Last week Qualcomm released Eudora 6.0, a major upgrade to the company's venerable email client. Eudora's marquee feature is SpamWatch, a new plug-in that employs Bayesian filtering to move spam-like messages to a new top-level Junk folder, but there are a few other welcome changes for users of both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X.
SpamWatch -- There's no question that spam is by far the worst problem facing email users today. I've personally received about 39,000 pieces of spam this year, and that's even with our mail server performing (admitedly conservative) spam blocking. Eudora 6.0 addresses the spam problem with the addition of SpamWatch, a plug-in that employs Bayesian filtering to move spam-like messages to a new top-level Junk folder. Eudora ships pre-trained, so it will start working immediately, but you can (and should) still train it by marking spam it misses using the Junk command, and marking legitimate messages it catches incorrectly with the Not Junk command. A new Junk Mail settings panel lets you set the threshold at which Eudora should consider a message junk (mine is set to a score of 50; the range is 0 for mail that's definitely not spam to 100 for messages that just ooze spaminess), and a host of other useful settings relating to SpamWatch.
In my use since it first appeared for testers in April of 2003, SpamWatch has proven quite accurate, with a false positive rate well under 1 percent. False negatives are low as well, with only a couple of mistakes per day. I can't be more specific because Qualcomm wasn't able to add spam-catching statistics to Eudora's statistics window in time for the 6.0 release. I strongly hope that will appear in Eudora 6.1.
The false positive rate is so low in part because Eudora whitelists messages from senders who are in your Address Book, and if you mark an incorrectly identified message as Not Junk, Eudora automatically records that sender in your Address Book so as to reduce the chance of a future mistake even more. That should work for most people, but for those like me, who receive mail from many people who would not otherwise be in your Address Book, try these two tricks to populate your Address Book. First, if you have mailing lists where you want to ensure that messages from those subscribers (like TidBITS Talk for me) are never marked as spam, add the Remember Sender action to the filter that moves messages to the appropriate mailbox. Second, consider using Robert Woodhead's free BoxSweeper program to extract all the email addresses from your stored mailboxes of legitimate mail; that way you can be sure no one who has sent you legitimate mail in the past will be caught, assuming they use the same address. Remember, though, that spam that forges an address in your Address Book (like your own address!) will always make it past SpamWatch, so you may need to prune your Address Book judiciously.
The fact that SpamWatch is a plug-in is significant, since it means that other developers will also be able to create anti-spam plug-ins for Eudora that are far better integrated than was possible in the past. In fact, Michael Tsai, developer of the SpamSieve spam fighting tool, is already working on a beta plug-in that will integrate Eudora 6.0 and the forthcoming SpamSieve 2.0. Although Eudora's own SpamWatch is doing an awfully good job right now, I think there will be room for other tools, particularly as spammers learn how to circumvent basic Bayesian filters.
Content Concentrator -- SpamWatch is designed to handle the massive influx of spam, but another new feature, the Content Concentrator, is aimed at helping you manage the influx of legitimate mail. The Content Concentrator enhances the preview pane in any mailbox window in two ways (click the expansion triangle in the lower left corner of a mailbox window to show the preview pane).
First, it hides excessive quoted text in an effort to help you focus on just the new text in a single message. I find this useful in mailboxes where I keep the preview pane relatively small, since I can still get an idea for what's in the message without opening its window.
Second, if you use Eudora's Option-click shortcut to select multiple messages by sender or subject (a feature of unparalleled utility and all-around goodness that I use constantly), the Content Concentrator displays all the selected messages (hiding quoted text as appropriate) in the preview pane. It's great for reading mailing list threads quickly.
The Content Concentrator takes a little getting used to. I often use Eudora's type-to-select feature followed by the Option-click shortcut to select messages so I can find a specific one, and the Content Concentrator can get in the way a bit at that point. Also, if you read a mailing list thread in the preview pane using the Content Concentrator, Eudora doesn't currently mark those messages as read, nor does it differentiate in any way between concentrated messages that were read versus those that weren't.
Of course, remember that the Content Concentrator is just hiding headers and quoted text temporarily; if you open a message in its own window, everything appears as it should. If you don't like the Content Concentrator, or want to make it show more or less information, or work only with single or multiple messages, a new Content Concentrator settings panel provides the necessary options.
Look and Feel -- People love to complain about how ugly Eudora is, although by now, I suspect that its interface is a major part of its charm for many long-time users. Qualcomm usually responds with a few cosmetic changes in each release, and Eudora 6.0 brings with it completely new toolbar and system icons. Also gone is the tow truck icon that you could use to drag an open message to a mailbox; now you drag an envelope icon in the title bar, much as you can drag folder icons in Finder window title bars.
More significant for Mac OS X users is the addition of a drawer to the right side of mailbox windows; you open and close it with a little button in the upper right corner of each mailbox window. The drawer essentially shows the contents of Eudora's Mailboxes window, with a hierarchical list of all mailboxes inside. You can click a mailbox to open it in the current window, double-click one to open it in its own window, drag messages to them, and so on. Mailboxes with unread messages appear with their names bold and underlined. You cannot add or remove mailboxes or folders from it; stick with the Mailboxes window for that.
I'm hesitant to recommend the mailboxes drawer. Eudora is designed around multiple windows, and my different mailboxes display differently. Some eschew the preview pane entirely, others display it relatively small, and a few use it as the primary viewing area. Using the mailboxes drawer to switch among mailboxes restricts me to one setting for the preview pane.
I also find transferring messages by dragging them to mailboxes much more difficult than using Eudora's Transfer menu (for which you don't have to keep the mouse button down the entire time). Finally, since many of my filters open mailboxes that receive new mail, I often ended up confused about which mailboxes were open and why. I turned off automatic mailbox opening to give the single-window view a chance, but I'll be going back to the multiple window approach as soon as I find the time to edit my filters. It simply doesn't match the way I like to work with email.
One last, and extremely welcome change: in Mac OS X, Eudora is now a self-contained application package, making it a better Mac OS X citizen. That also means you can turn plug-ins on and off via the Get Info window in the Finder.
What's Missing -- In almost any major release, some people will be disappointed, and those looking for an overhaul of Eudora's increasingly creaky filtering system won't find any major changes in Eudora 6.0. Eudora still doesn't use Apple's Address Book, although the more I see other applications trying to tie into Apple's Address Book, the more I'm unsure that it's currently a good universal solution because different applications have different requirements from a contact database. Also unchanged is Eudora's HTML parser, which enables Eudora to display HTML mail in a readable way most of the time, but not much more. I hope Qualcomm will replace the internal parser with Apple's recently released WebKit, which is the HTML rendering engine at the heart of Safari.
That said, there are oodles of other minor tweaks, improvements, and bug fixes in Eudora 6.0, and you can read all about them in the release notes. There's also no question that Eudora remains the most configurable email client on the planet, thanks to the way it provides access to hundreds of internal settings that are off-limits in other programs. I've updated the list of x-eudora-settings that I maintain; get it by sending email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Put ADD in the Subject line if you'd like to receive future revisions automatically.
Upgrading & Versions -- Eudora remains available in three modes, switchable by choosing Payment & Registration from Eudora's Help menu. Paid mode provides all of Eudora's features for $50. Upgrades are free if you purchased a Paid mode subscription within the last 12 months; they cost $40 if you have a Paid mode registration code from Eudora 4.3 or later; and you must buy a new copy for $50 if you're a new user or have a registration code for a version of Eudora older than 4.3.
Sponsored mode is also free, and lets you use Eudora's entire feature set except for SpamWatch in return for showing you an ad window with rotating ads and using up to three toolbar buttons to link to advertisers. Personally, I couldn't survive without something like SpamWatch, but if you don't receive much spam and don't mind the ads, Sponsored mode works fine.
Light mode eliminates all the ads, but also reduces the feature set significantly, making it a fine option for someone who needs a basic email program without all the bells and whistles for free.
Eudora 6.0 is a 4.4 MB download for Mac OS 9 users, and a 4.2 MB download for Mac OS X users.
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