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Outlook rivals lure contrarians

Microsoft's e-mail clint dominates, but alternatives have appealing features

Special to The Globe and Mail

The Alberta Research Council has used Eudora e-mail software since before Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook became the most popular e-mail client on personal computers -- and it has no plans to switch.

"We stuck with it for a while just out of sheer inertia," admits Faye West, director of information systems at the research council but "at this point, we're keeping it mainly for the security."

Microsoft's Office suite has more than 90 per cent of the desktop productivity suite market, and Outlook -- its e-mail, calendar and personal organizer component -- enjoys a comparable domination of the e-mail world.

Outlook does have rivals, though, and a significant minority of computer users prefer them.

Some of those contrarians like the features of Outlook alternatives, such as message filtering or better search tools. Others, like Ms. West, avoid Outlook because of an unfortunate side effect of Microsoft's success: Most virus writers who exploit e-mail choose Outlook as their target.

A number of viruses that spread by e-mail are sent as attached files that, when opened, automatically send themselves to everyone in the recipient's Outlook address list. Opened on a computer without an Outlook address list, the same viruses may do damage locally but won't embarrass the victim by sending themselves to all of his or her contacts.

Whether they want to avoid viruses, like the features of alternative e-mail clients or just enjoy swimming against the current, e-mail users do have a fair number of choices.

An early leader in the desktop e-mail market, Eudora from Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego, Calif., remains one of Outlook's main competitors, even if Outlook's lead is huge. Bill Ganon, vice-president of Eudora products at Qualcomm, admits Eudora's share of the desktop e-mail market is less than 5 per cent.

Mr. Ganon says users who remain loyal to Eudora do so mainly because "it's a less complicated e-mail client." Cost could be an incentive, too; a stripped-down version can be downloaded free from the Web, while Qualcomm offers the full package in two modes.

The sponsored mode is also free at but comes without technical support and upgrades, and with an advertising window built in. For technical support and free upgrades for a year, the paid mode costs $59.

Eudora can sort mail into multiple mailboxes, filter mail to eliminate spam or alert the user to important messages. A new feature in the latest release warns users of offensive language in outgoing or incoming mail.

Just as Eudora was an early e-mail leader, Netscape Inc.'s Navigator once dominated the browser market. Today it has less than 5 per cent, a share dwarfed by Internet Explorer's roughly 95 per cent, according to Dutch research firm

Netscape offers Navigator as part of Netscape Communicator, a suite that also includes an e-mail client. Netscape Mail includes message filtering, a quick search feature and the ability to colour-code messages in the in-box. Navigator is a free download from

Opera is a newer contender in the browser market, still with a relatively small market share.

The original Opera lacked mail, but the latest release adds a mail client.

Mary Lambert, desktop product line manager for Opera Software ASA in Oslo, admits the first version "takes a little getting used to," and says Opera is "working to make it a little more user-friendly."

But Opera's mail client does some things Outlook doesn't, she says, such as sorting incoming messages into folders automatically based on criteria set by the user.

Opera can be downloaded free from the company's Web site at, but the free version displays advertising.

For about $58, you can upgrade to a paid, ad-free version.

In the corporate e-mail market, the main rival to Outlook and Microsoft's Exchange mail server software is Lotus Notes, from International Business Machines Corp.'s Lotus software unit. Notes was the original corporate work-group software, but has lost ground to Microsoft.

Since the Windows operating system commands the lion's share of the desktop computer market, most people use e-mail clients that run on Windows.

However, Eudora, Netscape, Opera and Notes all support Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh as well (as does Outlook).

Opera also supports various versions of Unix and the Linux operating system. Another choice for Linux users is a suite of desktop productivity software from Boston-based Ximian Inc. that roughly mirrors what Microsoft Office provides for Windows and the Macintosh.

Ximian Desktop includes word processing, a spreadsheet and an e-mail, calendar and personal organizer package called Ximian Evolution.

Jon Perr, Ximian's vice-president of marketing, says Evolution will look familiar to Outlook users, and can even act as an e-mail client on Linux machines hooked up to Microsoft's Exchange corporate mail system.

But it has a couple of extra features, such as the ability to view "threads" of messages from an initial e-mail through subsequent replies and the ability to organize mail by putting the same message in two or more "virtual folders" without copying it.

Ximian Desktop can be downloaded free from or purchased on a CD for about $44.

© The Globe and Mail

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