The Explorer: What's The Best E-mail Client? - InformationWeek
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7/22/2003
02:22 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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The Explorer: What's The Best E-mail Client?

Outlook Express is free and popular, but many readers believe others are better.

Microsoft's Outlook Express is among the world's most-used e-mail client applications, mainly because it's distributed free. It's also a reasonably capable client, and can handle multiple e-mail accounts, newsgroup activity, and directory services. It even includes a lightweight contact list.

But it's also limited in ways that range from the annoying -- such as a mandatory, always-visible ad-bar -- to the serious -- such as various security problems. OE also is confusing to some; its mail folders are buried in a nonobvious part of the Windows directory tree where the uninitiated may fail to include them in backups. And some elements of OE's operation, such as the purging of old messages and the compression of mail folders, make it easy to waste inordinate amounts of disk space, and/or to retain copies of messages you thought had been deleted long ago.

A search with any major search engine will reveal an entire cottage industry dedicated to helping people get around OE's limitations. My favorite such help site is Tomsterdam Microsoft also has had to pepper its KnowledgeBase with numerous article to help people deal with what should be simple tasks. For example, it takes an entire KnowledgeBase article to explain simply" How to Manually Uninstall and Reinstall Outlook Express 5."

Alternatives
I've been a fan of Eudora for years; I use the "Pro" for-a-fee, ad-less version. (There's also a free version with ad bars.) I've never found any e-mail client with better automation tools for filtering, sorting, and even auto-replying to mail.

The Eudora mailbox files are extremely portable, and -- because they're actually just giant text files -- they're easy to manipulate with other software. I've written a series of scripts and small programs that parse some Eudora mailboxes to extract specific information I'm looking for. Because the mailbox files are plain vanilla text, it's a snap.

Eudora also is smart about NOT automatically running dangerous attachment or embedded files, and yet it still allows you to receive and send whatever attachments you want, with ease. For further security, you can use Eudora's own HTML engine to display HTML e-mails. (You can use your browser for HTML e-mails if you choose, but Eudora's HTML engine is deliberately simple, which helps guard against various HTML-based exploits that can compromise browser-based HTML e-mail.)

But Eudora is far from perfect. The contact/address book is only adequate. Qualcomm, Eudora's publisher, has become increasingly aggressive about wanting to collect data on its users. And with each release, Eudora gets bigger and more resource-hungry; it's the only application I have on my system that, by itself, is capable of consuming the majority of all available resources. It gives them back if you close Eudora and then reopen it -- but why should you have to do that? In short, Eudora is a pig. A nice pig but still a pig.

So, in a search for better alternatives, I've collected reader e-mail about the apps that real people -- you and your fellow readers, and not some testing lab somewhere -- have used and found to be good.

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