The road to better e-mailing starts with choosing the right software. Whether you're an occasional user who needs to send messages with attached files to a client every other month (without asking someone else for help) or you live from crisis to crisis on the Internet and receive tons of messages a day, there's a software package to help you set up a smooth-running electronic mailing center.
Your Cyberlife: Slave to the Internet
The Challenge: Track and organize hundreds of critical messages; ferret out junk e-mail.
Power Tools: Eudora Pro 2.2; Z-Mail for Windows 4.0.
If your company doesn't automatically give you an Internet account, you can sign up on your own with a dozen different access providers. Trouble is, the software that comes with the new account usually doesn't offer much in terms of managing e-mail.
Many Internet access providers kick in a copy of Netscape Communications' much ballyhooed Navigator. It's the standard by which all World Wide Web browsers are judged, meaning it's great for looking at snazzy graphics from computers in Finland. Navigator allows you to compose and read messages offline, but it lacks handy tools such as a spell checker, and it doesn't enable you to filter out junk e-mail. That means Navigator leaves you vulnerable to "spamming" — the '90s version of getting swamped with unsolicited advertisements.
To take control of your electronic in-box, you need a dedicated software package designed specifically for the task. Of the several currently on the market, two packages for Windows and Macintosh computers are worth your time and money: Eudora Pro 2.2 and Z-Mail for Windows 4.0.
Eudora Pro 2.2 is named in honor of Eudora Welty for her short story, "Why I Live at the P.O." It enables you to filter out unwanted messages, such as those that exceed a predetermined word count or those from specific senders. Once you set up the filters, you can automatically route messages to specific folders. Forwarding, redirecting, attaching files, and replying to messages is a single-button task.
Need more bells and whistles? Get Z-Mail for Windows 4.0. It matches all of Eudora Pro's capabilities, and also lets you use keywords to search for previously read messages and files. Road warriors will appreciate Z-mail's mailbox synchronizer, which keeps mail from getting lost when you return from your travels and upload your files into your computer. A warning: the extensive options for sorting and searching for messages are sophisticated and will take a few days to master.
Geek Factor: Eudora Pro enables you to highlight the CFO's message in red. Z-Mail lets you respond to multiple requests for the same info with a canned reply "All invoices are handled on a 90-day billing cycle. For further inquiries send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org" .
Weak Factor: Setting up either package may take two tech-support phone calls: one to your Internet provider, one to the e-mail software company.
Coordinates: Netscape Navigator, $49. Netscape Communications Corp., 415-528-2555; http://www.netscape.com ; Eudora Pro 2.2, $89. Qualcomm Inc., 800-238-3672; http://www.eudora.com/ . Z-Mail for Windows 4.0, $165. NCD Software Corp., 415-898-8649; http://www.ncd.com/
Your Cyberlife: Online Multipersonality
The Challenge: Collect e-mail from different accounts on different services.
Power Tools: E-Mail Connection 2.5; Claris Emailer 1.0.
Your company has moved and you've set up a new Internet account. You still have the company's old CompuServe account, and there's your personal account on AOL. Suddenly you're using three e-mail addresses — which consumes hours a week.
The solution is a "universal in-box." It uses a single software program that manages a variety of online services plus an Internet account. It can automatically dial each account and send and receive all your messages.
E-Mail Connection 2.5 for Windows is the leading package. In addition to the standard mailing features, E-Mail Connection lets you configure it to access your CompuServe, Internet, MCI Mail, and Prodigy accounts, as well as cc: Mail/Notes or Netware MHS addresses. It drops all your incoming e-mail into a single box. E-Mail Connection even tells you where mail originated. And it's "intelligent" enough to know the various rules that apply to outgoing mail and how to route it.
If you're a Macintosh user and you want something simpler, there's Claris Emailer 1.0. It can handle e-mail on the Internet and also on a number of online service providers, including eWorld, CompuServe, and America Online. But it also has a couple of kinks: for example, you can't do a "find" search for a particular text string in your messages.
Geek Factor: E-Mail Connection can reroute messages. If you know, for example, that Ted uses an account on GEnie but you want to send him a note from MCI Mail, you just put his name in the program's address book and E-Mail Connection figures out how to get it there.
Weak Factor:The current version of E-Mail Connection doesn't have a hookup for America Online accounts. Its database of messages can't be compressed, so you'll need plenty of hard-disk space. Wait for the forthcoming version 3.0, due out any day now, which will solve these problems.
Coordinates: E-Mail Connection 2.5, $49.95. ConnectSoft Inc., 800-234-9497; http://www.connectsoft.com. Claris Emailer 1.0, $69. Claris Corp., 800-544-8554; http://www.claris.com
Your Cyberlife: The Manager
The Challenge: Organize and track your e-mail so it meshes with your daily work flow.
Power Tools: Internet Chameleon 4.5; ECCO PRO 3.0.
If you're on a Windows PC, you can use two software packages in tandem to manage your e-mail and daily business chores — without juggling half-a-dozen programs. The two packages, Internet Chameleon 4.5 and ECCO PRO 3.0, are marketed separately. But they can work hand in hand, and they're worth the price.
Internet Chameleon 4.5 doubles as a Web browser and an Internet e-mail package, while ECCO PRO 3.0 is an extensive personal information manager. If you buy both, you can use ECCO's address book as a daily planner without sacrificing sophisticated e-mail management features.
Chameleon includes standard mail management tools such as a spell-checker, the capacity to write messages offline, and filters for automatically sorting incoming messages. The program lets you set up a standard e-mail template; search for a message header so you can forward mail or store it in a particular folder; and count the number of messages in each folder.
ECCO PRO, on the other hand, is a full-featured organizer. There's a full address book, replete with contact histories on each person, an expense-tracking tool, and a calendar with daily, weekly, and monthly views. It even has a pop-up window to remind you that you've scheduled a meeting.
With a click of the mouse, Internet Chameleon and ECCO PRO can match a mystifying e-mail address with the person's proper name and your contact history in ECCO's address book.
Geek Factor: A utility called NEWTShooter lets you jump directly to e-mail. So when you're reading a report and want to check a paragraph with a coworker, just highlight the passage and click the NEWTShooter to create an e-mail message.
Weak Factor: Internet Chameleon takes work to set up; some of its advanced tools can be hard to find.
Coordinates: Internet Chameleon 4.5, $35; ECCO PRO 3.0, $139. NetManage Inc., 408-973-7171; http://www.netmanage.com .
John R. Quain (email@example.com) is a contributing editor at Fast Company and appears regularly on the CBS News program "Up to the Minute."
"Get Your Modem Running"
"Mute The Mail"
"E-Mail for the Masses"
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.