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The Internet was built on a very simple idea: People should be able to communicate more easily with one another, using their computers. So it should be no surprise that communication--particularly in the form of e-mail and instant messaging--is still at the heart of why most people go online.
We've rounded up 16 great downloads to help you communicate better through e-mail and instant messaging. They'll help enhance the way you use e-mail (whether it's Web-based or handled in software on your PC), and they'll power up instant messaging chats, too. So if you want to be known as the Great Communicator, read on.
Note: To find all of the files in this story in one convenient place, see our "E-Mail and Instant Messaging Boosters" downloads collection.
Most people live in e-mail these days. We have downloads to help you get even more out of it. Whether you want to kill spam, improve the management of multiple e-mail accounts, or use free e-mail software that's better than your current program, here are our suggestions.
Are you unhappy with Outlook? Or are you unwilling to pay its price, and you're underwhelmed with Outlook Express? Give the free Thunderbird a look. This e-mail client from Mozilla--the same folks who bring you Firefox--is simple to use and offers plenty of the high-end features you'd expect from a top e-mail program, including the ability to encrypt and digitally sign messages, as well as to create filters so the app can automatically handle mail when it arrives.
Setup is a snap: If you already have e-mail software, Thunderbird will import your existing settings. Creating a new account is similarly easy, and the process even includes setup screens for Gmail, which can be difficult to set up with other e-mail clients.
It isn't an all-around personal information manager like Outlook--it has no calendar, for example, and you can't create to-do lists. But if all you want is e-mail, it's a winner. It will even handle RSS feeds and newsgroups, so you can keep up on the latest blogs, news, and discussions. If you're not happy with your current e-mail software, it's well worth the free download.
Download Thunderbird | Price: Free
Windows Live Mail
Windows Live Mail, the newest addition to Microsoft's e-mail lineup, is the successor to Outlook Express (shipped in versions of Windows before Vista) and Windows Mail (included with Vista). Neither Outlook Express nor Windows Mail will ship in future versions of Windows; anyone who wants a free e-mail client in Windows 7 will have to download Windows Live Mail. It's very much like both of the older programs, and it shares the same pluses and minuses. On the plus side: Setting up new accounts and using the app are both quite easy, and it includes lots of features for dressing up e-mail, such as stationery, emoticons and pictures, background colors, and font sizes. The program also lets you read RSS feeds and participate in newsgroups.
On the minus side, though it does offer encryption, it lacks other higher-end features such as automatic filtering of incoming mail. It doesn't include a calendar or to-do list, either; if you want that from Microsoft, you'll have to buy Outlook.
By the way, if all of Microsoft's e-mail software and services make you thoroughly confused, join the club. Aside from Windows Live Mail, Windows Mail, Outlook Express, and of course Outlook, the company offers Windows Live Hotmail (Web-based e-mail) too.
Note that when you install Windows Live Mail, it will make Live Search your default search engine and MSN Home your default home page in Internet Explorer, unless you uncheck the appropriate boxes.
Download Windows Live Mail | Price: Free
Almost any e-mail software you use has two very big drawbacks: Backing up e-mail is exceedingly difficult, and you can't search for e-mail messages across multiple clients.
MailStore Home solves both problems, since it imports messages from multiple mail systems and software programs, stores them in a central location on your hard disk, and lets you search through everything simultaneously. The search is exceedingly fast and quite sophisticated. For example, you can search by subject, message body, folder, and attachments. Once you import all the e-mail, you can also back it up by burning to a CD.
MailStore Home imports and backs up e-mail from Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, and other programs. If you import from POP3 and IMAP accounts, some limitations apply--for example, you can import only your inbox. Additionally, you won't be able to import Outlook .pst files directly; instead, you'll have to import folders individually, which can take some time.
Those are minor quibbles, though. MailStore Home is a very good program for anyone who wants to search through multiple e-mail clients and services and back them all up.
Download MailStore Home | Price: Free
What's the most annoying thing about e-mail? Spam, of course. Plenty of spam killers are out there, and this is a solid one. It doesn't integrate with your e-mail software; instead, it directly contacts your mail server and stops spam before the junk reaches your inbox. The utility flags spam and then lets you delete it, or tells the mail software to let the message through. You also have the choice of bouncing the spam back to the sender.
MailWasher Pro works with virtually any e-mail software, and it's configurable. You can create customized filters, such as blacklists and whitelists, for identifying spam. The software learns from you, so it gets smarter over time, and it does basic virus scanning too. You can also read mail within the program, so it works as a kind of mini e-mail client.
Download MailWasher Pro | Price: Free
Since so many free Web-based e-mail programs (including Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and others) are available, many people use multiple accounts. That's certainly useful, but it's a pain as well. Manually checking each account a couple times a day is a productivity killer if there ever was one.
ePrompter solves the problem neatly. It automatically checks all of your Web-based e-mail every 15 minutes and alerts you when you have new messages. You can have it monitor up to 16 different accounts. You don't even have to log in to the different Web-based mail systems to see your inbox, read your messages, and respond to them--you can do all of that from directly within the program. You can delete mail, as well.
I had problems getting Hotmail to work with this software. If I identified it as Live Mail, it worked, but another time it wouldn't. But ePrompter is free, and it works fine with other Web-based mail services, so it's certainly worth a try.
Download ePrompter | Price: Free
Here's a great tool for checking all of your e-mail accounts, whether they're Web-based (like Gmail) or POP 3 accounts (common among e-mail providers). It works with just about any Web-based mail service or ISP, including Gmail, Hotmail, Juno, Yahoo Mail, and many others.
After a brief setup procedure for each account, POP Peeper checks your mail regularly and alerts you when new mail comes in. You can get video and audio alerts, and customize different sounds for each of your accounts. The utility is small enough to use as portable software--just install it on a USB thumb drive and carry it with you.
And it does more than just notify you when new mail comes in: You can read, create, and delete mail inside it, too. You can even send or open file attachments with it.
Download POP Peeper | Price: Free