October 29, 2001   



Asian Technology


E-mail Organizer Makes

Conversion Less Painful





I know I shouldn't take it personally, but I am still upset about being dumped by the company behind my e-mail program. OK, so the program was temperamental -- it would take ages to reload if you committed the cardinal sin of not closing the program properly by, say, allowing your computer to crash. But I kind of liked it. It had a certain charm, and, besides, it was called Calypso. Now, if you visit the Micro Computer Systems Web site (www.mcsdallas.com) you might think the program never existed. They stopped selling, supporting and developing it a few months ago.


What's particularly irksome is they didn't develop any tools to help stranded users move their e-mail messages and address books to other programs. I suppose it's the online equivalent of not providing lifeboats. Well, maybe not, but it has left me floating in the Internet sea, not sure which island to head for. (The islands, by the way, represent alternative e-mail programs. Try to keep up, please.)


OK, so this isn't quite a Titanic-type situation. And indeed, this week's column is actually an upbeat one about a cool new program that significantly pushes the e-mail envelope, so to speak. But, given that the software only works with Outlook -- Microsoft's main e-mail and organizer program -- I should spell out that I'm a recent, and reluctant, convert to Outlook. Calypso is gone and I've moved on. But, thanks to Caelo Software's Nelson Email Organizer (www.caelo.com), it hasn't been too painful.


First, my gripes about Outlook: too complicated, unintuitive, and no fun to install. I re-upgraded to Outlook XP, only to be informed that it was "Unable to open your default e-mail folders. The .DLL file for the information service couldn't be found. MAPI was unable to load the information service Pstprx.dll." Cursing the guys who name files so they sound mysteriously like swear words, I followed the suggestions posted at Microsoft's Web site, only to realize that what the company was telling me, ever so subtly, was that it had lost all my e-mails. Reassuringly, I read that "Microsoft has confirmed this to be a problem in the Microsoft products that are listed at the beginning of this article." So after more gnashing of teeth and cups of coffee, I went back to Outlook 2000.


Which is where Nelson Email Organizer, or NEO, comes in. This is a great piece of software. Basically, it tries to assume that you, the user, are a human being who gets a lot of e-mails but doesn't have a lot of time to sort them, compose filters, track down those you received five days ago or retrieve a vital attachment that appeared in a message sent by someone's assistant whose name may or may not have been Bruce. NEO does all this for you, and it does it well.


NEO works as an overlay for most versions of Outlook. But it doesn't work for Outlook Express, unfortunately. It looks like a stripped-down Outlook, and can work without Outlook running -- although Outlook must be on your computer, and configured properly. The secret is in a half-dozen tabs that appear at the bottom of the NEO window, which serve as filters for your e-mail. Click on the "correspondent" tab and you'll see a list of all the individuals you have corresponded with, along with the relevant e-mails. Click on the tab marked "bulk mail" and you'll see that NEO has figured out which e-mails are newsletters or other mass-mailings . Click on one of those e-mails and you can quickly divert it -- and all similarly addressed e-mails -- to a specific folder. Other tabs organize the e-mails according to date and status (unread, tagged). The "attachments" tab lists all attachments according to file type, making hunting down files a breeze. The last tab in the row allows you to perform lightning-fast searches through e-mail messages, courtesy of an index that is updated on the fly.


All of this works without altering anything in Outlook itself. So you can switch between programs as much as you like. But NEO adds a layer of sensible features that make managing e-mail much less painful. One function called Active Mail, for example, works as a glorified inbox by storing all incoming e-mails, regardless of whether they have been filtered off elsewhere, until you decide what to do with them. Where a traditional in-box becomes a dump for everything, Active Mail is more of a staging area, an in-tray you can easily keep empty.


Many of the features of NEO take some getting used to. But there's logic to the software that shows it has been well thought out. It isn't perfect: While some of the main Outlook functions are mirrored in the NEO menus and toolbars, some of the basic ones I needed aren't. And while it's hard to imagine how they would do it any other way, the idea of having too similar programs running at the same time felt a little clumsy and memory-greedy.


But these are minor quibbles. For those of you who use Outlook for e-mail, NEO is a godsend. For those of you who don't, you should consider this program as the plug-in that makes Outlook a killer application. At $30, it's a reasonable price to pay to get over being dumped by a software vendor.


Write to Jeremy Wagstaff at jeremy.wagstaff@awsj.com