- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

At a time when "snail mail" is sadly fraught with danger, electronic mail often derided for carrying "spam" is looking more and more attractive.

Estimates of e-mail growth were strong: On Sept. 17, market researchers IDC estimated that the number of worldwide e-mail mailboxes is expected to increase at a 138-percent growth rate, from 505 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion in 2005. The firm also expects the number of person-to-person e-mails sent on an average day will exceed 36 billion worldwide in the next four years.

That's a lot of e-mail.

Some thoughts and tips about the best software to use and other e-mailing tactics, particularly if electronic communication is either a bit new to your world, or perhaps has become a bit mundane.

First, the right software does matter. In the PC arena, Microsoft Outlook Express is free, as part of the firm's Internet Explorer software, it's pretty neat, and lots of people use it. It's a simple e-mail program with an equally simply address book. Those wanting more from their e-mail can check out Microsoft's PIM, Outlook 2002, which sells for around $104 online, or which comes as part of the Office XP suite. Details on Outlook Express can be found at www.microsoft.com/ Windows/oe/, while information on the Office range of software is online at www.microsoft.com/ officexp.

But Outlook isn't the only e-mail "client" you can use. Lots of folks like Eudora, which is free in its advertising-supported version, available for download at www.eudora.com. The plusses of Eudora include an easy-to-use interface, sophisticated tools with which you can organize and filter e-mail, and even a "mood check" to make sure the note you're sending to your boss doesn't upset him: "Dear sir, you pompous sack of beans" would probably be flagged by the filter. Also, the ad-supported free Opera Web browser (www.opera.com) has an e-mail package that's also very good. Both Eudora and Opera can be used without the advertising if you're willing to pay for a software license. Again, though, it's nice to have these for free.

Last but certainly not least on our tour of Web browsers that come with e-mail is Netscape 6 (www.netscape.com), which includes a very powerful e-mail client with the browser, and the only one (apart from the actual service) that'll send and receive your AOL e-mail. Very neat and very free, without the ads.

But all this talk of Web browsers should bring up the fact that there are several free, Web-based e-mail services: Hotmail (www.hotmail.com), Yahoo mail (mail.yahoo.com) and Excite mail (www.excite.com) among them, along with Netscape Mail, too. These services let you send and receive messages, free of charge (you pay for your Internet access of course), and the Yahoo service not only handles attachments, but also will scan incoming and outgoing e-mail attachments for viruses and the like.

The free e-mail services have limits on the amount of e-mail you can store on their systems, and some, like Yahoo, will try to sell you larger online e-mail boxes if you plan to keep a lot of mail out there. But overall, the ability to walk up to just about any Internet terminal anywhere on Earth and send and receive your e-mail is a blessing, particularly since there's no cost other than access.

I've mentioned e-mail etiquette before in this space about a year back, if memory serves but it bears repeating, especially during anxious times.

One, keep e-mail messages short when you can. It takes time and effort to go through a bunch of e-mails and the shorter the messages, the better for all concerned. Brevity is not only the soul of wit, it's the essence of effective e-mail.

But don't forget courtesy when e-mailing. Your message is still being read by a real, live person at least that's the hope and it's better to be nice than nasty. I still haven't figured out why, but it seems that e-mail brings out some of the worst in people. In my view, it's best to avoid joining that crowd.

Attachments to e-mail now merit attention. Along with bandwidth issues (someone receiving a big e-mail at 56 kbps might not appreciate it as much as someone with a cable modem), many e-mail programs (such as Outlook 2002) will reject some kinds of attachments. Bottom line, make sure you know what software and security settings your intended recipient has before trying to send an attached file.

Finally, use an anti-virus program to scan e-mail, if you're creating, sending and receiving mail on your PC. Most major anti-virus programs offer this feature, and it's worth using. Losing a hard disk full of data, however tragic, is nothing compared with the postal drama being played out right now, but data loss to computer viruses can be prevented and should be.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenalineradio.com every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern Time.

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