You probably feel ambivalent about electronic mail. You love the convenience of zapping notes to far-flung friends. But between your home and office, you may have more E-mail accounts than you can easily track. And you probably go ballistic anytime someone sends you an electronic missive with an attached file your PC can't decipher. If that's not bad enough, how about all those junk messages that "spam" their way into your mailbox?
Fortunately, a variety of software and services can help you tame the E-mail monster (table). You can funnel mail from multiple Internet service providers into a single mailbox, concoct multimedia messages, and fight off that cyberworld plague, unsolicited bulk E-mail.
SPOUSE OR BOSS? Heavy-duty E-mailers should consider an industrial-strength program such as Eudora Pro 4.0 from Qualcomm. The software boasts tools for sending and receiving messages, including address books, a spell-checker, and stationery. You can collect into a single mailbox the messages from work, your Internet connection, CompuServe, and shortly, America Online, simply by having the program dial into one of your E-mail providers. Other E-mail packages offering similar functions are ConnectSoft's Email Connection 3.1 for PCs and Claris' Emailer 2.0 for Macs.
Eudora Pro's CommCenter 4.0 version ($59) adds voice messaging and Internet faxing, but you'll need an account with the jfax.com service provider to make those functions work. With either version of Eudora, you can organize E-mail messages into folders. A "make filter" command allows you to route mail easily from your spouse to one folder, from your boss to another. You can also create filters to dispatch spam mail directly to the electronic circular file.
Unless you deal with masses of E-mail, such an all-encompassing program may be overkill. You might be better off attacking problems individually. If junk mail is your biggest bugaboo, you might want to unleash a full-fledged spam assassin. Omron Advanced Systems sells a $25 companion program for Eudora and Microsoft's Outlook 97 called MailJail (www.mailjail.com). The software relies on artificial intelligence to sift through the headers, addresses, and texts of all incoming messages. By identifying known spammers, or by picking up key phrases ("make money from home," "free offer"), the program can detect and dispose of junk. Similar programs include Spam Attack Pro from Softwiz Software (www. softwiz.com) and SpamKiller, available from Novasoft (novasoft.base.org). You can also visit Junkbusters' site (www.junkbusters.com) for tips on combating the avalanche of spam.
DEFIANT FILE. Maybe your biggest problem is opening files that are attached to your mail, say, a document prepared in Word 97 that your existing word processor just can't handle. Quick View Plus from INSO, KeyView from Verity, and e-ttachment Opener from DataViz might solve that dilemma. The e-ttachment Opener program, for instance, can grab an attachment from garbled E-mails, and decompress, view, and print files in a variety of formats. It worked with the various recalcitrant word-processing, spreadsheet, and graphics files I tried. The program can be downloaded for $49 at www.dataviz.com.
New E-mail software doesn't just work on the receiving end. If you want to send messages with pizzazz, LiveLetter from Novita Communications lets Internet users create digital mail with audio clips and Java animations. You can sample the $39 program for 30 days by downloading it at www.novita.com. Meanwhile, Cubic Videocomm's CVideo-Mail package ($249 with camera, $149 without) and Zap! from Zap! International let you produce video E-mail greetings. Zap!'s kit includes a video camera, software, and circuit board you must plug into your computer. The beauty is that the person receiving your video message doesn't need any special software, but will require a computer running Windows 3.1 or higher. The E-mail video I received from a Zap! executive came through loud and remarkably clear. So now, with such visual cues, you can detect the mood of the person behind the message.