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Why I Still Live at the P.O. (or, Eudora Lives!)

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Amid the frantic innovation, premature releases, and scrambling for profits spawned by today's Internet software market, it's remarkable that any software can be sufficiently solid, fundamental, and established to be a classic, let alone a necessity, and even more remarkable that it should be given away for free. Yet the original Internet spirit endures, and of the many such programs, Eudora is certainly one.

Eudora, as if the typical TidBITS reader wouldn't know, is the great freeware email client. The brainchild of Steve Dorner, originally with the University of Illinois, Eudora (named for the great American writer Eudora Welty, who is still alive at nearly 90 years of age) was originally released in 1990. It rapidly freed Internet users from the drudgeries and intricacies of doing email via Telnet off a mainframe, and similar horrors.

By 1993, the program had been taken over by Qualcomm - a San Diego-based corporation into things like cellular phones and satellite communications - and was being sold commercially as Eudora Pro. Yet, with characteristic generosity, a freeware version, Eudora Light, continues to be given away.

For some time, the Pro and Light versions have been out of synch. Eudora Pro 3.0 came out in July; the Light version is still back at 1.5.5. But Qualcomm has been developing Eudora Pro 3.0.1 and Eudora Light 3.0.1 together (a sensible procedure), with release expected any time now.

While 3.0.1 has been under development, users not content with the earlier Light version and unwilling to buy Eudora Pro for about $60 could still sneak a peak by downloading a free demo of Eudora Pro or free public betas of both the upcoming Pro and Light versions. Once Eudora 3.0.1 goes final, you can expect to see a 3.1 public beta.

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I've used the freeware version almost as long as I've been using the Internet, and I started using Pro 3.0 a month or two ago. For this article, I compared it with a late beta of Eudora Light 3.0.1.

The Pro Circuit -- Users accustomed to Eudora Light 1.5.5 or earlier will notice many new features in 3.0. One is controversial (to me at least): styled text in the message body. This works like HTML, using markup expressions such as "<italic>text</italic>" to carry formatting information across the Internet. My feeling is: why? Not every email program is even MIME-savvy, and quoted-printable characters often wreak havoc with text (putting "=20" after every line and so on); now here's one more non-universal "standard" to confuse things.

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Other new (and indisputably welcome) features include the following: Apple's TextEdit has been abandoned for a new text engine by Pete Resnick which breaks the 32K barrier, so Info-Mac Digests (and TidBITS issues!) are no longer split into multiple messages. There's drag & drop of everything to everywhere, including attachments which now show up as draggable, double-clickable icons in the message they arrived with. Mailboxes can optionally store meta-information in their resource forks, eliminating the need for "TOC" files. There are Filters, which quickly examine batches of messages (such as all those just received) and take actions on them (like transferring to a particular mailbox) if they meet specified criteria. The Find dialog is much improved, and so is the Nicknames dialog (now called the Address Book). The program has many other excellent new interface tweaks and conveniences; I'm sorry if, for space reasons, I've omitted someone's favorite.

Light Shaft -- What's missing from Eudora Light 3.0.1, as against Eudora Pro, are the sorts of extras that primarily corporate users would miss. Based on the current beta (and the feature set could change), Eudora Light users get no toolbar (relax, I never use it); no message labels; no "Word Services" (to drive certain applications like the Spellswell spell-checker); no FCCing (copying outgoing replies to a mailbox); no option for automatic nickname expansion prior to sending (but you can still do it on demand with a menu item); no ability to open a mailbox not located in the Eudora Folder; no "stationery" files (templates for outgoing boilerplate messages); no additional signatures beyond a Main and an Alternate; a narrower range of Filter actions; and no ability to generate styled text (though you can read it in a received message).

Also, only Pro users get Mail Transfer Options, meaning essentially the ability to send custom instructions about individual messages to the server. For instance, suppose you check your mail on the same server from both work and home: at work, you can examine new messages, and then delete from the server only those appropriate to work, so that when you get home you'll be downloading only those appropriate to home. This feature alone might tip the balance in favor of Pro for many users.

Into the Rough -- A few things do trouble me about Eudora. One, admittedly minor and a matter of personal taste, is the interface's use of hidden features. For instance, to force compaction of a mailbox (it normally happens automatically when certain conditions are met), you must know to Command-click the lower-left corner of the window - there is no equivalent menu item. To open the mailbox containing the message you're reading, you double-click its title bar (why not Command-click as in the Finder?). To create a new message from the Address Book without switching to it, hold Shift as you press the To button. Many important actions show up only if you hold a modifier key before clicking in the menubar. I recognize that there's bound to be a design problem with such a feature-packed program, and the excellent Balloon Help and online text help are informative about some such things; but the result is a host of features many users will never discover, and others (like me!) may have trouble remembering.

Other gripes: though Eudora can be scripted to perform a number of useful tasks, it is insufficiently scriptable. Only a small subset of its functions can be driven through AppleScript or Frontier, and little or no documentation is available for many of its internal settings. The available Filter actions are insufficient; for instance, there's no option to save a criteria-matching message as a text file. And there's some sort of strange conflict on my computer where if Eudora is open in the background while some other application, such as Netscape or Fetch, is connected to the Internet, Eudora will eventually crash; this bug has been consistently present in every version I've tried.

The Trophy -- Still, I like Eudora far, far more than any other email program I've used. Its basic interface metaphor of mailboxes as windows showing each message as a double-clickable line of information, and each opened message as a window of its own, has never been improved upon. Its basic message-handling capabilities, the way it deals with replying, forwarding, redirecting, and trying to re-send a bounced message, are superb.

No matter which version of Eudora you choose, if you get your email from a POP server and send it with an SMTP server (like most Internet users with a dedicated or dial-up connection), Eudora is the way to go, and if you aren't using Eudora, it's so good that POP server capabilities are worth begging your system administrator for. It's clean, simple, intuitive, powerful, thorough (far beyond my ability to describe here), fast, and fun.

And "fun" doesn't just mean delightful and satisfying; a cheeky sense of humor lurks in Eudora. The checkbox to turn on the 3D-style version of the interface is labelled, "Waste cycles drawing trendy 3D junk." Shift-Option-Command-D, which deletes a message directly instead of just putting it into the Trash mailbox, is called "Nuke." The icon to toggle display of full message headers says "Blah blah blah," and the icon to for uuencoding an attachment's data fork says "Ick." Yes indeed, the original Internet spirit lives on in Eudora.

DealBITS -- Cyberian Outpost has a deal on Eudora Pro for $56.95 ($4 off) for TidBITS readers through this URL:



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