Thinking Outside The (Windows) Box, Part 3: Free Mail Clients

While many businesses depend on Microsoft and its various product suites, alternatives exist, some of which are not well known. Part three of this series examines free e-mail clients.
p>Over the past decade, electronic mail has become a mission critical business application, surpassing snail mail, phone calls, and paging to dominate inter-office communication. Enterprise employees are usually stuck with IT-mandated clients used with groupware servers like Microsoft Exchange, Novell GroupWise, and IBM Lotus Notes. But small business workers and home users are often free to choose their own mail clients.

Outlook Express is factory-installed on Windows PCs, but as discussed in Part 1 of this series, there can be better, safer, faster alternatives. Here in Part 3, we take a look at several free mail clients for Windows PCs: MemeCode i.Scribe, Mozilla Thunderbird, Opera Mail, Pegasus Mail, and Qualcomm Eudora.

MemeCode i.Scribe
MemeCode Software
Sydney, Australia

MemeCode i.Scribe

This freeware mail client can be used on Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Linux (2.4 or higher), and BeOS r5, requiring a minimum 1.2 MB disk and 6 MB RAM. We ran i.Scribe version 1.88 from a USB fob, inserted into a Windows XP SP1 PC.

Click to view larger imageThis compact, fast program supports POP3, (E)SMTP, and IMAP protocols, relayed through SOCKS or web proxies as needed. Integrated contact and calendar functions are also included (see figure at right). Extras like spell check, LDAP services, and GnuPG or SSL encryption can be added as plug-ins. Messages are viewed through a built-in HTML engine, but those who prefer to display mail with Internet Explorer can do so with a plug-in.

A Windows installer is available, but not really required. We just expanded the zip onto a 128 MB USB fob, ran the i.Scribe executable, replied to an initial mail folder prompt, and configured POP account settings. The freeware i.Scribe is limited to a one mail account; if you need multiple accounts or user identities, pay $20 to upgrade to InScribe.

Click to view larger imageThe i.Scribe mail client supports message formatting, labeling, threading, and prioritization. Decoder libraries for PNG and JPEG images can be added as plug-ins. Incoming mail is passed through a Bayesian Spam filter, but it is necessary to initialize this filter by manually classifying some spam to seed your banned "word list." (see figure at right). Spam messages must also remain in the spam folder indefinitely to enable list rebuilding—if you want to delete junkmail, you must do it yourself.

Click to view larger imageMail on a POP server can be previewed before deciding which messages to download or delete (see figure at left)—this is particularly useful for travelers on low bandwidth connections or public PCs. Freeware i.Scribe cannot pass messages through user-defined filters, although the commercial product InScribe can.

Mail message encryption and signature authentication can be added to i.Scribe by installing a GnuPG plug-in, although the current version cannot encrypt attached files. "Over the air" SSL protection for SMTP, POP, and IMAP can also be obtained by placing OpenSSL libraries in the same directory as the i.Scribe executable. Mobile users running i.Scribe can run OpenSSL by adding DLLs to the same USB fob, but GnuPG appears to require installed software.

The i.Scribe contact list can hold plenty of data, including GPG signatures and custom attributes. The list can be imported from various sources (e.g., text files, Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird, Netscape), but importing a Eudora name database yielded mixed results—some addresses were truncated; others were not. The i.Scribe calendar function provides basic event scheduling with advance notification. A separate Groupware Server (currently freeware) can be used to share contacts and calendars with other users.

Overall, we found i.Scribe quick and easy to use. Although it has all the basics, i.Scribe does lack some fancy UI features found in other (arguably more complex) programs. If you're looking for a lightweight mail client to carry with you on USB, give i.Scribe a try.

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