Sunday, June 11, 2000

by Charles Bermant
Special to The
Seattle Times

The cool thing about personal computing's early days was a sense of wonder, along with rampant creativity. It seemed every week there was a new cool thing, and each release of a major program carried the same anticipation as a new movie or CD. Recent "innovations" are less compelling, as we settle into a predictable pattern.

Recently, however, two new utilities that make e-mail a little more interesting have become available. The first, called Nelson Organizer, is a Microsoft Outlook add-on that provides all kinds of new ways to organize a large number of messages. Instead of the standard folder structure, messages can be sorted by date or correspondent.

This latter feature is cool. Click on a name and see every message sent to or received from a certain person. You can also designate a correspondent as "hot," giving you top level, immediate access to everything pertaining to this person or project. Nelson's secret is that messages aren't necessarily exclusive to a single folder, so it allows access from different directions.

Nelson's biggest strength is its speed, and its search facility is far easier than what Outlook has to offer. Outlook, inconveniently, makes it difficult to search across different folders.

It's not quite perfect. If your address book has entries like instead of Bill Clinton, Nelson will list the name as gov, billclinton@whitehouse. Just a little confusing. And because Nelson needs Outlook to operate, you may spend time switching back and forth before getting the hang of the program.

Outlook doesn't have to be open for Nelson to operate, but Nelson derives a lot of its functions - such as when you check messages - from Outlook preferences. The good news is that the two programs automatically synchronize to your message file.

Nelson is a keeper for anyone who has too many messages and not enough time. You will eventually get used to switching to and from Outlook until the inevitable happens: Microsoft needs to license this technology and combine the two programs. And while the next-generation Outlook is certainly now in development, it's hard to imagine that its organizational abilities could be better than this.

Another tool that makes e-mail a little sweeter comes from a company called FireDrop. The company provides free Zaplets, which allow you to impose certain aspects of groupware into the e-mail environment. You can moderate discussions, trade schedules, share contacts or conduct polls throughout your distribution list. There is even a template for a game of 'create the story," for those who are less work-inclined.

In any case, a well-executed Zaplet can be more efficient - and more fun - than sending messages back and forth.

Nelson Organizer can be downloaded from . It is free for 30 days and costs $30 for an unlock code. To create a Zaplet go to and follow instructions. Zaplets are free to individuals.

Note: In the May 28 column I referred to Mel Brooks' "History of the World, Part 1" where Moses "lost" 10 additional commandments. In fact, he dropped only five.


Charles Bermant's advice on e-mail appears weekly. If you have questions or suggestions, you can contact him by e-mail at Type "Inbox" in the subject field.