Computing Basics III

This is a reprint of an article from my Ask a Geek column in the Mount Vernon Register-News. It is written for a general audience, and I hope you like it.

You’re sitting in front of your computer after booting into the operating system and cleaning out your extra startup junk. Now what do you do?

If you are like most people, you either start a web browser or email program. Even if you open a web browser first, most everyone I know goes to check their web-based email. I think that we still get excited at communication with others, even if it’s just letters on a screen. Just like people get excited when they get a package in the mail, we get excited at email from friends and family.

So what do you use for email? There are a great many programs that would like to be your email handler: Outlook Express or Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird, Eudora, Opera Mail, and others. Each of these have their positives and negatives. Some are expandable, heavy, light, built-in to browsers (Opera) and everything in between.

Everyone has their own preference about how they like to access their email, and deciding on a client may require you to try out a few different applications before you figure out what is right for you. I’ll give you my opinions and some overviews here, but try them out and see what you like to use.

Outlook Express (Mail in Vista) is the free client that Microsoft includes in Windows. It is effective at downloading your email and keeping together for you. OE is not a grand program by any means, but it will download email from Hotmail (now Live), which is a big plus if you use that service. Otherwise, it is an extremely simple program that does not do much for you.

Outlook is Microsoft’s professional email program, and rightfully so. I am not a fan of giving Microsoft money, but their Outlook software is excellent. Outlook can keep track of your email, mark it for follow-up, keep track of tasks, and archive your email in files so that you can store them however you need. All of this it does out of the box, and many companies make plugins for Outlook so that you can do even more. Put simply, if you have the money, this is an email program that you should check out.

If you don’t have the money to invest in Outlook, I strongly recommend Mozilla Thunderbird ( as an alternative. Thunderbird is a free and open-source email program with many add ons that help it be more productive. Out of the box, Thunderbird is a lot like Outlook Express, but it is expandable by the many add ons available. The great thing about this is that you can add in only what you want or need instead of taking it all in a giant lump like with Outlook. Realize that if you take Thunderbird for a spin, it is not quite as polished as Outlook, but Thunderbird 3 is due soon and promises to be much improved.

There are some quick takes on a few email clients. Each of them has their own unique way of handling email, and one may be more suited to your tastes. I would suggest trying them out and finding what is best for you. Let me know what you prefer.