spam emails representing 50-60% of all emails, running your own server is just asking for spam headaches.
Two of the webs largest email providers, Microsoft and Google now offer their own free email for domain services. Microsoft now offers Windows Live Admin Center and Google offers Google Apps. There are quite a few differences in their features offered between the services. Microsoft's services is a little easier to use and a little less business oriented. There are a few decisions to make about which features are critical to you in order to determine which provider is right for you. Do you care about exchange connectivity? The benefit of the exchange protocol is its push email, calendar and contact syncing. Oddly enough, it's Microsoft's service that does not offer exchange connectivity for their Live Mail services. For me Exchange connectivity is important. It keeps my email, calendar and contacts synced perfectly across my iPhone, laptop and desktop. Who's web email interface do you prefer? Its a small issue, but if you're a regular email user it can make a difference. Myself, I prefer Google's web interface. Last, do you plan to expand? Google's Apps service can be upgraded in-place to more professional levels with guaranteed levels of uptime and 24/7 support. The only place I feel Google's service falls short of Microsoft's is in accessing their webmail interfaces. In order to log on to the Google Apps webmail interface, users need to navigate to google.com/a/yourdomain.com then login with their credentials. While with Microsoft's webmail users can simply navigate to mail.live.com or even hotmail.com and login with their credentials. Why Google doesn't simply let users go to gmail.com and login with the alternative credentials is beyond me. This could be a moot issue since both services have the option of setting up cname (alias) records so that you can access their mail login interfaces at something like mail.yourdomain.com.
Once you've decided on a particular service the initial setup is fairly straight foward on both services. Google requires you to enter a custom string into your DNS cname or "alias" record to prove you control the domain. Microsoft checks that you've set their mail servers addresses for your domains MX (mail exchange) record before they let you create accounts. Once you've confirmed to each provider you hold the domain and enter in their mail servers in your DNS MX records you can begin creating users via each providers admin interface.
The admin interfaces reflect the level of features offered by each service. The Windows Live Admin interface is very simple with only three main options areas: adding new users, enabling "open enrollment" and some options for custom logos on the webmail interface. Click the "Add User" button, enter in the account name and user name, and you're off and running. The "open enrollment" option allows anyone to create an email address under your domain, a handy feature not offered by Google.
The Google interface is more robust with many tabs and sections to cover the various features offered. Fortunately, adding users is just as simple a task as with Microsoft. With Google you have to understand that this is indeed Google "Apps" not just Google Email. There are options for calendars, logo customization, document sharing, member groups and sites.
Now for a $10 investment you've got your very own personal domain with any email address you could want.