Getting out from under Outlook, Part 1

Assessing your options, determining your needs

Recently I recommended getting away from Outlook Express and Outlook , the two e-mail clients from Microsoft. Outlook Express comes with Windows; the full Outlook client comes with Microsoft Office. Several readers - tired of fighting worms and viruses delivered by these programs - demanded to know their options, so here goes.

Outlook Express users have plenty of choices, because Express includes few advantages over most other standard POP3 e-mail clients. The full Outlook client feature list, however, includes integration with correspondents’ calendars and close ties to Office applications, at least when using a Microsoft Exchange Server. But that also bumps the price way up.

Outlook users relying on shared calendars and workflow systems grafted onto Exchange have no escape. Microsoft drew you in with some nifty features and no other vendor has a real Outlook and Exchange killer, especially since Novell's GroupWise marketing failures have kept it under 10% market share, and that’s slipping fast.

But those workflow systems only justify the expense if everyone uses Outlook. If you have users who don’t, you’re free to switch because the system isn’t working as intended.

A collaboration option for small companies or those who don't want the expense of an Exchange server is a Web portal service (QuickBase.com, SalesForce.com, HyperOffice.com, etc.) with shared calendars, document folders and databases. Such services, which I'll look at again soon, cost a few dollars per month, per user rather than thousands for an Exchange server and software, plus ongoing maintenance from Microsoft or your IT support dealer.

Most people use non-collaborative e-mail clients, which I break down three ways: Microsoft (Outlook and Express), other POP3 clients, and browsers for Web-based e-mail.

Aggravated with poor security, I have never relied on a Microsoft e-mail client. I currently use Thunderbird, the free open source program from Mozilla, which works well with its Firefox browser.

I read and write all e-mail as text, not HTML, to avoid security problems of HTML-triggered applications within e-mails and tracking features used by some spammers. Using my e-mail client in text mode also blocks pictures, a critical feature for combating spam and porn.

Next week we'll talk about the most popular non-Microsoft client options. In the meantime, think about your current e-mail client, and focus on what you want to improve. How many e-mail accounts do you check regularly? If you check several, do you want all new messages to go into one inbox or a different inbox for each account? Thunderbird allows either option with its newest version. I prefer the multiple inbox method so I can see where messages came from with one glance, but some friends tell me they prefer a single inbox.

Almost all non-Microsoft e-mail clients provide free spam filtering at some level. Do you want to read RSS feeds through your e-mail client? Microsoft clients don't handle these without add-ons, but some other clients do.

No one e-mail application will satisfy every user in a company, so you might want to support two or three, or force everyone to use the same product. Want to host your own e-mail server? Want to make it easy to back up everyone's e-mails? Want an address book with contact notes as part of your e-mail client or the leanest client possible? Make a list, then report back here next week.

FYI: People in Dallas (my area), San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and New York City should check out the free Network World Remote Office Networking Technology Tour in those cities in April.  Introduce yourself at a seminar, and I'll give you a free gift.

Learn more about this topic

Circumventing Microsoft

Network World, 03/14/05

Beware the Ides of Microsoft

Network World, 02/28/05

Thunderbird

Mozilla.org

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Related:

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in