E-mail--among the least glamorous of applications, but arguably the most essential--is a logical focus of developers showing productivity tools at the Demo 2003 technology conference this week.
As the tech economy struggles to recover, Demo--once a launching pad for bleeding-edge technologies--is focusing more on the practical than the radical. And existing e-mail clients offer lots of opportunities for improvement.
"E-mail is the place where we're spending our business lives, and those products have to get a lot easier to use." said Chris Shipley, Demo executive producer, when introducing a session on e-mail. The event is produced by IDG Executive Forums, a sibling company of PC World.
A few of the mail-related products and services unveiled here:
Bloomba: New e-mail clients don't come along every day, or even every year. But start-up Stata Laboratories Inc. hopes to lure mail mavens to Bloomba. Although its streamlined interface looks much like Microsoft's Outlook Express, this POP3 client replaces folders with Google-like tools that dynamically organize your in-box according to search terms you specify. Bloomba also dispenses with a traditional address book in favor of an auto-fill feature that grabs names from your incoming messages. A free beta version is available for download.
Ella: Like Bloomba, Open Field Software Inc.'s Ella aims to help tame overcrowded in-boxes. But Ella is a plug-in for your existing e-mail client. You train it to sort incoming messages into folders organized by priority--for example, folders for business mail, personal messages, newsletters, and spam. A beta of a basic version of Ella for Outlook is due soon; the more powerful Ella Pro for Outlook and Lotus Notes is planned for later this year.
Oddpost: This strange name yields an interesting service. Oddpost is a new browser-based competitor to Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. It has a slick, speedy drag-and-drop interface that looks and performs more like a desktop app than a Web client. A US$30 annual fee gets you 50MB of storage space, too.
Kubi Client: Another new add-on for Outlook and Notes is Kubi Software Inc.'s Kubi Client. The program tries to make groupware palatable by integrating it tightly into e-mail. Scheduled to ship in the second quarter of 2003, the program adds shared calendars and contact databases, discussion boards, document folders, and timelines to Outlook's and Notes' standard interfaces. Cross-platform compatibility will allow Outlook users to collaborate with Notes types and vice versa.
Multiple companies exhibiting at Demo aim to block the scourge of unsolicited e-mail at the server level.
SenderBase is a new service from e-mail hardware vendor IronPort Systems Inc. that aggregates data on mail coming into companies that use IronPort products. The service is designed for mail system managers, who can peruse the data to tell good senders from bad, and then block mail from likely spammers.
Meanwhile, two server-based spam fighters faced off in tests conducted by PC World's sibling publication Network World.
MailFrontier Inc.'s Anti-Spam Gateway and CloudMark Inc.'s Cloudmark Authority raced to find and zap spam in a simulation. Although MailFrontier's product won the competition, neither came close to eradicating all digital junk--proving that the battle against spam is nearly never-ending.