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Which Email Client Should I Use?

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Scott M. Morris

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Posted: 15 Dec 2004

Electronic mail has to be one of the greatest inventions ever. It's probably my medium of choice for communication. I'm always on the lookout for a great email client. My desktop has seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 different email applications. What's with the obsession? Let's just say that I'm very particular with the software that I use. I like it how I like it, and that's how I like it.

So, how does one decide which program best fits their needs? This was the question of the day for me. For me to make an adequate decision, I needed a systematic method for selection that would be thorough and comprehensive. Sitting down at my desk, I began to list out some important factors that would help me choose which email client would be the best fit for me. An overview of these factors is as follows:

  1. Where will you be using the email client?
  2. Is the application secure?
  3. Does the program allow for customizing email messages?
  4. Is the interface laid out well? Is it intuitive?
  5. Does the program contain tools for fighting spam?

First off, where will you be using the email client? Will you be using it at home, at work, or somewhere else? You will have contrasting requirements depending on where you are using it. If it is at work, for example, you may need a more comprehensive set of tools, than if you are at home. You may need an easy way to swap contacts, delegate tasks, or share a schedule. If you are emailing from home, you may decide that features such as these are not necessary.

Is the email application secure? This should be one of the most important questions. Many millions of computers per year are breached through malicious email attachments. Unfortunately, the email clients offered by Microsoft are not secure. This is why these machines are compromised. You should not have to be a computer genius to be entitled to the security of your computer. The email client should not be vulnerable to malicious content or attachments.

If you are as paranoid as I am, you may look for some of the extra measures available in some email clients. Many offer the ability to encrypt and digitally sign email messages. This ensures that the message was sent by the person it claims it was sent from. It also ensures that no one else can read private correspondence.

Does the program offer text-only viewing of email? Many times, images embedded into HTML email are used by spammers to verify that your email address is real, and that you are using the account actively. Once they have verified that your address is legitimate, it is a spam target forever. You will never be able to rid yourself of it. This is one reason that I absolutely require a client that, while it can view HTML email, I at least have the option of viewing it text-only by default.

Do you like to add a personal touch to your email? Do you like to compose email with the ability to format your text? Do you like different color, size, and fonts? Do you have stationery that you use when sending out email? You might decide that you do want to be able to compose HTML email, in these cases. It certainly breaks up the monotony to add a little color once in a while. Thus, you may want an email client that can send HTML email messages.

How clean and attractive is the interface (or main window) of the application? Can you find your way around? Or is it cluttered? In some cases, the features I was looking for were very hard to find inside of the software. The application's menus were not intuitive. The features were not in the menus where they should have been. Look for something that feels easy to use to you personally, but don't feel that you have to sacrifice power for ease of use. The best email client should have them both.

Does the software contain tools for combating spam? In many cases, when you ask spammers to remove your email account from their lists, they instead will sell it to others as a verified address. Any more, you have to attack spam as it comes into your inbox. But why should you have to weed through all the trash to get to the messages you really want? It is my full expectation that my email client will do this for me. Many email applications have spam filters. They give you the ability to create rules to sort through the messages as they come in. Some programs, however, actually have artificial intelligence engines built into them. They say, "I think this is spam. If it isn't, tell me, and I will adjust my own settings." Gradually, as you train the engine, it learns how to filter the spam itself. These are some of the powerful and amazing tools that are available today.

In a day and age where electronic correspondence makes up a large part of our online experience, we might as well make that experience an enjoyable one. Consider the needs that you have. Think about the functionality that you want. Write them out in a spreadsheet (example). Then, go through the available email clients one by one and take note in the spreadsheet of which programs have the features that you want. Search until you find the perfect fit for you. Your email experience will be so much sweeter.

In the next few weeks, I will be reviewing several of the most popular email clients. We will see how they stack up against each other. Which one comes out on top? Join with me in the search for the ultimate email software. If you have an email application that you would like reviewed, please let me know.

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