Mail program shootout! - Free e-mail alternates gunning for Outlook
By Tobias Schormann Mar 19, 2006, 11:07 GMT
Munich - When it comes to choosing an e-mail program, many people follow the path of least resistance: they ponder briefly, then opt for Microsoft Outlook, which comes pre-installed on every Windows computer.
Yet the best-known isn't necessarily the best. Free alternative programs have been offering increasing competition to the standard software. For more users, a step back to look at the bigger picture could be well worth the time.
'There is now a broad palette of good alternatives to Outlook,' says Daniel Behrens, editor at the Munich-based magazine PC Welt.
Good doesn't necessarily mean expensive. While programs like Eudora or The Bat are offered for less than 50 dollars, others like Thunderbird or Pegasus are completely free. The switch is definitely recommended for any users who didn't receive Outlook for free on their PC.
'Alternate programs also often offer better security settings,' says Peter Kraft, whose 'Anti-Hackerz Book' discusses safety holes in e-mail programs. These problems were rampant in older versions of Outlook, with protection against dodgy attachments and unnoticed background activity in HTML messages notably insufficient.
Microsoft has since recognized the increased importance of safety and has improved its security measures, says Thomas Baumgaertner, a spokesman for the company. The current version includes protection against ill-intentioned HTML e-mails and an automatic filter for dangerous attachments, he claims.
Yet these protective measures must still be manually adjusted, says Kraft. Other programs do this work for the user.
'Partially because they are so widespread, Microsoft programs tend to be over-proportionately targeted by hackers. Outlook users must therefore be even more vigilant about reacting to new security holes,' says Michael Dickopf, spokesman for the German Federal Agency for Security in Information Technology (BSI) in Bonn.
Alternative software offers the advantage of being less interesting for hackers, he reports. The danger of data thieves is also lower, even if the 'Outlook' alternatives generally also have flaws of their own.
Free open-source software like Thunderbird usually offers good spam protection, says Behrens. Users of 'Outlook Express' by contrast have no such protective system. Filters can also fight off viruses, says BSI spokesman Dickopf, since these are often hidden within unsolicited e-mails, known as spam. Of particular value are intelligent filters that learn continuously from the user, Kraft says.
Most of the programs are similar to one another in terms of construction and use. Hence learning to edit and sort e-mails when switching from one software to another is not normally a major problem, Behrens says. Yet he also feels that use is a question of taste. Some of the programs like Incredimail can be set up with extravagant optics.
One key functional difference is whether a given program offers comfortable mail access using the IMAP protocol. That allows one mailbox to be used by several users, for example, Kraft says. Not all programs offer integrated encryption and digital signatures to increase data security, either.
Another important question to have answered before making the jump is whether the new software can important messages and settings from Outlook. This function can spare a lot of time and effort.
Alternative mail programs are primarily intended for private users, Behrens says. This is because no other program offers the calendar functions that Outlook does. Furthermore, users who like to synchronize data between their cell phone or PDA and their computer are often forced to use Outlook for that task.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur