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Get the most out of your mail

Want to reduce the time you spend on junk e-mail? here’s how.

E-mail is the de facto means of communication across the world. It’s easy, quick, and efficient. And you don’t have to worry about someone keeping you on the phone longer than you want.

Of course, with all of the advantages of e-mail come a few disadvantages as well: spam, technical snafus, lost messages, privacy issues, and simple misunderstandings that probably wouldn’t occur in an in-person or even telephone conversation.

Herein we present three programs that will help keep your messages private, make sure they are delivered without a hitch, and help you avoid receiving unwanted e-mails that clutter up your inbox.

Getting the message through

I’ll state this up front: Mass-mailer programs are very bad things. Spam does nothing but clog up the e-mail inboxes of innocent citizens across the globe.

All of that said, there’s no reason that you can’t take advantage of the tools created to work with mass mailing programs as long as you don’t use them to try to sell Viagra to all the members of every mailing list to which you belong.

Softstack.com produces several programs that assist spammers in sending bulk e-mails, but they’ve also created a few programs that help make sure your single, non-spamming e-mails actually reach their targets. Advanced SMTP Server is a free program for Windows that lets you send e-mail messages directly from your computer, without the use of your ISP’s SMTP server.

Why do you need this program? If you’ve ever tried to send an e-mail to someone who, for whatever reason, can’t receive e-mails sent through your ISP, you know how frustrating it can be trying to establish a reliable means of electronic communication.

Chances are, if someone can’t receive your mails, their ISP has received complaints against other users using your ISP to send spam and has responded by blocking any e-mails sent from that ISP. Advanced SMTP server uses your PC as your SMTP server, which means your missives shouldn’t be blocked by anyone. Problem solved.

Using the program is almost too easy. The software works with any e-mail program (including Outlook and Eudora) and, once you set it up, you’ll probably never have to worry about it again. Whatever program you use for sending and receiving messages can be connected to the server in a very easy way, by using the word localhost instead of your current SMTP host in the “Outgoing Server” field, usually found under Preferences or Mail and Newsgroup Account Settings. Having made the change, you can send messages in the usual manner. Advanced SMTP Server is very fast; while sending, it establishes dozens of SMTP connections, and gets the most out of your Internet connection.

I need my privacy

I’m sure that by now everyone knows not to send credit card numbers or other sensitive information through e-mail, but do you know why you’re avoiding putting too much information in your e-mails?

When you send an e-mail, the message doesn’t go directly to the recipient’s inbox; instead, your ISP gets all your e-mail messages, stores them somewhere on its mail servers and then delivers the messages to your recipients, leaving copies of your messages in its database.

And with each copy that exists in a database, the chances increase that the information will somehow be accessed by someone with nasty intentions increases.

Softstack.com’s $49 E-Mail Privacy is essentially a “professional” version of Advanced SMTP Server that resides in your system tray and handles e-mail privacy issues for you.

The program delivers your messages directly to your recipient and avoids leaving copies anywhere, including on your hard drive. Moreover, if you send a message to several recipients at once, the program sends out a separate message to each rather than listing everyone together in the header, insuring privacy for your addressee as well as for yourself.

Does that mean that you can now safely send credit card information through e-mail? Well, no, because you still have no control over where or how the message is stored once it reaches its intended destination. But at least things are safer on your end of the exchange, leaving snoops less of a trail to follow and thus making your private messages all the more private.

Please stop writing me!

If your inbox is anything like mine, you probably receive dozens–if not hundreds–of unwanted e-mails each day. Deleting these messages can take precious time away from answering the messages that you actually wanted to receive.

Some browsers such as Mozilla offer junk-mail filters, but they only work after you’ve downloaded your messages and trained the program to recognize certain e-mails as spam. Filters work well once you’ve downloaded the messages, but wouldn’t it be nice to avoid having to download spam in the first place?

Enter MailWasher, a nifty little program that allows you to mark and delete spam before you actually download it. The software, which will work with any POP3 account, is a standalone program that runs independent of your e-mail program. Once activated, it will download the headers for your mail, present them to you, and let you mark the appropriate ones for deletion.

You can also choose to use external spam blacklists to identify and mark spam, taking a little elbow grease out of the equation and allowing you to further automate the whole process.

And the more you run the program, the easier it will be for MailWasher to automatically recognize and categorize your incoming messages. You can even mark certain message to send bounce notices to the sender, giving the impression that your account doesn’t exist and therefore you should be removed from their spam lists.

MailWasher does have limitations: It will only support one account at a time; it can’t work with Hotmail addresses; it has a bit of a learning curve as you get used to the program; and it doesn’t come with any sort of technical support, whether or not you pay the $5 ad-removal fee. And that’s where MailWasher Pro comes in.

MailWasher Pro supports an unlimited amount of e-mail accounts as well as Hotmail-type accounts, enables drag and drop e-mail addresses, and is an all-around easier program to use than its non-pro cousin. MailWasher Pro costs $30 and works with AOL, MSN, IMAP, and Web-based accounts as well as Pop3 accounts. You also get unlimited technical support and the company expects to offer a free Access global spam database with MailWasher Pro soon as well.

The freeware version of MailWasher can be downloaded, while the Pro version can be purchased (or downloaded as a 30-day trial version) from Firetrust. If you get more spam than regular e-mail and are tired of tweaking filters, you should give MailWasher or MailWasher Pro a try. By the time you’re finished, your inbox will be sparkling clean.

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