by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of our goals with last week's poll was to show people the wide variety of email clients available for the Macintosh. As it has become one of the major forms of communication in today's society, email has turned into a tremendously personal task, and the software you use to read email reflects your individual preferences and uses. So, it's important for the Macintosh world that we have numerous choices of email clients. I may prefer Eudora, but I'll strongly defend the right of all the other email clients to continue to exist. The main source of concern in some parts of the Mac email developer community has been Outlook Express 5.0, which combines a top-notch feature set with a non-existent price tag and an preferential bundling deal with Apple - a hard mix to beat for smaller companies that can't afford the same development resources as Microsoft.
The only solution is for the rest of the Mac email industry to take advantage of Microsoft's competition to innovate like crazy with compelling and unique features. Of course, the other half of the deal is that we in the Macintosh community have to be willing to support whichever program best meets our individual needs, whether it be freeware, shareware, or commercial. If we're not willing to support email developers financially, we will lose a number of the choices we currently enjoy.
The poll proved our most popular yet, stressing our database server's capabilities on Tuesday. Apologies to those who were turned away, but we still recorded more than 3,500 votes. The results, and the email that the poll generated in TidBITS Talk, proved quite interesting. I'll cover each email client below, but to stave off future questions, let me reiterate that you can vote in polls only via the form on our home page, and you may have to scroll down on the page to see the form, depending on your screen resolution. It's especially worth noting that our polls are in no way scientific. Although the increased participation this week would seem to increase the statistical relevance of the results, the fact is that at least four of the clients enjoyed some get-out-the-vote encouragement on their own mailing lists. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it's one vote per person, but you have to take that into account when looking at the results for these products, listed alphabetically.
America Online: 1 Percent -- I found the low results for America Online surprising, since America Online is used by millions of people and we know that over 3,600 TidBITS readers receive their issues via AOL. Assuming that the techniques we use to prevent multiple votes didn't trip up too many AOL users (we had no reports of this, but since all AOL Web hits come from AOL's proxy servers, it's a possibility), the main conclusions I can draw are that AOL users either aren't likely to follow links in email messages, perhaps due to reading mail offline or due to problems with the AOL email client, or that AOL users aren't likely to participate in online polls. It's also possible that TidBITS readers using AOL are more likely to rely on Emailer than AOL's internal email client - this could account in part for Emailer's strong showing. The AOL client software is of course free but requires an AOL account and works only with that account. Frankly, I can't see anyone switching to AOL for email.
Cyberdog: 17 Percent -- Cyberdog's unexpectedly high results are almost certainly the result of voting encouragement in Cyberdog discussion groups (no searchable archives were available): the number of Cyberdog responses jumped significantly late in the week, a significant portion of Cyberdog supporters attempted to enter multiple votes, and we typically only receive about 50 Web hits per week from Cyberdog users. As much as Cyberdog offered some unusual and useful features for email (including Sherlock-style searching of stored mail) both Cyberdog and its underlying technology, OpenDoc, are dead products as far as Apple is concerned. Although there's an enthusiastic user community surrounding OpenDoc and Cyberdog, it's hard to see any future for Cyberdog, and many otherwise happy users have switched to programs that have current development support.
Emailer: 16 Percent -- Even though Emailer's numbers were undoubtedly helped by encouragements on the Emailer-talk mailing list, I still wouldn't have expected so many people to continue relying on Emailer. However, the program still works under Mac OS 9, still offers the unique feature of being able to download mail from AOL, and has attracted a tremendously loyal following. Emailer's future remains unclear, although rumors still swirl around the possibility of Apple building Emailer's functionality into the integrated AppleWorks package. As long as Emailer continues to do the job, I expect it will remain popular with existing users, though I doubt it will attract many new converts. The Unofficial Claris Emailer Page lists several sources from whom you can still buy Emailer for about $30.
Eudora: 37 Percent -- Qualcomm's powerful Eudora ran away with the poll, registering more votes than the two runner-up programs combined, despite not having any outside voting encouragement that I saw. Reasons for Eudora's popularity in this poll probably include our support for it over the years, the depth that the program has gained from over ten years of constant development, and the likelihood that TidBITS readers receive more mail than average Internet users and thus are more interested in using a program designed for serious email users. Eudora's numbers were also probably bolstered by people still using Eudora Light, the free version of Eudora which is showing its age today, but which was among the best email clients available years ago. The $40 Eudora Pro requires a 68020 Mac or later with System 7.1 and at least 900K of RAM. You can download a 7.7 MB 30-day demo. See the "Eudora Pro 4.2" series of articles in TidBITS for details.
Green -- We didn't have room to include Green as a choice on its own, especially since it's still in beta. Green looks as though it offers a full-featured environment for sending and receiving email. It supports multiple accounts, multiple users, filters, flexible searching, and an address book. The main thing lacking in Green is the alphabet soup of Internet standards. Green's developers plan to add support for HTML, LDAP, IMAP, and PGP, along with a spelling checker and some sort of forms support. Green is free for personal use, with a small fee for corporate and educational users. Green requires Mac OS 8.1 and is a 921 K download.
Mailsmith: 3 Percent -- Bare Bones Software's $80 Mailsmith garnered decent numbers (thanks in part to users mentioning the poll on its mailing list), considering that it's a commercial email client that entered the market at a time when competition from commercial clients was fierce and decent free email clients narrowed the pool of possible buyers. Mailsmith remains worth checking out for people who want powerful searching and scripting combined with the text-editing power that Mailsmith draws from Bare Bones Software's BBEdit text and HTML editor. The 30-day demo of Mailsmith is a 4.1 MB download.
Musashi -- The other new mail client we didn't ask about explicitly was Musashi, a shareware program that offers many powerful features for email. Musashi supports multiple accounts, multiple users, and multiple signatures, message filtering, searching, message templates, and support for sending and receiving attachments in BinHex, AppleDouble, AppleSingle, and uuencode. Musashi also features background mail transfer, custom colors for different mailboxes, and support for manipulation of messages on the server and a plug-in architecture. A svelte 600K download, Musashi costs $33 if you decide you want to use it after 40 days and is available in English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, and German versions.
Mulberry: 1 Percent -- Cyrusoft's $40 Mulberry's isn't well known, so its small numbers weren't surprising, especially since over 90 percent of Mulberry users are site licenses, which may account for more users than would necessarily vote in a TidBITS poll. Those of you who use IMAP would do well to check out Mulberry, which started life as an IMAP-only client and added POP support only in version 2.0 (in public beta currently). Although I haven't done a full comparison, Mulberry would seem to be the most fully featured IMAP client available for the Mac, and it's not lacking in other features either, such as multiple accounts, flexible searching with multiple criteria, address expansion, a PGP plug-in for sending and receiving secure mail, and background sending of mail. The Mulberry 30-day demo is a 7.8 MB download.
Netscape Communicator: 7 Percent -- I'm surprised that Netscape Communicator's results weren't higher, given that the program is free, bundled with Macs, and used by 30 to 40 percent of the people who come to our Web site each week. It's possible that despite Netscape Communicator's email capabilities, people who started using the program when it was merely the Web browsing Netscape Navigator haven't switched away from their previous email client. In addition, although Netscape Communicator sports all the basic features for email and supports most new Internet email standards, the program lacks the depth of some the more-focused email programs. Netscape Communicator is free, requires a PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 7.6.1 or later, and is a 12.9 MB download.
Outlook Express: 12 Percent -- I'm also surprised that Outlook Express's numbers weren't higher, given the program's almost ubiquitous distribution, free price, and solid feature set - plus encouragement on its unofficial mailing list that users participate in the poll. It's likely that Outlook Express is used far more by new Macintosh users who stick with the default email client on their iMac and never explore sufficiently to find out about TidBITS, much less participate in our polls. Nevertheless, Outlook Express offers multiple accounts, IMAP support, a Mailing List Manager, a powerful address book, scheduled events, and message histories. Outlook Express 5.0 requires a PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 8.1 or later and is a 12.5 MB download.
PowerMail: 1 Percent -- PowerMail has suffered in large part from being written by a small Swiss company with few marketing resources, which accounts for its low numbers. The $50 program has also had a star-crossed history: the first version was a full-featured PowerTalk email client that shipped just weeks before Apple killed PowerTalk. PowerMail's current claims to fame are its indexed Sherlock-style searching, support for POP and IMAP, and WorldScript support for those using multiple languages or script systems. All the other basic features are present, including powerful filters, AppleScript support, background mail transfer, multiple signatures, message labels, and more. A 30-day demo in either English or French is available as a 4.4 MB download.
QuickMail Pro: 1 Percent -- CE Software's venerable QuickMail Pro has undergone significant metamorphoses in the last few years, moving from a proprietary LAN-based email client/server solution to a stand-alone email client and a set of server programs that support Internet standards but offer additional features when working together. The $40 QuickMail Pro client supports multiple accounts, hierarchical mail folders, automatic email address completion, per-recipient enclosures, background mail transfer, message stationery, and a spell checker. QuickMail Pro requires a 68040 Mac or later with 16 MB of RAM and Mac OS 7.6.1 or later. A 30-day demo is available as a 6.5 MB download.
Web-based Email: 0 Percent -- This result surprised me. Only four people said they were using a Web-based email client to read their email. Yet Microsoft claims tens of millions of users for Hotmail, and services like Yahoo Mail are also reportedly heavily used. We even know that we have about 1,000 of these addresses on our distribution list, which leads me to believe that many people use Web-based email as a secondary account or forwarding service, use Outlook Express to avoid the Hotmail Web-based client, or aren't heavy email users who read TidBITS and participate in our polls. Personally, I've never been impressed with the interfaces offered by Web email clients; it's difficult to simulate a complex multiple window interface in a Web browser successfully. However, the benefit of needing only a Web browser to check email from anywhere is compelling at times.
Other: 2 Percent -- One problem with this poll is that we were limited to listing only Macintosh email clients and only the main ones at that, since there are a variety of other programs that might have garnered only a single vote or two. Some, like Dartmouth College's BlitzMail, we left out because they were too limited in distribution, and others, like SoftArc's FirstClass, we left out because email is only a part of a larger package. Plus, many people read TidBITS using Windows or Unix email clients, and bringing them into the mix would have proved far too confusing. Nonetheless, thanks to all who participated in our poll, and I hope you found the results both interesting and potentially useful, should you decide in the future to choose a new email client.