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Hot on the Web

Automating your e-mail

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 16, 2004
(Issue 2203, How to Buy a Computer)

In response to a column I wrote in October in which I addressed the fact that saving all my old saved e-mails to text files is a pain in the patoot, Jim Miller of Carlsbad-based sent me a link to his company's product – which can automate the saving of your e-mail messages.

The Set Machine (formerly known as MPX, according to their Web site) takes your incoming e-mail messages and can save them to a database for you to look over later. You do, of course, have to create the filters to do this.

From the information on their site, it seems that this software takes a fairly tech-savvy individual. You have to create a database first (although you can use Corel Paradox or Microsoft Access), and then correspond the fields in that database to entries in your filter.

For you or I, the average home user, the ability to convert e-mails to a database might not make much sense.

But when you look at the examples they offer, you can see where businesses and even some individuals would find The Set Machine to be invaluable.

For instance, one example they have is an eBay power seller or bidder. Since all the eBay notifications on bids and sales will come from the same e-mail address, you can set a filter for that From address – and then view the database entries for closing prices. In one screen, you could peruse a couple dozen auction results – rather than having to individually open a couple dozen e-mails.

In that context it makes sense. Businesses with e-mail help desks could also find this to be a pretty powerful tool.

The Set Machine is only available for Windows, however.

The competition

Interestingly, The Set Machine doesn't even have this rather niche software category all to itself.

Message Parse is a program from Cypress Technologies that also extracts information from your e-mail in-box and outputs it into a database – a delimited text file, in this case, that can be imported into any database. offers a variety of different e-mail automating programs and plug-ins, including an e-mail parser that seems to do much what The Set Machine does.

Other utilities found here are a mail list manager, an attachments extractor for Microsoft Outlook (to help you manage all the attachments you receive), and an e-mail address extractor that goes through all your in-boxes in Outlook and creates a database of everyone who sent you e-mail.

There are also several products likely to be of interest only to businesses that do a lot of e-mail marketing (spammers included). These include an e-mail address locator (to determine where an e-mail server is located, giving you a rough idea of the recipient's location), an e-mail verification program (to determine if an address is good or not – sounds like a spammers' product to me!)

There are even some other products definitely aimed at spammers – software to extract e-mail addresses from web pages and newsgroups, for instance. Those involved in blocking spam would do well to take a look at these products to try to learn how to block them.

Another useful utility

E-mail Remover is a free program that logs into your e-mail server and downloads all the e-mail headers – without downloading the e-mails themselves. For folks on dial-up accounts, this means you can delete the spam from the server before you waste time downloading it. While free, the author does encourage donations.

Checking your Web accounts

While most POP-3 e-mail clients (Eudora, Netscape, Outlook) can be set to automatically check servers for mail and let you know when there are new messages, that's not so easy for Web-based accounts like Hotmail or Yahoo. Even most of the utilities that will check your POP-3 accounts and flash a notice in your Windows toolbar can't do your Web accounts. The Ristra Mail Monitor does handle Web accounts, though, and you can try it for free.