Tue, Oct 14, 2008 - Page 16 News List

[TECHNOLOGY] Spicebird: Open source e-mail done right

By Jay Dougherty  /  DPA , WASHINGTON

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Web-based e-mail services may get most of the attention these days, but traditional desktop-based e-mail remains indispensable for most. That’s in part because of history — people are still accustomed to downloading their e-mail into a traditional application — and in part because many have grown dependent upon the additional features that have come to be seen as essential to e-mail programs but are lacking in Web-based e-mail: contact management, calendaring, and more.

The trouble is that Microsoft’s Outlook has come to dominate the e-mail application market, and the

serious competitors have gradually fallen away. Outlook enjoys a near monopoly status — with prices to match. Mozilla Thunderbird has won the hearts of some as a viable alternative, but Thunderbird is essentially an inbox tool, lacking some of the essential functions found in Outlook. A new alternative, though, has emerged: Synovel Technologies’ Spicebird is an open-source Outlook competitor, offering full-featured e-mail functions, a built-in news reader, contact management, calendaring, and task management. It’s free, full-featured and worth a look.

TABBED INTERFACE

Spicebird’s tabbed interface borrows from the tabbed layout of most browsers today — and will therefore be immediately familiar to those who have become accustomed to switching from one area of an application to another using tabs along the top of the content area.

Instead of switching from one Web page to another with tabs, however, Spicebird’s tabs are used to move from the e-mail component to contacts, calendar, tasks, and the home page, which is entirely configurable, with items such as news from the Web, RSS feeds, world clocks, and calendar items all able to be displayed.

Keyboard mavens can even use the same keyboard shortcut — Ctrl-Tab — to move from one tab to another in Spicebird as they can from one tab to another in a Web browser. And keyboard lovers will be enthused, too, at how much of the functionality built in to Spicebird can be tapped without ever touching the mouse.

The interface in general is highly configurable. It can be loaded up with colorful icons or stripped of button bars, status bars, and side bars altogether to provide a no-nonsense workspace for sending and reading mail and working with daily schedules and contacts.

SETTING UP SPICEBIRD

Spicebird is simple to set up, whether you want to use it as a replacement for your current e-mail program or on a trial basis to figure out whether it’s worth the effort.

During the installation process, you’re given the choice of whether to import your existing mail from the major e-mail programs in use today — Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, and even Gmail. The latter option is particularly interesting in that Spicebird gives you a way to access your Gmail in a conventional e-mail program with no configuration other than supplying your Gmail user name and password.

If you set up Spicebird to handle your Gmail, in fact, you’ll get the best of both worlds: desktop-based access to your Gmail, including a taskbar pop-up that notifies you of new incoming Gmail, as well as continued access to Gmail through your Web browser. You don’t have to worry about importing mail from your other e-mail programs right away, either. You can try out Spicebird and import e-mail and settings later.

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