Back in the old days, I wrote reviews and feature articles for most of the major Mac magazines. One of my unfortunate decisions, though, was to switch to MacUser just a few months before it was acquired and folded in to Macworld in the 1990s. I was one of the writers with the least seniority, thus I found myself with no more assignments.
These days, it very much appears that the concept of a magazine might be an endangered species, as more and more readers go online to seek out information. Publishers and editors are busy devising ways to keep printed content relevant, and also to integrate that content with the online version, and to add perhaps a variation for the iPad. Some publishers have simply given up and taken everything online.
For me, the printed page holds a special magic, and I would very much regret the passing of physical newsstands and bookstores, and I hope their customers agree. Even Captain Kirk, in the 1982 science fiction movie, “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan,” depicting events in the 23rd century, received a book as a birthday present from Dr. McCoy. Maybe print will never die.
Speaking of reviewing new products, on Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Ray Aguilera, Reviews Editor for Mac|Life, exchanged some of his product evaluation war stories with me, and mentioned a few of his favorite gadgets from Apple and other companies.
You also heard from John Martellaro, of The Mac Observer, who focused on Apple’s efforts to ditch yet another OS technology, Java, from the next version of Mac OS X, and then covered some of the best and some of the most frustrating email clients from various sources, including Apple and Microsoft.
Now after the show was recorded, Apple added the Xserve to its list of discarded products. But the subject of email forms the focus of the two columns that make up this issue.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents veteran UFO researcher Ronald S. Regehr, MUFON’s Deputy Director of Research, who will recount over 50 years of on-site research into some of the major sightings of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
I suppose it’s fair to say that your email app — or the Web-based equivalent — is probably one of the most used pieces software on your Mac or PC. At the same time, it’s the app you take for granted, or at least that goes for most of you.
So if you’re on a Mac, Apple Mail may be your first — and only choice — even though there are other contenders for your time, attention, and managing the message onslaught. On the Windows platform, there’s always Windows Live Mail, the successor to Outlook Express.
The long and short of it is that, unless your email needs are quite sophisticated, just about any program will get the job done. You just need a fairly painless way to add your accounts, sort your messages and, one hopes, protect you from spam and email viruses.
And don’t get me started about whether Macs are more susceptible to viruses nowadays. You may not have a problem with an email borne virus, but if you send an infected message on to a Windows user, you are still the “Typhoid Mary” that may cause someone else loads of grief. There have to be friendlier ways to convince them to dump Windows.
Although I occasionally run into rough spots, and unexplained crashes, I stick with Apple Mail for the simple reason that, overall, it’s probably the best email app out there. Yes, other applications might offer more features, or perhaps more granular options to tailor the look and feel to your specific needs, but Apple Mail is as set it and forget it as you can get.
For business uses, it would appear at first glance that Microsoft ought to offer the best choice. With the arrival of Outlook 2011 for the Mac, an app that pays better heed to the uniqueness of the platform than most Microsoft products, you should be in email heaven, a true mastery of form and function.
Unfortunately, as I’ve observed over the past few weeks, since getting my reviewer’s copy, Microsoft has made a credible start, but has ditched a few features from Outlook’s predecessor, Entourage, along the way, not to mention leaving some ragged edges. For example, you no longer have an email Redirect feature, and the app forgets settings to reveal or hide account folders between restarts.
The other day, after updating my Web server, I reinstalled all my accounts on Outlook, only to once again encounter sudden, unexplained crashes and flaky performance. Unfortunately, the published reviews I’ve seen so far tend to downplay the glitches, but crashes aren’t trivial.
So it appears that I’ll have to wait for a service pack or two before I give it another try.
Mozilla’s contribution, Thunderbird, also seems to promise a fair amount of power, but the programming team, in the interests of cross-platform support, has made some foolish decisions for the Mac version. You cannot, for example, import accounts from other Mac email apps, other than one of Mozilla’s own, of course. There’s even a special version with a Eudora skin, which delivers some of the uniqueness of that venerable email application. Indeed, some of you are probably still using the original, although it was deprecated — development abandoned — several years ago.
I never cottoned to Eudora, although its Identities feature appeals to many, and perhaps the Mozilla rebirth might be a adequate substitute. There’s a variation, MailForge, a shareware product from Infinity Data Systems, which also promises to deliver the best and brightest features from Eudora, although it still needs lots of work. For example, when I set it up under the 30-day trial, I couldn’t get it to recognize the two IMAP accounts I established.
Yes, the settings were entered properly, so far as I could determine. I quit the app, relaunched it, used its email retrieving function, but it never, ever, downloaded any messages. There were no warning prompts about the inability to login to the email server; nothing. And that problem has persisted through every version I’ve ever tried, on several different Macs. While I suppose I should be contacting the publisher’s tech support people, you’d think such basic capabilities ought to be a given and not require special troubleshooting.
Of course, the best email app of all may not be something you install on your Mac, but software that you access via your browser, which will allow it to run on any computing platform.
That, my friends, takes us to my next article.
Webmail ought to be the ideal answer to your email needs. You don’t have to install anything, and you can access it from most any browser, but whether or not such alternatives are suitable to you may be another matter entirely.
Whether your ISP, or one of the no-cost email systems from Hotmail (or Windows Live), Google Gmail, or Yahoo, you can set up an account easily enough, after giving yourself a unique login and password. All offer the basics, such as spam control, being able to organize your messages in folders (the Gmail variation on the theme is accomplished by using Labels rather than actually moving messages), and keeping a simple address book. Some Webmail apps even offer an online calendar, but they’re seldom integrated with Apple’s own iCal, which may be a potential source of confusion.
If you get yourself a Web hosting account for your personal or business site, you have an added advantage, which is the ability to use a custom or vanity domain. Basic domain registration packages, from Namecheap, Go Daddy, 1&1 Internet, and lots more, give you a single email account as part of the bundle. You will also get email forwards (or aliases), which permit you to have several addresses that all forward to a single destination.
So far as Web hosts are concerned, except for the special email packages some offer, the pickings are slim. They usually provide packages affording a few open source email apps, such as Horde, which recalls a Windows interface of the early 1990s, SquirrelMail, which takes you back even further, and RoundCube, which is a perfectly usable app with good performance, but the feature set remains immature. RoundCube is probably a year or two away from an actual 1.0 full-featured release, though the public betas are pretty reliable.
Apple’s MobileMe offers one of the higher-cost retail alternatives, and you’re even able to port your custom domain, so you’re not saddled with a “mac.com” or, worse, “me.com” email address. If you’re unwilling to tolerate targeted ads, Google offers a premium version of Google Apps, at $50 per year per user. It’s better suited to businesses, and you can often do better from an independent company.
The 1&1 Instant Mail package uses a slimmed down version of an open source email app, Open-Xchange (or OX for short), which is meant to mimic the functions of the Microsoft alternative; they offer a costlier full-featured edition that is meant as a direct competitor to Exchange.
You get five 2GB email boxes for 99 cents per month, which seems reasonable, but to avoid some peculiar interface issues, you will want to transfer your domains to 1&1 too. Don’t get me started as to why. Basically, 1&1 offers basically good service, but their tech support, based in the Philippines (except for dedicated server users), is often uninformed and difficult to understand. You’ll also chafe at their rigid product structure, which affords few options to customize a package, and the hoops you have to go through if you want to cancel, which requires logging into a special “Cancel” site and then acknowledging several email messages. But many people love 1&1 for its simplicity.
Go Daddy is precisely the reverse. Basic packages for email, hosting and other services, are inexpensive. But many of the features you’d think should be standard issue, such as the amount of daily SMTP Relays (messages you can send through their servers) you have, or forwards, may involve an extra expense. I’m serious, though the latter are included free when you register your domain with Go Daddy. It’s not that the costs for the options are high — they’re low in the scheme of things — but the persistence and ubiquity of upsells can confound and irritate even the experienced customer. That said, Go Daddy’s email, particularly the Unlimited package, offering 10 mailboxes at $2.99 per month on a one-year contract, is quite decent. The typically flashy interface translates well to their Webmail client, which is fast, attractive more or less, and feature laden even if you don’t buy the options.
As for me, I prefer a desktop email client, and I use the IMAP email protocol so that all my messages are stored on the server, and thus sync with any device I might be using. That means, my desktop Mac, Mac portable and my iPhone. Webmail, to me at any rate, is best reserved to the occasions when I’m logging in from someone else’s computer.
On the other hand, I grant that some of you prefer Webmail for everything. If that’s the case, if your Web host offers it, RoundCube may be the easiest app to manage. Any host that provides cPanel — the best Linux-based Web control panel on the planet — should offer RoundCube as part of the deal. That’s true even with the simplest packages from Namecheap, for example, which cost less than $3.00 per month. 1&1 Instant Mail is decent enough, but early versions of their 2.0 Webmail software were plagued with serious slowdowns. Go Daddy’s “Unlimited” package offers one of the better email deals, if you are able to tolerate their product packaging; you’re not even forced to host your site or register your domains with them. I have long had mixed feelings about Go Daddy, however.
Spam filtering for 1&1 and Go Daddy afford several options to control the strength of the message scanning. Standard Web host packages tend to be bare bones, but if you have control at the “root” level, which means a semi-dedicated or dedicated package, you may be able to experiment and improve the handling of bogus messages.
In previous columns, I’ve reviewed business email offerings from PolarisMail, a Canadian company, and Rackspace, a large U.S. hosting service.
Yes, after all these years, I’m still seeking email nirvana. I’ve tried other apps and plans beyond the ones summarized here, but I’ve yet to achieve that impossible goal. I welcome your suggestions.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Business Development: Gil James Bavel
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis
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