Review: Mail Beacon 1.3.1
Developer: Bains Software
Price: $10 (list)
Requirements: Mac OS 7.6, Appearance Manager.
Trial: Full-featured (no limit)
I’ll admit it. I love e-mail. Without it, I don’t know how I would have kept in touch with my friends once we all went off to college. There are work places that would screech to a halt if their e-mail were cut off. If it were not for e-mail, I seriously doubt that this very publication would be possible.
One of the advantages of e-mail is that you can, theoretically, read it anywhere that there’s a computer. Unfortunately, this is also one of e-mail’s disadvantages—how are you going to get to your e-mail? You could download a full-fledged e-mail client like Outlook Express or Eudora, but that’s overkill for most things. There are always Web-based services like Yahoo! Mail and PandaMail, but these have their own limitations.
When I’m not at my computer, I like to be able to check my e-mail. I also want it available on my computer so that I can keep it filed away for future reference. I know about the methods I mentioned because I tried them myself and never felt completely satisfied. For cases like these, a program like Mail Beacon fills the void.
Stranger at a Strange Computer
The company I work for uses Lotus Notes for e-mail. Beyond basic e-mail and scheduling, I don’t know much about Notes. That being the case, I can’t use Notes to check my e-mail on any other accounts. Mail Beacon gives me a small application (it only takes 2.4 MB of hard drive space and 3850 KB of RAM) that can check other accounts, show me any messages on the e-mail server, and even allows me to send e-mail to others.
Mail Beacon is very simple to use but has some surprisingly advanced features for such a small and inexpensive program.
When you launch Mail Beacon, you are presented with a window showing any e-mail accounts you have entered. To the left of the each e-mail account is a check box indicating whether or not you want to include the account when checking e-mail. The far right of the window contains the number of e-mails currently on the server. The top of the window contains a connect button displaying Mail Beacon’s status.
Mail Beacon’s Main Window
Adding an e-mail account to Mail Beacon is just as easy—after selecting Add… from the Tools menu, you just enter the necessary information in 1-4 screens. The first screen is the server information for checking the account, the second it for sending e-mail, the third provides some options when checking accounts, and the fourth is for viewing e-mail. If all you care about is checking various accounts, you can enter information into just the first screen. Also, if you have properly configured the Internet control panel, you can tell Mail Beacon to get its information there.
Creating a new e-mail account.
As you can see in the Add Account window, there is a pop-up menu for the server type and a check box for toggling APOP. If you haven’t guessed, the former means that Mail Beacon supports IMAP servers in addition to the near-ubiquitous POP3 servers. The latter activates the APOP login procedure, which you should use if your server supports it. I know of several fully-featured e-mail clients that lack one or both of these capabilities. More than likely, this is the first of Mail Beacon’s advanced features you will come across.
In the remaining Add Account screens, you can set up an outgoing mail server, choose to send yourself copies of all outgoing messages, override Mail Beacon’s default notification settings, and determine how you want to view the incoming mail.
Now, it is comforting to know that people care enough to send me e-mail (even if 75% of it is spam), but I don’t really get that warm and fuzzy feeling inside until I get a chance to read my e-mail. Mail Beacon gives you two ways to see what you’ve gotten: list view and browse view.
List view is similar to your standard e-mail application—you see all your e-mails displayed with their subject and size, and you can select which one you want to read. When you select an e-mail, the sender is displayed in the top portion of the window.
Mail Beacon’s List View
Browse view lets you see the information about each message one at a time. The sender, date sent, subject, and message size are all displayed in the main portion of the window.
Mail Beacon’s browse view with the Flag Message menu.
Both views have three buttons in the top left of the window. The left-most button disconnects you from the server and deletes any messages you have marked for deletion. The middle button displays the selected e-mail. The rightmost button lets you mark messages for deletion. If a message is unmarked, the button shows a picture of a trash can (to show that clicking will mark the message for deletion). If a selection is marked, the button becomes an arrow similar to the undo symbol on many applications’ toolbars.
In list view, the mark button is a simple button that toggles between marked and unmarked. In browse view, this button displays a drop-down menu letting you flag a single message, flag all messages, or start flagging consecutive messages. This might cause some confusion, as the menu uses a check mark to show the current behavior. When I first used the application, I interpreted the check mark next to “Flag Message” as meaning the message was flagged for deletion. I ended up deleting two e-mails I wanted to save because of this. Furthermore, the behavior is not always consistent. When I started a selection, selected the next message, ended the selection, and then cleared the selection, I ended up with no check mark. From my point of view, the check mark is superfluous and adds confusion to an otherwise easy-to-use application.
When you choose to read an e-mail, you get a no-frills window that displays some of the header information and the contents of the e-mail. Depending on your setting in the preferences, URLs (though not e-mail addresses) may be clickable and reply text with a ‘>’ at the beginning of the line may be displayed in gray. Also, there are “Find…” and “Find Again” commands for searching through e-mails.
The interface for sending e-mails is a little more robust than this. You get a window containing fields for From, To, Subject, CC, and BCC. In the From field, you can select from any of the mail accounts you have entered, or you can type another e-mail address. Two notes about this—first, even if you have not entered sending information for an account, it can still be selected from the account pop-up menu. Second, by typing a different e-mail in the From field, you can, in effect, set a different reply-to address for the message. Also, you could hide your correct e-mail address from a cursory view of the e-mail.
One nice thing about sending mail with Mail Beacon as opposed to the Web-based services mentioned earlier: Mail Beacon does not add any advertising to the bottom of your e-mail.
As I said earlier, Mail Beacon has some advanced features you might not expect in such a small package. I already mentioned IMAP and APOP support. In addition, it supports basic filtering, reminders, password protection, and redirecting, all of which are briefly described below.
Basic Filtering: Mail Beacon can check whether an e-mail or a portion of an e-mail contains certain text. If Mail Beacon finds a match while filtering, the message is flagged for deletion. Mail Beacon includes 5 filters out of the box: 3 XXX filters, an HTML mail filter, and a not-plain-text filter.
Reminders: you can set up a list of reminders that can be displayed in a floating window.
Password Protection: Mail Beacon can prompt for a password when it is first launched.
Redirecting: similar to forwarding, but the text is sent unaltered and the message maintains the e-mail address of the original sender.
Mail Beacon also includes five sounds to alert you to incoming mail. If the sounds aren’t to your liking, you can download 32 additional sounds from the Mail Beacon Web site or use any standard Macintosh sound file.
Mail Beacon is not without its rough edges. Most noticeably, it does not yet let you print. This might surprise you, since there is a Printing Font entry in the preferences.
One thing that catches me time and time again is that double-clicking on the name of an e-mail account brings up the Edit Account dialog box. Most of the time, I am trying to bring up the message list.
The Read Me document notes two possible incompatibilities with certain servers, but I have not run across anything troublesome. Also, there is a “Failed Assertion” bug that pops up often when quitting the application. This is not a serious problem, and the developer has said that this will be fixed in version 1.4.
If you need a small application for checking your e-mail, either when you are away from your computer or when you do not want to keep your large e-mail client open all the time, then Mail Beacon could be what you’re looking for. There are several things I feel could be done differently (or at all, in the case of printing), though most of the time I am very happy with it.