Choosing e-mail programs:

Which one's for you?

Every e-mail program offers different features, and each of us has different needs. A look at some of the fundamental differences between e-mail programs can help you decide what's best for you.

One of the first things to consider is where your electronic mailbox will be. Few of us want to run an electronic mail service on our desktop computer; it's much more efficient to let some other computer collect your mail for you and use your own computer to access it. For many Emory departments, the computer running the mail service is the department's local area network server. The most common example is the Pegasus Mail system, which runs on a Novell server. If you use a mailbox on your department's server, you probably don't have much choice about which program to use for accessing it.

You may prefer to use a mailbox that's on a more universally accessible server, like the Eagle/Dooley computer cluster or the LearnLink system. That way, it's easier to get access to your mail from different locations, such as home and work.

Various programs can read mail from your Dooley/Eagle mailbox. You can use a Telnet program, which makes your computer act like a dumb terminal, to log onto Dooley/Eagle and run Pine. Pine is a program that runs on the Dooley/Eagle system itself. Pine is easy to access from an office or home, but it doesn't take advantage of the power of your desktop computer.

Another approach is to use a mail program that runs on your own desktop computer, to get the mail from your Dooley/Eagle mailbox. This way, you can take advantage of the processing power of your own system. You can use your mouse to click on buttons and pull down menus. It's easier to cut and paste text between your word processor and your e-mail and it's easier to print. It's also much easier to send and receive nonmessage files attached to mail.

Some desktop mail programs use the Post Office Protocol (POP) to talk to Dooley/Eagle. Eudora uses POP as does the e-mail function in Netscape. POP programs download your mail to your computer's disk for storage. This approach works fine if you only work from one computer, but if you use an additional laptop computer, or a second computer at home, you won't be able to find the mail that you downloaded at the office.

Other programs use a more flexible approach to communicate with Dooley/Eagle-the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). IMAP programs represent the best of both worlds- they can take advantage of the power of your desktop computer, but they leave your mail on Dooley/Eagle so you can get to it from different computers. Two IMAP programs that ITD currently supports are Mail Drop (for Mac OS) and PC-Pine (for Windows).

Unfortunately, Mail Drop and PC-Pine are part of the first generation of IMAP programs, so they're not very rich with features. One newer IMAP program with plenty of features is Simeon, by ESYS Corp. Others are the upcoming releases of Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer-web browsers with support for electronic mail and other communication tools.

These programs use a newer version of IMAP called IMAP4, plus other technologies to provide more features, including access to your address book from anywhere. An ITD-sponsored committee is working to identify a few IMAP4 programs to recommend and support. It is considering ideas generated at a recent conference session titled "E-mail Futures." (See < EmailFuture.html>.)

Finally, many people at Emory use FirstClass, the bulletin-board program that forms the basis of Emory's LearnLink system. FirstClass comes with its own program and communication method for accessing your mailbox on the FirstClass server. It has a friendly interface, is easy to use from home and includes lots of functions in addition to e-mail.

As you choose which electronic mail program to use, you should consider the software your department uses, whether you will read your mail at more than one computer, whether you appreciate a friendly, graphical interface and the special features you'd like to have. Talk to your local computing support specialist or call the Computing Information Center at 727-5250 for help.


Steve Taylor is manager of Woodruff Library's Faculty Information Technology Center in the Information Technology Division.

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