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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 3 Issue 5 May 2009
In This Issue
The future of voice mail: Listen using your computer!
There's a new feature that some phone companies now offer: Using your computer to retrieve your voicemail messages. Here's my advice on how it works and why you may find this useful.
The future of voice mail: Listen using your computer!

Has this ever happened to you? It's a busy day. You pick up your phone to make a call and you hear the "stuttering dial tone" that indicates you have new voicemail messages waiting for you in the depths of the phone company. You tell yourself that you'll dial the special access number and check your voicemail right after you finish making this important call. Of course, two minutes into the call you've already forgotten, and after you hang up you move on to something else. Then, the next time you pick up your phone to make a call and hear the "stuttering dial tone" again, it's another moment when you don't have time to stop and check your voicemail.

There is a new trend in phone company technology that may help. Some landline phone companies now give you the ability to listen to your voicemail messages using your computer (or any computer with a working internet connection) at no additional cost, and they can also send you an email when someone leaves you a voicemail.

This only applies to phone company voicemail, which typically answers immediately if someone calls when your phone line is busy, or after a certain number of rings (typically 6 or 8). This does not apply to messages left on a regular answering machine.

How does it work?
So far I've seen two ways to access your voicemail using a computer:
  • Using the phone company's website
  • Using special phone company software
Voicemail access using the phone company's website
Here's how it typically works:
  • You create an online account with your phone company, either on their regular website (where you can usually also view or pay your bill) or on a separate voicemail site, depending on the company. Calling customer support and asking for help with voicemail via your computer can also get you started.
  • Using your computer (or any computer in the world with a working internet connection) you sign in to your voicemail account on this website with your username and password.
  • You then go to a "voice mail" or "messages" page, where you'll see a list of your messages, including the date and time, their duration in minutes and seconds, and the caller's name and number if available.
  • Just as you can when you call into the regular voicemail system by phone, with your computer you can click to listen to a message, keep it for later, or delete it.
  • You can have the system send you an email when someone leaves you a voicemail message. This "alert" or "notification" may only tell you the caller's number, but it can be much more noticeable than the "stuttering dial tone." Even if you never use the website to listen to your voicemail, this feature alone might be worth the effort of setting up an online voicemail account.
  • You can download messages to your computer as sound clips (usually in .WAV format), which means you can keep them on your hard disk, replay them whenever you want (be sure to turn your speakers up so you can hear), and even email them to someone else.
  • Compared to accessing your voicemail by phone, which makes you listen to messages in chronological order, with your computer you can listen in any order, and if you don't delete a message it's implicitly saved. Just like many email programs, messages you haven't heard yet are listed in bold, and the rest are in plain text.
  • This is the same system you access by phone, so any messages you listen to (and keep) will change from "new" to "saved," and any you delete will be gone, so be careful where you click.
  • Even if you see the name and number, you may not recognize who is calling. Some sites let you enter your own list of names and numbers, so instead of "LAW FIRM OF DEWEY CHEATEM AND HOWE" the system will use the name from your list, e.g., "Uncle Joe's office."
  • In addition, you may also see the incoming calls you've recently received (whether or not the caller left a message), including the date, time, and the caller's name and number if available. Some sites also list the outgoing calls you've made!
  • As with any online account, especially if you're using someone else's computer or in a public place, be careful who's watching when you type in your password, and when you're done be sure to Log Out so someone else won't use that same computer and access your account.
Specific voicemail websites
Here are the phone company voicemail websites that I've seen so far, plus what's required to get computer access to voicemail:
Voicemail access using special phone company software
In addition to access through their website, Verizon has special software you can download to your computer that not only gives you many of the functions I've listed above, but also does the following:
  • When someone calls, the software puts up a notice on your screen for a few seconds identifying the caller right in the moment just before your phone rings!
  • If you're on the phone when another call comes in, you'll see a similar on-screen notice identifying the caller.
  • And, if that caller leaves you a voicemail, you'll see another on-screen notice.
To do all this, this software only requires that your computer have a working internet connection and, unfortunately for Macintosh users, it's only available for Microsoft Windows. In October 2008 Verizon announced that an enhanced version is coming "soon."

This is great for landlines, but what about my cell phone voicemail?
So far I've talked to AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, and none of them currently offer online access to their cell phone voicemail accounts. Of these, only Verizon Wireless told me that they're actively working on it.

On the other hand, online access to voicemail is already common with internet-based phone companies like Vonage (http://www.vonage.com) and Galaxy Voice (http://www.galaxyvoice.com).

Where to go from here
  • The ability to access your voicemail with your computer is not widely advertised (and probably isn't listed on your phone bill), so ask your land line phone company if you can do this, and if so, how. Or, look for "voice" or "messages" after signing into your account on your phone company's website.
  • Ask your cell phone company, too. If they say you can do it, please let me know!
  • If you're planning on traveling and you'll have access to a computer with internet access, look into this before you go, since using your computer to access your voicemail won't use any cell minutes or hotel phone charges.
If you know someone who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2009 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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