Free Software Squeezes Mac E-Mail

When it comes to software, there's no free ride. In December, Qualcomm (800/238-3672, http://www.qualcomm.com ) announced it will offer a full version of its Eudora e-mail program for free, continuing a trend that began when Microsoft offered its Internet Explorer Web browser for free. In the short term, Mac users have access to powerful Internet applications they don't have to pay for. But in the long term, it's possible that only companies rich or powerful enough to give away their software will be left standing.

Light Features

Eudora, originally developed at the University of Illinois, has always been available in a free version. Under the licens-ing agreement that allowed Qualcomm to develop a commercial version of the program, the company also had to offer a free edition, Eudora Light. Although Qualcomm has added features to Eudora Light over the years, the company has poured most of its development resources into the $50 Eudora Pro.

Now those commercial features–including enhanced filtering, message searching, an in-line spelling checker, the ability to create styled text in messages, support for the IMAP server format, support for multiple e-mail accounts, and more–will be available for free. The catch? The free version will include a small (roughly 150-by-150-pixel) advertising tile that appears the entire time you're using Eudora. (Paying users won't see the ad tile, and those who don't want to pay or see the ad can choose a limited-feature mode much like the old Eudora Light.)

Why make the change? Qualcomm says it wants to "use the new business model [to] drive long-term product development." Translation: in a world where you can download Microsoft Outlook Express 5.0–a Eudora competitor that offers similar features–for free, Qualcomm must sell advertising and give its product away to fund continued software development.

Feeling the Squeeze

Qualcomm may face a stiff challenge, but it stands to benefit from Eudora Light's large base of users, many of whom will no doubt switch to the ad-sponsored version. And while Qualcomm may be a small player in the software arena, it's a large telecommunications corporation with the resources to set up an ad sales system for Eudora.

Other e-mail developers don't have those advantages. Bare Bones Software, maker of the well-respected text editor BBEdit, entered the e-mail market in May 1998 with Mailsmith, a $79 program that offered unprecedented flexibility and scripting support. Though recently updated to version 1.1.5, the program has seen only limited acceptance and the company has slowed further development. Bare Bones president Rich Siegel acknowledges that free software "has distorted the marketplace so that the usual competitive dynamics no longer apply."

More to Come

The news for e-mail developers will likely get worse. At Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference last May, interim CEO Steve Jobs detailed plans for an Apple-produced e-mail program, MailViewer, which Mac OS X will include. Outlook Express is currently the default Macintosh e-mail program.

March 2000 page: 28

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