Dress up your e-mail

Recently we stumbled across an e-mail program that is pretty interesting. It is called IncrediMail Xe and it combines some really nice, and potentially beneficial graphical message formatting with some irrelevant (in practical terms) but amusing presentation fripperies.

IncrediMail Xe is from IncrediMail Ltd. (www.IncrediMailXe.com) and is, at its heart, a free and simple Windows 95/98/Millennium Edition/NT/2000/XP, Post Office Protocol 3/Simple Mail Transfer Protocol mail client that includes support for Hotmail and MSN accounts (no Internet Message Access Protocol 4 support).

Installation is a breeze. When the program is launched, the screen divides into four panes, going clockwise from top left: Folders (a list of mail folders), the contents of the currently selected folder, the contents of the currently selected item in the folder and Key Contacts (selected entries from the recipient directory accessed from the menu).

The last two panes feature a neat idea – a bar at the bottom of each. When you click on a bar, the pane collapses enlarging the pane above. Click again and it is restored.

Status messages are displayed in a small panel to the right of the menu and tool bands. If you haven’t purchased the premium version (US$30), the small panel displays ads when nothing else is happening (in the premium version you can right-click to switch on ad display but we’re not sure who would want to do this).

The premium version also suppresses the automatic inclusion of an IncrediMail Xe footer with a link to the company, gets you technical support, provides a “preview on server” facility to view headers and selects those to be downloaded.

So far it sounds like a standard e-mail client, but what IncrediMail Xe does well is support formatting. In effect it makes e-mail far more “dressed up.”

“So?” some of you may be saying. Well, Outlook, Eudora and the other leading clients are great, but frankly they overwhelm many people. They all have so many features and options, and integrate with other complex applications that less-experienced users have trouble focusing on what they are trying to do: communicate.

IncrediMail Xe scores by letting users select stationery, add animations, sounds and “e-cards.” In other words, snazz up their e-mail with some style.

The underpinning of this dressing up is HTML mail, which is the default for IncrediMail Xe (plain text can be selected, if required).

When you open a new mail item, another window appears on the left, locked to the composition window. This window shows the formatting options. You can select only one item from each option: one background, one animation and one sound. The other option is e-cards, which is really a set of options. If you select an e-card, all other selected options are overridden.

The fripperies are found in sending and receiving messages, and with opening and deleting messages. These all can be accompanied by animations that can be specific to message formats. These make the interface more interesting and less daunting for new users.

IncrediMail Xe also supports graphical signatures; graphical emoticons; a voice message recorder; notifiers (desktop animations that pop up to announce new mail); and an editor to create your own e-mail templates. The latter is a separate purchase – US$40, or in a bundle with IncrediMail Xe for $50).

IncrediMail Xe is terrific. It provides a reasonably simple user interface that will lead to quick learning and that will encourage users to think about content and style as being important. IncrediMail Xe gets nine gearteeth out of 10.

Gibbs is a contributing editor to Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at gearhead@gibbs.com.