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QuickMail 3.0 In Depth

Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.

In TidBITS-237 we reported on CE Software’s introduction of QuickMail 3.0, a new version of CE’s popular LAN email software with lots of new features on the client end. Feedback we received on that article and a closer look during the recent Macworld Expo allow us to present more information on how CE’s enhancements work for users in real-world situations.

Spell Checking — The spell checking feature, implemented by InfoSoft, is fairly straightforward, if not particularly innovative as spell checkers go. Its biggest shortcoming at first glance is that it doesn’t recognize "QuickMail" as a correctly spelled word! Such is life. One clever feature of the spell checker is that, even though it shows a word in context when it’s presenting a word it believes is misspelled, QuickMail scrolls through the text of the message window in the background, so the user can see each questioned word as part of the entire message.

MailManager lets users set up rules to specify what should happen to incoming messages, and it looks great. Using the nicely laid out ruler editor, you can tell QuickMail to file, delete, forward, print, or reply to each message or certain messages, deciding which task to perform and how to perform it based on the original sender, subject, body text, priority, and so on.

Unfortunately, MailManager, being a client-based feature, depends on the client computer staying put while its user is away or busy. In my case, had I left QuickMail 3.0 monitoring my mail while I spent several days at Macworld Expo, it would not have worked. During my absence, at least one other employee used my computer to check his QuickMail. When I returned, the surge protector had tripped; presumably a brief blackout left it powered down. As a result, my computer would have stopped performing its assigned mail-management tasks days before I returned.

There are solutions to such problems; an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) would take care of the power outage issue on at least a short-term basis. You can set QuickMail to connect automatically at startup, and CE has apparently foreseen the resulting security concern and implemented a "Lock Mailbox" command that survives restarts. This still assumes no one will use the mail-managing Mac, which in some offices, mine for one, is a dangerous assumption.

The good news is that MailManager is exceptionally cautious when messages might get lost. If a rule that files incoming messages from a certain sender and then deletes them from your mailbox, but your computer runs out of disk space, MailManager shuts down rather than deleting unfiled messages. Unfortunately, it will also then be unable to handle automatic replies, forwarding, or any other tasks until someone intervenes.

MailManager could still be enormously useful for day-to-day use. You could set up ruler to automatically file posting from high-traffic mailing lists, and automatically forward messages on a given topic to another person or group of people. Peter J. Kindlmann, a professor and mail administrator at Yale University, wrote to say that the software holds up the computer momentarily when new mail arrives and MailManager processes it in the background. Such interruptions might be bearable, in return for less human time spent sorting through received mail, but Peter feels that most users will quickly grow frustrated with the delay.

The primary cause of the delay when new mail arrives is the process of refreshing the user’s mail list so that MailManager can scan it. Several versions ago, QuickMail would update its mail list even if it was not the frontmost window, whenever new mail arrived, and I recall having mixed feelings when CE changed this. I have to admit to mixed feelings now that it’s been changed back, too! Users who keep lots of messages in their mailboxes will find that the refresh takes a while. (The background refresh is only done when MailManager is active.) Happily, the improved folder handling means there are fewer reasons to keep mail on the server, so a bit of discipline should minimize the interruptions’ duration.

Full-Text Searching — Speaking of folders, QuickMail 3.0’s ability to do full-text searches within messages filed in personal mail folders is wonderful. This feature alone probably makes QuickMail 3.0 worth its upgrade price. The inability to search within the mailbox (messages still residing on the QuickMail server) matters much less now that QuickMail supports up to 250 messages in each of up to 250 folders. (Inability to search within these folders has been my primary reason for failing to use them properly.) Searching messages in the mailbox would require too much additional server work, or too much additional network traffic. A network administrator who prefers to remain anonymous suggests that this lack will "irritate many executive types" who aren’t interested in changing their work habits to suit the software.

Searches may be performed within a single folder or across all folders, and may be based on the message text, or such criteria as subject, sender, recipient, priority, and date sent. Some software presents only individual found items, requiring the user to go from item to item, but QuickMail’s search feature presents a complete "hit list" of found items, displaying its folder location, the sender, subject, and date. Even while the search is still in progress, the user may click one of the found items in the list to view the found text, in the message’s context, in the window’s lower pane. The search continues independently.

My sole complaint with QuickMail 3.0’s search feature is that it can’t search more than one user-specified folder at a time without searching them all. QuickMail 3.0 also can find specified text within the frontmost message window.

More Potential Problems — The anonymous administrator mentioned above is also concerned about the possibility of unintentional "mailstorms" caused by MailManager’s automatic reply capability. If users are not careful, their automatic replies could go to all recipients of a message sent to a large group as well as to the sender. In a scenario with a thousand users, five of whom happen to have an automatic reply set up, a single message to the entire company user list could result in an instant barrage of five thousand extraneous messages. Users must be careful to set the automatic reply feature to reply only to the sender in order to avoid this; in this network administrator’s experience, users are not always so careful.

The auto-reply function of the MailManager also lacks the ability to refrain from sending multiple "I’m away…" notices to the same address. The absence of this feature, available in mainframe "vacation" utilities and in the QMConcierge package from Information Electronics, will render MailManager less practical than it should be. (Information Electronics has moved; see their new contact info below.) This factor could also prolong a mailstorm like the one described above. Since mail forwarding is client-based rather than server-based, a network administrator would have to move fast to interrupt such a barrage.

More Pluses and Minuses — QuickMail 3.0 also makes handling address books and groups easier. For starters, an easily accessible dialog box allows users instantly to add the sender of a message to a specific address book or group list. (The applause for this feature is likely to be deafening.) Users may now also print user lists from their address books and groups, and may more easily import and export address book information.

One shock is that the QuickConference interactive chat feature of QuickMail has been neglected. CE’s Ned Horvath admits that QuickConference has not been a high priority item for continued development, as the company has never seen an enormous interest among its customers. This is a shame; making QuickConference function in a non-modal fashion, which is crucial in today’s multitasking-heavy work patterns, would probably not have been too difficult. This change was promised for the "next" release at around the time both 2.5 and 2.6 hit the stands, so its continued absence is somewhat disappointing.

Also on the list of items expected but missing is proper network access to online mailboxes for Windows users. CE’s boasts of universal access to the mailbox are just hot air as long as they haven’t fixed this. When the Windows client was first developed, there was a good reason not to support AppleTalk; the only available AppleTalk protocol stacks supported DOS and didn’t work well (or at all) under Windows. Now that Farallon’s PhoneNet PC has offered a complete AppleTalk implementation under Windows for a while (since before QuickMail 2.6 shipped) it’s hard to justify the continued absence of a complete Windows client for QuickMail.

In fact, CE’s new Newton client, EnRoute [discussed in a future issue -Adam], adds yet another client platform that lacks proper network access. There’s a better reason for that; EnRoute is designed for access by the roving QuickMail user. CE assumed that users who can hook their Newton MessagePads to a network can probably sit down in front of a Mac instead. A reasonable assumption – but we hope CE will find sufficient interest in this product that a future networkable version will be worth developing.

Some improvements that won’t show up on a feature list include a more consistent use of color, and less modality. Our article about QuickMail 2.6 in TidBITS-171 called CE’s addition of "Turnerized" buttons a "cruel reminder" of the lack of a real color user interface. QuickMail still doesn’t support color graphics or color message text, but at least it has more cleanly colorized interface elements. As for modality, we commend CE for using movable modal dialogs in several places, such as the search window, so the user could switch to another application rather than just wait. The non-modal help window can be moved around the screen and left open for reference purposes.

Upgrade Pricing — CE Software announced last week that U.S. and Canadian customers can upgrade from QuickMail 2.5 or 2.6 to QuickMail 3.0 for $12 per user; customers with QuickMail 2.2.3 or earlier can upgrade for $15 per user (though, oddly, customers having competing mail products may "sidegrade" for just $12 per user). CE has elected not to provide discounts for large-volume upgrade purchasers or educational institutions. Those who purchased QuickMail 2.6 after 13-Jun-94 are entitled to a free upgrade. The upgrade kits include a complete set of client and server disks, new user manuals, and reference cards. Brand new QuickMail 3.0 packages are available immediately as well; a ten-user pack retails for $649.

Concluding Thoughts — Lest anyone reach the conclusion from this article that QuickMail 3.0 is lousy, I want to stress that CE Software is deservedly proud of what they’ve accomplished in assembling this release. We see the MailManager function as good start towards automated mail handling, and the searching works as well as we’ve seen in any mail package. According to CE, QuickMail development is an ongoing process, not one with an end. Bearing that in mind, we look forward to QuickMail 3.1.

CE Software, Inc. — 800/523-7638 — 515/221-1801
515/221-1806 (fax) — <[email protected]>

Information Electronics — 912/638-1893 — 912/638-1384 (fax)
<[email protected]>

Information from:
CE Software propaganda
Peter J. Kindlmann <[email protected]>
Anonymous testers

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