Getting out from under Outlook, Part 2

* Clean out your inbox, then test drive these new clients

Changing e-mail clients can be a giant pain. Most of that pain is caused by people using their e-mail client as a junk drawer stuffed with hundreds or thousands of messages. This archival method risks your data (Outlook and Outlook Express get weird when holding lots of old messages) and makes it harder to search, sort and organize.

Get those old messages out. Store them in a personal information manager (PIM) or text database. If you don't have either, save each message folder as a text file and stick them in a folder on your hard disk. That way you can back them up properly and search them by desktop search programs. After cleaning out your e-mail, you can switch to a new e-mail client more easily.

Every non-Microsoft e-mail client will import your address book information fairly well. They also offer to import messages, but don't do that or you'll never clean up your e-mail junk.

Most small business e-mail users rely on basic e-mail features. No fancy applications automatically fill spreadsheets based on e-mailed information, and the only shared calendar hangs on the wall. Millions of such users can change their e-mail client application easily, if they find one they like.

All modern e-mail clients include some level of spam filtering and other security protections. Most include a serious contact database as their address book, making it possible to use your e-mail client as your only address book.

My current client is Thunderbird (free) from Mozilla, the open source group that makes the Firefox browser. The e-mail client and browser work well together. Junk filters grab most spam automatically. New messages can go into a common inbox or a separate inbox for each account. I view all messages in text form for security (avoiding HTML exploits that can cause security problems), but Thunderbird also shows HTML messages without images to avoid unexpected pictures.

The only thing I don't like is the inability to delete attachments without deleting the entire e-mail message. This type of issue only comes up when you live with a client for a couple of weeks, so try each client out before committing.

Another popular option is Eudora. There are three  versions: limited-feature (free), ad-supported (free) and paid ($50).  I haven’t used this for a few years, but many more friends swear by it than swear at it.

Old timers will smile to see Pegasus Mail (free), one of the earliest e-mail clients. You can still get a DOS e-mail client from Pegasus, believe it or not. 

Winning the award for interesting names, The Bat e-mail client comes in Home ($45) and Pro ($58)  versions. Neither is free, but both offer 30 day trial periods. They also offer virus protection, templates and an interesting organizational tool called Virtual Folders to group messages. 

Poco Systems has two clients: PocoMail ($45) is a Outlook Express replacement, and the newer Barca ($60) and Barca Pro ($80) clients, which include many of the PIM features from Microsoft's Outlook. If you like the full Outlook package features but don't share your calendar, check out Barca Pro.

My sentimental favorite, Calypso, was developed by a company in the Dallas area and I was slightly involved. Rose City Software bought Calypso and offers the last Calypso client free, as well as an upgraded version for $30, called Courier.

Regardless of whether you change your e-mail client, unload the junk hiding in your e-mail folders so you can better protect those messages and get to them through normal search programs. And if you're ready for more security and reliability in e-mail clients, all of these either match or exceed what you're used to from Microsoft.

FYI: People in Houston, Seattle, Chicago and New York City should check out the free Network World Small and Midsize Business Technology Tour in those cities in May: http://www.nwfusion.com/events/remoteofficenetworking/index.html Introduce yourself at a seminar and I'll give you a free gift.

Learn more about this topic

Getting out from under Outlook, Part 1

Network World, 03/21/05

Remote Office Networking Technology Tour

Thunderbird

Mozilla.org

Eudora

Pegasus Mail

The Bat

Ritlabs

PocoMail, Barca and Barca Pro

Calypso

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