Everybody knows that this week’s virus-storm has hit so hard because everyone runs Outlook; so one way to improve the situation is to not run Outlook. Herewith consideration of some pros and cons, and a look at a few email alternatives, including Eudora, Mozilla, and Pegasus.
Outlook · I’ve never heard anyone claim that Outlook is the world’s best email client. On the other hand, it’s not that bad; I’ve used it, and it’s not dramatically worse than the current state of the art in email clients.
The one thing that maddened me was that it hid my email away somewhere I couldn’t find it and couldn’t run Perl scripts or indexers over it. And of course, since everyone else is running the same software, every deranged virus writer and bored script kiddie in the world has you as their target. While Microsoft does take security seriously these days, it’s going to be tough to get Outlook really properly nailed down because there’s a lot of legacy code in there, and the original central architectural precept was to focus on responsiveness not security.
Of course, there are a certain number of people who are stuck with Outlook forever, because their employer has bought into Outlook calendaring and they build their weeks around that.
For everyone else, there are email clients that are either free or real cheap, and just as good if not better, and essentially virus-proof. Why on earth would you not switch?
A Word on Sobig · I’d been puzzled as to why it was that this cut of Sobig got so big so quickly. Among other things, I would have thought that 99% of the population had pretty well learned not to click on attachments unless they were really, really sure. I read (but didn’t bookmark, sigh) a story that might provide some explanation; it said that in China, where email is relatively newer and people are less battle-hardened, some twenty million people were Sobig-infected.
Our sympathies go out to our Chinese brethren, but let’s hope that a few million lessons have been learned.
Alternatives · I’m going to present a few alternatives, selected on the basis that I or someone in the family has used them. All but one run on Windows, but I should note that a really good way to get yourself out of the script-kiddies’ cross-hairs is to move to a different operating system.
Each of these has been proven to be able to handle massive volumes of email traffic, and huge archives of back-email.
Eudora · This has been around for an awfully long time, long enough to have become pretty usable and pretty robust and pretty full-featured. I used it as my main email client for years, and my only real operational gripe was that it didn’t do a very good job on HTML-formatted email, something that’s getting harder and harder to ignore.
I stopped using it last year when I made the Windows-Mac switch and Eudora woudn’t come along, irritating since Eudora got its start on the Mac. Maybe it’s better now, but at that point Eudora suffered from the bane of commercial software everywhere: a support line where you wait on hold for a long time to talk to a clueless dweeb who knows less than you do.
In terms of filtering and mailboxing and so on, Eudora is no worse than anything else.
Mozilla · This is what I use now. Given its Netscape heritage going back to the early nineties, you’d have to call it mature software. It seems to pretty well just work, its filtering and aliasing and so on provide everything I need, and since it’s part of Mozilla it has no trouble with HTMLized mail.
It also has the virtue that its mailbox files are out in the open where you can get at them, and if you think you might be changing operating systems any time in the next decade, wherever you go Mozilla is there, and wherever Mozilla is, it works about the same.
It’s easy to report bugs (not that there are many) and when you do, they get fixed.
If I think really hard I can come up with three gripes. On the Mac, Moz looks klunky compared to more native apps, and its dialogue boxes and scrollbars in particular are not up to Mac standards. Second, when you click on a URI it insists on launching the Moz browser, which is OK unless you prefer another browser; but there’s a solution in the works in the form of the up-and-coming Thunderbird project, which is the Moz mail stuff without the browsing stuff. Finally, on the Mac at least, Mozilla does click-through, which means that when you just want to bring it to the top to see which mailboxes have new stuff, you have to be really careful where you click or you might be looking at the traffic in that project-you’re-trying-to-ignore.
Mail.app · This is the Mac’s native email client. It’s lovely to look at and well-designed, got all the filtering goodies and so on. The reason I can’t use it is that it won’t talk properly to Antarctica’s IMAP server, which is a perfectly ordinary Linux setup, go figure. Presumably a few more years of development will take care of this. I also had real trouble moving mailboxes around.
Pegasus · This is what Lauren uses, and her email load is right up there with mine. It’s Windows-only freeware, I’m not sure how the work is supported. Once again, a competitive set of features, Lauren says “It suits the way I work.”
She says the things she likes are the multiple identity management and in particular, the distribution-list handling, which is better than the rest. She runs a big conference for part of her living, and is always doing mail blasts to speakers and reviewers and committees, so this matters a lot to her.
Non-GUI · A lot of the people I know with the world’s heaviest email loads are still using Pine (a standalone system developed at U.Washington) or Gnus, which comes with Emacs.
It’s kind of weird that I’m not using Gnus since I’m at this moment typing this essay into Emacs; the one time I tried, the learning curve was just too steep; there was a keystroke for everything and that was just too many keystrokes to remember.
People who use Pine or Gnus seem to love them and sneer at the thought of going GUI.
Old Anecdote · “Doctor, it hurts when I do this!” “Well, don’t do that!”