by Jeff Carlson <email@example.com>
I'm surprised at how much I rely on electronic mail. What used to be just another method of communicating has become my main link to the outside world, my to-do list, and a searchable database of projects. On top of that, email enables me to communicate regularly (and inexpensively) with my mother in Sacramento, California, my father in Redmond, Washington, and a collection of friends around the world.
This reliance on electronic communication calls for heavy-duty email software. After using Claris Emailer 1.1v3 for a year and living with some of its limitations, I was eager to try Emailer 2.0. What I've discovered since is a full-featured program with few shortcomings.
A Brief Overview -- The great benefit of using Emailer when it first came out was its capability to handle multiple email accounts. Although one America Online account may be fine for a beginning user, more people now access and manage email from multiple sources. Emailer allows you to send and receive standard Internet mail using POP and SMTP, plus email via CompuServe, AOL, the now-defunct Claris OfficeMail, and RadioMail.
Emailer not only lets you connect to any combination of the above at once (including multiple addresses on any service) but also lets you schedule unattended mail checks. Impatient types can set Emailer to check for mail every two minutes, while calmer users can schedule bulk sends and receives in the middle of the night, or even at designated times on certain days.
Emailer offers a range of encoding and compression options for sending attachments to other computers using different operating systems. Email messages can be composed offline for later transmission, or saved as drafts until you're ready to send them. Emailer also supports Internet Config, which stores your main Internet settings in one location accessible by a number of applications (like Anarchie and Microsoft Internet Explorer).
My Hard Drive is Back! One of the biggest shortcomings of Emailer 1.x is the way it stores messages. It saves each message as an individual file, which can inadvertently consume a huge chunk of disk space. The Mac file system divides a hard disk into 64,000-odd pieces, each of which can be occupied by only one file, or one part of a larger file. On a sizable hard disk (say, 2 GB), that means the minimum amount of space allocated for any file is 32K - even if that file contains only one character! If you have hundreds (or thousands) of small files, that lost space adds up quickly. And if you store hundreds of messages in Emailer 1.x, you might start to believe that a 2 GB hard disk isn't very large.
Emailer 2.0 saves all mail in a main Mail Database file, with a Mail Index file that tracks it. After upgrading to 2.0, a friend of mine reported that he reclaimed about 85 MB from the reduced file overhead alone!
Storing messages in a centralized database also improves performance, since Emailer must open and close far fewer files. Emailer 2.0 can perform multiple simultaneous searches for words, and although the search speed isn't as fast as I would like, I no longer have to go make coffee while conducting search.
If you switch from 1.x to 2.0, I cannot stress too highly the importance of making a backup of your mail files and reading the instructions that come with the program. If you don't follow them to the letter, you may lose data.
For me, the only problem the switch has caused involves synchronizing my mail between the PowerBook and my desktop machine. Where before I had to copy only the added or changed email files, usually no more than 20K each, now I must copy one 25 MB mail database each time. Since I regularly synchronize the two machines, I bought a relatively inexpensive 4-port network hub to create a two-machine Ethernet network at home.
Adjusting to the New Look -- Because I had grown comfortable with the interface in Emailer 1.x, the split-window approach of version 2.0 required some adjustment on my part. Along its left side, the main Browser window displays folders such as In Box and Out Box, plus user-created folders; the contents of the selected folder show on the right. On smaller screens this can feel cramped, requiring experimentation with resizing the message columns - Subject, From/To, Date, Priority - and the vertical bar separating the two main sections. If you prefer to not have email folders and messages parceled within the Browser, you can also open folders as their own windows.
Emailer also has a floating Toolbar window containing buttons for common commands and a floating Connection Status window. For users who don't want to interpret icons, positioning the cursor over a button displays a label that names the button. I'm more oriented toward keyboard shortcuts, so I chose to reclaim precious screen real estate by hiding the Toolbar.
Emailer's new interface has dozens of smaller adjustments that demonstrate the engineers at Claris thought about how people use the product. For example, managing multiple accounts is now easier. Under Emailer 1.x, if I wanted to send a message to a number of people from <firstname.lastname@example.org> instead of <email@example.com>, I had to specify my From address manually for each recipient. In version 2.0, a single pop-up menu allows me to choose from which account all the recipients will receive the mail.
Filing a Mass of Email -- A welcome addition to Emailer 2.0 is its increased flexibility when working with mail folders. You can now create sub-folders within folders, and rename them from the Folder menu. I currently have 56 mail folders, so being able to nest my Article Ideas folder under a main TidBITS folder helps me stay organized and reduces visual clutter.
Each email message includes a pop-up File icon, allowing you to file it in a mail folder quickly. A similar button appears on the Toolbar. You can also drag & drop a message to its intended folder, or (my favorite) press Command-Option-F to bring up a dialog listing folders, select the one you want, and press Return. One nice touch is if you file a message while it's still open, the message window stays onscreen until you close it.
Prioritizing Actions -- The most difficult thing about email is organizing and categorizing what lands in the In Box. Emailer's Priorities and Actions features allows me to at least pretend that I have some control over the bulk of mail that arrives every day.
Mail Actions act as filters for incoming mail, and are, in my opinion, invaluable. Emailer 2.0's Actions have been beefed up from the previous version, adding more options for examining your mail and executing commands based on what it finds. For example, I've set up an informal mailing list for eSCENE, an electronic magazine I edit in my spare time. Whenever anyone sends me a message with "yesmail" as the Subject, Emailer files their message in an eSCENE folder I've created, then automatically sends a confirmation to the sender. I could also choose to automatically add email addresses to my Address Book, forward a message, print a message, add or remove a sender from an Address Group, or run a designated AppleScript. All without a moment's intervention from me.
I use Actions primarily to prioritize incoming mail. Any message can be marked as one of 19 user-defined priorities (Emailer reserves the twentieth for alerts) that can be assigned separate colors. When I receive a piece of email from Adam, Tonya, or Geoff, the message appears in my In Box marked "TidBITS" and colored purple. My other clients have separate colors, and some items (such as press releases) get filed in designated folders for later perusal. By prioritizing the email in my In Box, I can respond to it faster and file the messages in folders.
One notable improvement over version 1.x's automatic filing feature is that Emailer 2.0 tracks unread messages that have been filed. A small envelope appears on folders that contain unread messages, and the folder names appear in bold. From the Mail menu, via the Go to New Mail submenu, you can jump directly to folders with unread mail.
Recently, Fog City Software (the original developer of Emailer) released a set of Mail Actions that attempt to block unsolicited email ("spam") by checking incoming email against a list of domains known for sending large amounts of unsolicited email. Although unsolicited email is a complex topic (see TidBITS-347 for a primer) and I can't vouch for how effective these Mail Actions will be, they might be worth a try if you are tired of receiving email about how to make a billion dollars without even changing out of your pajamas.
The King of Address Books and Other Features -- Without a doubt, Emailer's Address Book rates as one of its coolest features. Not only can you store names and email addresses, but searching is a breeze. When you begin typing in the Filter field, the list dynamically narrows as it finds strings matching what you've typed. In most cases, typing two or three letters narrows the search to the name you want.
Adding names is also a graceful process. Every incoming email message includes a plus (+) button next to the From address; clicking it creates a new entry, with first name, last name, email address, and account filled in. You can also drag & drop an email address onto the Address Book window to create a new entry, or even drop a text file containing a list of email addresses to create a set of new entries at once.
Other improvements include enhanced AppleScript support and integration (including a separate AppleScript menu and sample scripts such as Speak Unread Mail), and a spelling checker that, ironically, flagged "email" and offered no alternative. Also, a fairly comprehensive, context-sensitive online Help system is now standard fare.
Reliable -- There are still a few things that I'd like to see changed: Emailer doesn't support redirected mail like Eudora; pressing Command-D in an open message deletes that message unless you're viewing an Auto File Log, which you must delete from the Browser; and if you add an address to a Group, the address in the Group doesn't update if the original address changes. It would be nice to be able to select multiple messages in the Browser and save them to a single text file. But these are minor details that I've largely been able to route around. As someone who relies heavily on email, I'm impressed and relieved that I can rely on Emailer to handle it.
Emailer 2.0 requires a 68020-based Macintosh or newer, System 7.1 or higher, 9 MB disk space, and 2 to 3 MB RAM. Claris gave Emailer an "estimated street price" of $49, and - in my checking - the street price ranges from $45 to $50. Claris is offering a $10 rebate on upgrades from 1.x, and to owners of various other Apple software. Claris also has a downloadable demo weighing in at about 4.1 MB.
DealBITS -- Through the URL below, Cyberian Outpost is offering TidBITS readers Claris Emailer 2.0 for $42.95, which is $2 off their normal price.