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Overview | Graphical E-mail | PIM's | Definitions

Overview

The ability to send and receive electronic mail, or e-mail, has become both common place and the preferred means of communication in almost every aspect of our daily lives. It is interesting to note that e-mail predates the Internet and was actually one of the driving forces behind its creation. The ability to send and receive e-mail began in 1965 as a way for users of time-sharing mainframe computers to communicate. By 1966, e-mail extended to become network e-mail allowing users to pass messages between different computers. From here, e-mail became more and more popular as its abilities to share information between computers was improved. For example, in 1971, Ray Tomlinson initiated the use of the "@" symbol which allowed the separation of the user names from the machines. It was not until the late 1980's to early 1990's that e-mail we see today took form. On a historical note, the first e-mail from space was sent in 1991 from aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

E-mail exists in many forms and interface types as can be seen by viewing this list of e-mail clients. As a review, the types of e-mail clients can be grouped into the following categories:

  • Graphical
  • Editor-Based
  • Text-Based
  • Web-Based

Graphical type interfaces are both the most common and most popular and is what I cover on this site. Web-Based interfaces are gaining in popularity since they provide the ability to send and receive messages regardless of where you are and do not require you to be at your own computer. Many such services exist and are currently beyond the scope of this sites purpose. I have broken my coverage into two parts: E-mail only and Personal Information Managers (PIM). At the bottom of this page you will find a table of definitions explaining some of the terminology used in my discussions.

Graphical E-Mail Clients

E-mail has evolved from the simple Text-Based interfaces which allowed only text to be included in messages to the Graphical applications we see today. Graphical interfaces allow a user to control just about every aspect of the message from what type of font to use, what color it should be and the option to include images; or HTML based mail. It also refers to the interface using icons in addition to or in place of text menu systems. Following is an overview of the more popular choices available today and are actually both an E-mail and News client. They allow you to send messages in both plain text and HTML modes using the Post Office Protocol (POP3), the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), and in most cases the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). All of them also support basic mail client features: send/receive e-mail, support both plain text and HTML functions, spell checker/dictionary, and provide some sort of contact management functionality (i.e. address book).

LogoMicrosoft Outlook Express (OE) is the most commonly seen and used graphical e-mail client since it comes installed on Windows-based computers. Although previous versions supported both Windows and Apple operating systems, the current version only supports Windows-based systems. It is important to note that OE is not a stripped down version of Microsoft Outlook which is totally different program. It provides access to both E-mail and Newsgroup services and supports the ability to manage multiple accounts of both types of services. It also supports both the POP3, SMPT and IMAP mail protocols. OE does not store its own contact information but relies on the Windows Address Book which is a component of the Windows operating system. The new version of OE released with Windows Vista has been renamed to Windows Mail. Also, Microsoft is also developing a replacement for OE known as Windows Live Mail Desktop which will be available to users of Windows XP and Vista operating systems. In order to have spell checking capabilities, you must have Microsoft Word installed or use a third part alternative (i.e. AutoSpell).

LogoMozilla Thunderbird is developed by the Mozilla Corporation and is their premier e-mail and news client offering. It is a free, open-source, cross-platform e-mail client that started off as a fork to the mail component of the Mozilla Application Suite. It is a stand-alone browser meaning that it is akin to Outlook Express. Some of its features include an Integrated Address Book, built-in Spell checker and RSS Reader, Adaptive Junk Mail Filter, Integration with SpamAssassin, Anti-Phishing Protection, Advanced Security, and can be customized by using Themes. You are able to add additional functionality to the browser through the use of Extensions (i.e. enhancing Privacy & Security, Navigation, or News Reading). Lastly, it is able to manage multiple e-mail and newsgroup accounts and supports multiple identities within these accounts.

In July 2007 an announcement by the Mozilla Corporation has put the future of Thunderbird on some shaky ground. In a nutshell, the Mozilla Corporation will focus only on the Firefox browser claiming Thunderbird needs to forge its own destiny. Speculation abounds as to what the future holds for Thunderbird with the linked article providing three scenarios. You can also follow discussions at the MozillaZine forums.

LogoEudora is currently developed by Qualcomm for the Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. It used to be provided in three modes - two free, one paid - but now the paid version is no longer available. The last official release was in October 2006 which is also when the announcement that Eudora will now be developed in an open source environment per this Press Release. Please refer to this Eudora Announcement FAQ for further details concerning this announcement. Refer to the Windows Features or Mac OS Features site for more information regarding the latest release of this e-mail application.

Penelope is the code name for the open source version of Eudora and is currently in the beta development phase. As mentioned previously, this is an open source program and is a collaboration between Qualcomm and the Mozilla Foundation. It is a blending of Mozilla Thunderbird and Eudora. The Penelope Wiki site provides additional details and is recommended reading if you wish to give this e-mail application a try.

LogoIncrediMail is developed by IncrediMail Ltd. for the Windows operating system and is touted as an e-mail client that produces multimedia e-mail. There are two version - IncrediMail Xe (free, ad-supported) and IncrediMail Premier ($29.95 initial cost, no ads, discounts on upgrades). The application was designed to make it both very easy to use, and to add wallpaper, audio and video into your e-mail messages. One misconception is that the person receiving your IncrediMail generated messages must also have IncrediMail - this is not true. IncrediMail is creating HTML type messages, so any e-mail client capable of displaying HTML messages will do fine. Of all of the graphical e-mail clients, this one is the most graphically oriented.

LogoPocoMail is developed by Poco Systems for the Windows operating system. It is not free and currently costs $39.95 to activate and future upgrades are offered at a discounted price. A 30 day trial can be downloaded form their site. It is a flexible e-mail and news system that provides Powerful Search Capabilities, RSS Feeds reader, and use Filters and Events or PocoScripts to automate e-mail processing. It promotes security by using its own internal HTML message viewer (not IE's); it does not understand Virtual Basic Script Edition (VBScript) or JavaScript which is used to create e-mail viruses; and, it even blocks its own PocoScript in received messages and will not show it unless you tell it to do so. The contact manager looks very similar to Microsoft Outlook. It also was able to import messages and contact information from a wide variety of mail clients.

There are many more graphical e-mail clients available such as Pegasus Mail (free) and The Bat! (not free) to name a few. Also, SeaMonkey and Opera both include e-mail clients built-in as part of their internet suite capabilities. Another thing to note is that Outlook Express, like IE, has been plagued with security attacks. The other e-mail clients mentioned in this section either have better security measures in place or are not as susceptible to the attacks.

Personal Information Managers

A Personal Information Manager is an application which acts as a personal organizer. As an Information Management tool, Its purpose is to record, track, and management certain types of "personal information". At its basic form, the types of information managed would be:

  • Personal Notes / Journal
  • Calendar (i.e. events, appointments, holidays, etc.)
  • Contact List / Address Book
  • Various Types of Lists (i.e. Tasks)
  • E-mail

Most PIM's are able to synchronize their data over a network allowing for sharing of PIM's data (i.e. calendar or address book). This type of data sharing is not continuous but more a point-in-time updating between networked computers. They also allow for the synchronization with PDA with the help of third party software.

LogoMicrosoft Outlook and Personal Information Manager are almost used interchangeably since Outlook is the standard which all other PIM's strive to meet. It is available for the Windows operating system only and can be purchased as either part of Microsoft Office or as a stand-alone package. It provides an integrated solution for managing and organizing e-mail messages, schedules, tasks, notes, contacts, and other information. Regarding system integration, you have the option to run it solo (i.e. on your own computer) or as part of a Microsoft Exchange Server allowing enhanced functions for several users in a business; for example, shared mailboxes and calendars, public folders and meeting time allocation. It also adds improved security protection by not allowing images to be shown in messages without user interaction and actively updated and teachable Junk Mail filters. PDA support is available through third party applications (i.e. Chappura PocketMirror), and various importing options are available although a few options can be tedious.

LogoBarca is developed by Poco Systems for the Windows operating system. It is not free and currently costs $59.95 to activate. A 30 day trial can be downloaded form their site. It is a viable option which includes an integrated solution for managing and organizing e-mail messages (powered by PocoMail), calendar, planner and notes. By using the Focus Box, you are able to summarize results in any of your folders, view only contacts from a certain company, or from a certain telephone area code. The built-in Calendar plans your day, and the integrated Planner plans your year. It is able to import e-mail and contact information from a good selection of other e-mail clients. Calendar and Task information must be either in iCalendar or vCalendar format before it can be imported. Currently, there is no PDA support provided. There is also a "Pro" version available that costs $79.95 and includes all the functionality of Barca and additionally allows you to share your calendars with other users on a network and coordinate time, people and resources. In both cases, the initial cost is a one time fee with a discounted price for upgrades.

A comprehensive list of Personal Incorporation Managers is available for your review. Most PIM's are geared towards business use and the majority of the "free" section are usually for the Linux operating system or are under development. The two mentioned on this site are commonly used for both personal and business applications.

Definitions of Terminology Used

IMAP A mail retrieval protocol that provides the ability to store messages on the mail server rather than having to download them to your computer hard drive.
iCalendar a newer, improved version of vCalendar.
JavaScript A scripting programming language with functions and commands that let you control how the browser behaves.
PDA Personal Data Assistant, referring to devices developed by Palm, HP, etc.
Phishing A form of criminal activity that use trustworthy methods (i.e. e-mail or instant messaging) to obtain sensitive information (i.e. passwords, credit card details).
PocoScript A proprietary scripting language developed by Poco Systems, and it is embedded in all their applications. It allows you to automate common tasks.
POP3 A mail retrieval protocol that retrieves messages previously stored on a mail server, downloads them to your computer, and deletes them from the mail server.
SMTP A TCP/IP sub protocol responsible for moving messages from one e-mail server to another. This is the protocol used to send your e-mail messages.
VBScript An active scripting language. Basically it is Microsoft's version of JavaScript.
vCalendar a platform-independent format for exchanging calendaring & scheduling information.
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