- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

Do you “live” inside your e-mail program as much as I do? Whether it’s work colleagues, family, friends — whatever — I’m spending as much time, if not more, in e-mail conversations as I do on the phone.

But learning about e-mail clients can be frustrating. They are often neglected in computer books. One “comprehensive” guide to an operating system devoted all of three pages to the OS’s built-in e-mail client, and three pages isn’t exactly deep. So a visit to Barnes & Noble yielded a pleasant surprise, “Take Control of Apple Mail,” written by Joe Kissell, published by Peachpit Press of Berkeley, Calif., and edited by two old Mac hands: Adam and Tonya Engst, experts who each have years of Mac experience editing the famed TidBITS e-mail newsletter and Web-zine (www.tidbits.com).

Even though the book only covers the just-before-Mac OS X Tiger version of Mail, I didn’t hesitate in buying the book. Not only did I guess, correctly, that Mr. Kissell would give plenty of tips usable in the Tiger-only 2.0 version of Apple Mail, but the red-letter words in the upper-right corner of the cover clinched the deal: “free updates,” they read, and thereby hangs a tale.

The Engsts and their “co-conspirators” at Peachpit surmise that not everyone has the time to go through an 800-page superbook about a computer topic. They have designed these “Take Control” volumes to be slim (“Apple Mail” is 142 pages, including index) and to the point. What’s more, you can buy them as e-books or in print, with the promised free updates a part of the deal. The e-book files are in the portable document format, or PDF, which are readable on just about any computer.

For $16.99, “Take Control of Apple Mail” provides a crash course — in plain English — on the different kinds of e-mail accounts out there, such as POP, IMAP and Microsoft Exchange. You learn how to set up the Apple Mail software to receive mail from these different kinds of accounts, as well as how to send via them. Early on, Mr. Kissell, a former software development manager, helps readers troubleshoot sending and receiving problems, as well as other issues associated with e-mail, such as how to better and more quickly address messages, and how to read e-mail quickly.

The second half of the book — a separate e-book if you buy the pieces online — deals with spam e-mail, and how to keep it away. Spam is tough enough that many of us can use some help in fighting it, and Mr. Kissell offers his own take on the subject. He analyzes strategies, software and services aimed at stamping out spam. Readers who need this kind of help will appreciate more information, and not less.

But the best thing of all with these “Take Control” books is the updates — and the ability that the publishers have to release these quickly. “Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger,” another title written by Mr. Kissell, debuted on April 29, the same day as the Tiger launch. That’s rather cool, as were the updates to the Apple Mail book, which I downloaded shortly after getting the print volume home.

For now, the series is limited to Mac hardware and software, even though Windows users could arguably be in greater need of such help. Information, and free sample chapters, are online at www.takecontrolbooks.com. If you need Mac help in a hurry, this is one of the best ways to go.

E-mail [email protected] or visit www.kellner.us.

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