More e-mail options
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on December 5, 2003
In a recent column, I bemoaned the fact that my regular browser (Netscape 7.1) and e-mail client (Eudora 6) were buggy and prone to crashing. And that, further, switching to the Microsoft alternatives (Internet Explorer and Outlook) is not a realistic option for me given the multitude of security holes continually being found in Microsoft's products.
Besides, I try not to support Microsoft with my hard-earned dollars - they've admitted in various legal settlements to engaging in uncompetitive business practices and to being an illegal monopoly. For this they should be rewarded?
However, several readers wrote in with suggestions of other alternatives I had been unaware of.
I've been online long enough to remember when the first e-mail clients for personal computers came out in the late 1980s. When I began going online in the mid-'80s, the Internet was not yet public so those of us without university or government accounts were calling local dial-up bulletin board systems, or BBSs. These were mini-AOLs running on someone else's personal computer. A typical BBS featured online games, files to download (like today's FTP), newsgroups (similar to today's Usenet) and e-mail. But you read your e-mail while logged into the BBS, and if you had a lot of messages, you could tie up the BBSs' phone line forever.
Actually, since most BBSs were run by hobbyists (there were more than 1,200 public BBSs in San Diego County alone in the late 1980s) and only had one or maybe two phone lines, you generally had a time limit after which you'd be disconnected. If you had a 30-minute limit per day, and if this BBS had FidoNet access so you could get e-mail from other BBSs (thus giving you the same kind of unlimited e-mail access the Internet offers today), then 30 minutes might not be enough time to read and answer all your messages.
In response to this dilemma, software called "offline readers" came out. Offline readers were the direct ancesotrs of today's e-mail programs. The software checked your BBS account and downloaded any messages in your account's in-box. Then you could log off, read the messages at your leisure, write witty, clever responses, and the next time you logged in, it would upload your outgoing messages before downloading your new ones.
At the time, it took some getting used to the idea of reading your e-mail outside the usual BBS environment seemed a bit odd. After awhile, though, it seemed so utterly natural and organic that I couldn't imagine not having one.
Fewer choices today
At one time, there were dozens of off-line readers. I had two or three for my Atari ST, and a couple more for my Windows 3.1 box. Oddly, today there are very few standalone e-mail clients even for Windows, which supposedly has multitudes of titles in every category. Undoubtedly, the fact that Microsoft ships Outlook Express with every copy of Windows has much to do with this paucity of choices. As does the fact that more users are on AOL with its own built-in e-mail client than any other online environment.
Further, Qualcomm's popular Eudora is still available as a free download although my patience with its bugginess is, as mentioned, at an end. The top free browsers Netscape and Mozilla include a free e-mail client as well. And heck, if you purchase the third-most popular browser, Opera, you've again got a solid e-mail client to use.
So there's probably not all that much demand for a standalone e-mail client.
But there are a handful for Windows out there. There are two solid commercial e-mail programs available for purchase The Bat and PocoMail as well as another very good free client in Pegasus.
As mentioned above, Pegasus is free hard to beat the price. And it's easy to use looks and runs like most Windows-based e-mail programs with various mail boxes containing message to you and from you that display in the main panel when you click on them. The graphical menu bar is self-explanatory; you can add new mailboxes for instance, I keep one mail box for all my ComputorEdge correspondence (mostly from my editors wondering why on earth I can't meet a simple deadline).
But with Pegasus, I could never figure out how to import my Eudora address book and that was a deal-killer for me. I've got hundreds of e-mail contacts I've built up through the years typing that all back in by hand holds very little appeal.
The Bat and PocoMail
Both PocoMail and The Bat, however, quickly and completely found and pulled in my Eudora address book. Not only that, but if I want to get rid of Eudora completely (yes, please!), both The Bat and PocoMail allow me to import all my existing e-mails from Eudora.
To be honest, in terms of features and ease of use, it's pretty much a toss-up between PocoMail and The Bat. Their visual design is outstanding, the menus built for the tasks you actually use, their support for the popular file types comprehensive. And both have free, fully functional trial versions that expire after a month or so plenty of time to give either a good test drive.
I ended up going with The Bat, even though I preferred PocoMail's interface and menus. But when I first installed PocoMail, I set it up to leave the mail on my server when you're running four e-mail clients at once, it's better to have one main repository for your messages. However, when I tried to change that in the options menu later, nothing happened. I unchecked the Leave mail on server box, but it still leaves the mail on my server.
The Bat has had no such issues. It's nearly as easy to use as PocoMail, and has been a rock-solid workhorse for me. The PocoMail glitch may simply be an issue with the trial version, or they may need a fix.
Browsers and desktops
Next week we take a look yet another free browser for Windows, and even some Windows XP desktop replacements.
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