E-mail for Everyone

Despite the ill-informed doom and gloom you might have read in the media, we Macintosh users don't lack software, particularly when it comes to the many choices available for reading e-mail. At least a dozen Internet e-mail programs are in use today on Macs across the land.

This embarrassment of riches means you don't have to settle for what came with your computer or what your cousin recommends. You can pick your perfect e-mail program from among the ranks. If you're unhappy with your current one, or if you just want to see how the competition stacks up, read on. Whether you get 2 e-mail messages a day or 200, we've found an ideal program for the way you work. (See the table "11 E-mail Programs Compared" for ratings.)


Most people have modest needs that any e-mail program can meet. They get a few messages per day or per week, and then they delete them. If you're a casual correspondent, you probably use a program that came with your Mac, such as America Online, Apple's Cyberdog, Apple's Emailer (formerly Claris Emailer), Microsoft Outlook Express, or Netscape Communicator, or a program from your ISP (Internet service provider), such as Eudora Light.

Stick With It

If you receive just a few messages, it's probably best to stick with what you've got. It doesn't really matter if your e-mail program is now defunct–as in the case of Apple's Cyberdog and Emailer–or if you're using a version that's several releases old, such as the widely distributed Eudora Light and Outlook Express 4.5. If you aren't having problems, why go to the trouble of setting up and learning a whole new application?

Free and Easy

Ah, but what if the few messages you do receive contain essential baby pictures that your e-mail program won't display? Even people with limited needs might want to switch e-mail programs to take advantage of niceties such as seeing graphics in messages or the ability to click on e-mailed URLs to visit Web sites. Since you won't need advanced features and you want to avoid any hassles, switch to a free program that will help with the process of transferring such information as your address book (see the sidebar, "Making a Smooth Switch", for tips). You also might consider a program recommended by someone who can help you with conversion and answer your questions.

We recommend Microsoft Outlook Express 5.0 (see Reviews , March 2000), since it's free and easily obtained, and you can get help with it from both Microsoft and an active user community. It imports mail, addresses, filters, signatures, and accounts from earlier versions of Outlook Express and Eudora, as well as from Netscape Communicator 4.0 or later, Apple's Emailer 2.0, and text files.


What you've got or Microsoft Outlook Express 5.0


As popular as America Online (AOL) is, its e-mail capabilities lag far behind those of any other program we looked at. The features it does have are difficult to find, and almost every window packs loads of advertising on top of your monthly fee. If you're disenchanted with AOL's e-mail capabilities, you have three options. You can stick with it, find a copy of Apple's Emailer for sending and receiving AOL mail, or get a separate e-mail account elsewhere.

Remain LoyAOL

Despite all its drawbacks, you may want to stick with AOL if you receive little mail, and particularly if most of it comes from other AOL users, who can easily include graphics, styled text, and clickable URLs you can't receive from or send to other Internet users. One recent addition that might make the service more attractive is AOL Mail on the Web, which lets you read your AOL mail via any Web browser, with roughly the same features the AOL application offers.

Try Emailer

Despite the fact that Apple hasn't updated Emailer in some time and the program has little if any future, it's still easy to recommend to anyone who seeks to gain more e-mail power while retaining a well-known AOL address. (Because of prior business agreements, Emailer is the only alternative e-mail program for Mac that can read AOL mail.) It provides powerful filters for managing quantities of mail and more. Visit the Unofficial Emailer Page, at http://www.macemail.com/emailer/, for information on Emailer, including where to purchase a copy.

Look Outside

Finally, remember that AOL provides a more or less complete Internet connection via AOL Link, over which you can run most TCP/IP Internet programs, including Microsoft Internet Explorer and all the e-mail programs mentioned here. So you could set up a free POP e-mail account elsewhere–for example, with Apple's new Mac.com e-mail service ( http://www.apple.com )–and use one of the e-mail programs we mentioned previously to read mail over your AOL-based Internet connection. (What's POP? See the table "Know Your E-mail Lingo" for a translation.)


AOL's e-mail software or Apple's Emailer 2.0


E-mail used to be ugly, and even today you can't be sure recipients will see exactly what you intended. That's a problem if you're planning on sending your perfectly formatted résumé to potential employers via e-mail.

But some modern e-mail programs support HTML-styled mail, which lets you send and receive messages that look just like Web pages, with text in different fonts, sizes, styles, and colors, not to mention inline graphics and text links to URLs. Also, if you use Netscape Communicator to browse the Web, you can e-mail especially interesting pages, such as a review of that oh-so-awful 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special , to friends.

If you really care what your e-mail looks like, you have three main choices: Eudora, Outlook Express, and Netscape Communicator. All three support HTML messages, but for the ultimate in styled elegance, go with Communicator. Thanks to its built-in Web browser and page-creation capabilities, you can read and create complex layouts.

Be aware, however, that Communicator's stylistic capabilities are useful only if you know that your recipients also use Communicator–for example, if you work at an organization that requires everyone to use Netscape. Otherwise, Eudora and Outlook Express offer layout and display engines that you may find useful in spite of their lesser capabilities.

Ascetic Aesthetics

Perhaps you eschew styles altogether and spend your time tweaking characters and spaces for perfect formatting of ASCII tables, where you need numbers to line up. Or you use ASCII graphics created entirely from characters, such as those you can make with Sig Software's shareware program Email Effects ( http://www.sigsoftware.com ).

Although those who read mail in a proportional font may still miss your painstaking formatting efforts, if you rely on characters instead of HTML for formatting, more people will see what you want them to. For example, you could indicate underlining with underscores preceding and following the appropriate word or phrase. E-mail programs can aid your quest for well-formatted e-mail by removing unnecessary HTML styles and manipulating the text of your messages.

Several programs have useful features for avoiding styles. Eudora can strip styles from messages before sending them (this removes pasted-in graphics as well), and can prompt to see if you want to do this for each message, so you can easily remove unneeded styles from replies whose originals contained styled text. Netscape Communicator provides a check box that lets you indicate whether a contact in the Address Book can read HTML mail. If not, Communicator resorts to plain text.

Eudora and Outlook Express both offer tools for manipulating text while editing, so you can wrap or unwrap paragraphs, quote text, and achieve the look you want in your messages. However, the $79 Mailsmith from Bare Bones Software (see Reviews , December 1998) outdoes both with similar tools plus a full search-and-replace capability unique among the programs we explored. Mailsmith isn't necessarily easy to use, but if you need these features, it can't be beat.


Netscape Communicator 4.7 or Bare Bones Software's Mailsmith 1.1.5


We've all suffered from falling out of touch on the road: you can't retrieve the phone number of a person you're supposed to contact during a trip, you learn too late of a canceled meeting, and worse. Despite Internet communications, we're traveling more than ever before for work, for play, and between home and the office. We're often expected to stay in touch via e-mail the entire time.

Get on the IMAP

If you need to read e-mail and access archived messages from home and work, and potentially from multiple work locations, it's time to chat with your network administrator about IMAP, or Interactive Message Access Protocol. Most people are used to downloading mail to their Macs and then reading and filing it locally. With IMAP, in contrast, mail lives on the server, and you simply read a temporary copy on whatever Mac you're using. This approach is perfect if you need to access your stored mail from multiple locations. Many organizations don't provide IMAP support, so make sure you can use it.

Five of the programs we looked at support IMAP: Eudora, Cyrusoft's Mulberry, Netscape Communicator, Outlook Express, and CTM Development's PowerMail. (We looked at the public beta version of Mulberry.) Despite Mulberry's cluttered interface, it offers the best IMAP support.

Mulberry's speed at retrieving IMAP mailbox lists and messages particularly sets it apart, as does the way it lets you choose to display only certain message types. It also supports a disconnected mode, which makes reading IMAP mail possible while you're using a PowerBook on a plane. If you want to read mail from both your work IMAP account and the personal POP account you use at home via the same program, any of the programs above will work except Netscape Communicator, which restricts you to either IMAP or POP.

POPping Around the Country

IMAP works best if you have a fast network connection at all times; if you're traveling with a PowerBook and connecting via modem, an e-mail program that retrieves mail to your PowerBook via POP will work more smoothly. You can read and write mail offline on the plane; once you arrive at your destination, just connect again to send and receive new messages. POP is especially useful if you want to tell your e-mail program to skip messages larger than a certain size when connecting via a slow modem on the road. Eudora offers the best, most flexible POP support. It provides easy methods for checking only certain accounts, canceling automatic checks while you're using the Power-Book's battery, and managing mail left on the server.

Home, Home on the Web

What if you don't own a PowerBook or don't want to lug it around? Set up an account with one of the large Web-mail providers, such as Microsoft's Hotmail ( http://www.hotmail.com ) or Yahoo Mail ( http://mail.yahoo.com ). You can access both from the Web while you're on the move and use them to read a small amount of mail from a POP account. When you're home, you can access Yahoo Mail with any standard POP-based e-mail program, and Hotmail with Outlook Express 5.0.

Web-based services such as ThatWeb ( http://www.thatweb.com ) let you access your existing POP or, less commonly, IMAP account via the Web, without the several-megabyte storage limitations of Yahoo Mail and Hotmail. If you have a POP account, you may find one of these services useful for checking in quickly (see http://www.emailaddresses.com for a list), though you won't have access to stored mail.

Keep in mind that you're essentially giving your e-mail password to the company running the Web-mail program, so make sure you're comfortable with its integrity and privacy policies.


Cyrusoft's Mulberry 2.0 for IMAP users, Qualcomm's Eudora Pro 4.2.2 for POP users, and ThatWeb for Web-based POP access


You're the one in the office who receives general e-mail and redirects it to the appropriate recipient. You may also receive automated messages from various Internet services or from monitored servers. Far from making you feel popular, the role of traffic cop can be utterly overwhelming, as you attempt to handle vast quantities of mail that isn't even addressed to you. Automated mail is even worse, since you can probably ignore most of it–but you can't afford to miss that one message that tells you the mission-critical server just blew a hard disk.

Your two top priorities are powerful filters that can redirect mail and easily accessed support for AppleScript, since you want to spend as little time as possible rerouting messages manually. Decent search capabilities also come in handy the day your boss asks exactly how many times the server has gone down.

The Right Route

All of the more powerful programs, such as Eudora, PowerMail, and Outlook Express, can handle routing, but Mailsmith stands out with its excellent scripting support and flexible filters. Mailsmith lets you define more than two criteria (your limit with Eudora and PowerMail), and although Outlook Express offers additional criteria, Mailsmith's support for grep (an extremely powerful method of searching for text, using patterns) in filters and searches gives it the edge.


Bare Bones Software's Mailsmith 1.1.5


You know who you are. You check e-mail as soon as you get up, before you go to bed, and every ten minutes the rest of the day. You receive hundreds of messages every day, you save almost everything you get, and you're not even sure how many mailing lists you subscribe to. If you're still in denial, do a Get Info on the folder that holds your e-mail and find out how large it is. See what I mean? Now that you've accepted your lot in life, how can you streamline your e-mail usage?

Eudora Euphoria

Run, don't walk, to Qualcomm's Web site and get a copy of Eudora. In the next version (in beta release at press time), if you're willing to put up with an advertisement box, you can use Eudora for free. You can also opt for a reduced feature set without ads or pay $50 for the full feature set without ads.

Proponents of other e-mail programs will no doubt scream about this choice for heavy e-mail users, but Eudora has the best combination of features and performance. Its filters are plenty powerful, even if they're not quite up to those in Mailsmith and Outlook Express. Searching in Eudora is fast and flexible. You can even save searches and run them later from the Find menu.

To help you avoid misspelling words when you write quickly, Eudora provides a spelling checker that marks mistakes as you type. Eudora's hierarchical menus (it also has a Mailbox window) are unusual, but they provide fast access to deeply nested mailboxes. More important is the fact that Eudora stores all of its messages in text format, an efficient and safe storage mechanism. Outlook Express, Mailsmith, and PowerMail all rely on a single mail database. This means if your hard disk becomes corrupted and that one file gets trashed, you lose everything. Stuffing all your messages into a huge database also means inefficient backups–and you can't afford to lose your precious stored mail.

Finally, Eudora has a vast number of hidden options and features you may find invaluable in specific situations. For example, you can set Eudora to open new Web browser windows in the background when you command-click on URLs–it's a great way to load a bunch of Web pages while you keep reading e-mail. You can also set Eudora to save messages you're writing, an extremely welcome backup if your Mac crashes while you're composing an important message. See http://www.eudora.com/techsupport/mac/xsettings.html for more information and a downloadable list of settings.


Qualcomm's Eudora Pro 4.2.2


All of these programs provide at least the basics of reading and writing e-mail–the differences lie in the details, and one of the bunch almost certainly will meet your needs. If you can't decide which profile best describes you, Microsoft Outlook Express 5.0 is a good place to begin for those with relatively modest needs, and Eudora works well for beginners and those who need the utmost flexibility and power. These programs top our ratings, and both are available free in fully functional versions.

If your current e-mail program is getting on your nerves, rest assured–one of the many Macintosh e-mail programs will meet your needs. Just figure out what you want with the help of our profiles, make the switch, and enjoy the ease you'll gain from using the right tool for the job.

Eudora 4.2 for Windows & Macintosh: Visual QuickStart Guide

April 2000 page: 86

The most significant obstacle to switching from your current e-mail program to a new one is the threat of losing the vast amount of e-mail and addresses you've stored over the years. Luckily, methods exist for moving from almost any e-mail program to any other.

Some programs, such as Outlook Express, Mailsmith, and PowerMail, recognize that they've come late to the game and provide conversion capabilities, either internally or via AppleScript scripts. In other cases, you may have to use utility software. Refer to the table for hints on which formats different programs can import.

Conversion Steps

We can't provide conversion advice specific to every possible combination of programs, but if you follow these general steps, you'll find out whether you can move to a new program easily.

1. Visit the Web site for the program you're considering and download a demo. Every program mentioned here has an evaluation version.

2. Look in the file menu, in an included utilities folder, or within Netscape Communicator, in the hierarchical Tools menu under the Communicator menu, for menu items or utilities related to conversion. If you see a conversion option, use it.

3. If you can't find an appropriate conversion option (or the program converts messages but not addresses), visit http://www.emailman.com/conversion/ and see if any third-party utilities can help. In particular, check out Richard Shapiro's MailConverter and InterGuru's Email Address Conversions.

4. If no direct conversion path exists, see if you can convert the data from your program into Eudora format, then into your desired destination format. Since Eudora mailboxes and address books are just specially formatted text files, they often provide a useful interchange format.

Conversion Advice

In general, make sure you have a current backup before starting, just in case. If you use AppleScript- or Apple event-based conversions, perform spot checks on the converted messages and addresses to make sure the conversion worked properly. And don't throw out your original data until you're positive the conversion was successful.

ASCII mail

American Standard Code for Information Interchange mail. The term ASCII basically means "plain text." ASCII e-mail messages use just the letters, numbers, and characters on your keyboard. ASCII mail can't display any particular fonts or styles.

HTML mail

HyperText Markup Language mail. Messages sent as HTML mail can use different fonts, styles, sizes, and colors, plus inline graphics, just like what you see on Web pages.

IMAP

Interactive Message Access Protocol. IMAP is a method of retrieving e-mail that stores all of your messages on the IMAP server; you read and respond to temporary copies of messages downloaded to your Mac.

POP

Post Office Protocol. POP is a common method of retrieving Internet e-mail that by default downloads all your messages from the POP server to your Mac for reading and storage.

Web-based

Web-based e-mail lets you read your mail within a Web browser, e-mail rather than in a dedicated Macintosh e-mail program.

Company Product Mouse
Rating
List Price Contact Imports From Killer Features
America Online AOL Mail 4.0 2.5 mice Free with AOL
($22 per month)
800/754-0403
www.aol.com
Nothing Parental controls
Apple Computer Emailer 2.0 3.0 mice $49 800/692-7753
www.macemail.com
/emailer/
Nothing Reads AOL mail
Qualcomm Eudora Pro 4.2.2 4.0 mice $50 * 800/238-3672
www.eudora.com
Nothing ** Stationery, inline spelling checker, scheduled messages, search, customizability
eWare Green 1.0 NA *** Free (for individual use) www.eware.fr Eudora Light, Netscape Communicator, Outlook Express Online documentation system
Bare Bones Software Mailsmith 1.1.5 3.0 mice $79 781/687-0700
www.barebones.com
Emailer, Eudora, Outlook Express Text editing, search, scriptability
Cyrusoft Mulberry 2.0 NA *** $40 support 412/605-0499
www.cyrusoft.com
Other IMAP Fast and powerful IMAP
Sono Software Musashi 3.1.1 3.0 mice $33 www.sonosoft.com Eudora, text only Mailbox view options
Netscape Communications Netscape Communicator 4.7 3.5 mice Free 650/254-1900
www.netscape.com
Eudora, text only HTML mail, integrated with Web browser
Microsoft Outlook Express 5.0 4.5 mice Free 800/426-9400
www.microsoft.com/mac/
Emailer, Eudora, Netscape Communicator, Outlook Express, text only Import, filters, mailing-list manager, address book, scriptability
CTM Development PowerMail 2.4 3.0 mice $49 800/424-9933
www.ctmdev.com
Emailer, Eudora, Netscape Communicator, Outlook Express Sherlock searching
CE Software QuickMail Pro 2.0.1 3.0 mice $40 800/523-7638
www.cesoft.com
Outlook Express Export File Integration with QuickMail servers

* Eudora 4.3, which should be released by the time you read this, will also be available for free if you agree to see ads.
** Qualcomm says Eudora 4.3 will import from Netscape Messenger and Outlook Express.
*** Not applicable; software available as public beta at press time.

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