Waxing Poetic About the Message Center

First Published: browserwars.com
Date Published: 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Savetz

	Mail comes and goes
	Communicator e-mail
	Messages sublime
You can stay up all night using Netscape Communicator, as I have. You can browse and search and surf from sunset until sunrise. You can avoid sleep until the time comes when blinking seems unnecessary and all your thoughts form as haiku. When your tenuous grasp on the mouse weakens and you finally slink away to bed, you will dream of the Message Center. For the Message Center is arguably the best part of Communicator, the place where e-mail happens.

You're probably already using an e-mail client. Is it worth switching to Communicator's, especially in your sleep-deprived state? Indeed, it is certainly worth considering: the Message Center is easy to use and filled with truly useful features for reading and sending mail.

	First, preferences
	Choose edit, prefs, mail and groups
	see the old column
Before you dive in to the Message Center, you'll need to tell Communicator about your mail preferences -- at minimum, you must set the mail server so the program can send and receive mail. (See the previous column,  Communicator Prefs: What to Use, What to Skip for the skinny on setting these up.) Communicator supports the IMAP protocol as well as the more common POP protocol for retrieving e-mail. IMAP is convenient for those of us who access our e-mail from more that one computer -- with it, you won't end up in a situation where some messages are be trapped on your office computer while others are stuck on your home machine.

After your prefs are set, you can make the magic start by choosing Message Center from the Communicator menu. From the main Message Center window, you'll see several elements: the buttons and the folders. The folders are where your various messages are stored: incoming messages, mail you've sent, messages that you've started to compose and those you've deleted. The Get Msg button will retrieve your messages from the server, or press New Msg to compose a message. The Join Groups button will start you on the road to Usenet newsgroups -- we'll cover that in a future column.

	HTML mail
	is simplicity itself
	like a moonlight dance
My favorite part of the Message Center is how well it integrates HTML into e-mail. After years and years of using Eudora -- a wonderful e-mail client but suffering from a lack of HTML prowess -- I have to admit that it was love at first sight with Message Center. When your first HTML-laden mail arrives, you'll fall in love too. Colors, fonts of all sizes, even embedded graphics can be part of your missives. Elegant. If someone sends you a Web page via e-mail (with the browser's File->Send Page function) the mail message that you receive looks exactly like the real Web page, complete with graphics. But those graphics aren't actually attached to the message -- they're automagically downloaded from the web when you read it. Maybe I'm just a sucker for multimedia e-mail, but the Message Center is sexy for this trick alone.

Composing styled mail is just as elegant -- type your text, add style by pressing the intuitive tag buttons, and send it on its merry way. Wait a minute: if your message's recipient can't handle HTML messages, he'll miss out on your artistic creation (or worse, just see an ugly jumble of tags.) You should know if your correspondents read mail with Communicator before you send that message. To that end, the Address Card feature allows them to tell you if they want HTML mail or not, and Communicator will automatically comply.

	Searching near and far
	Address Book and Address Cards
	waltz on the water
The address book is one of the touches that makes Communicator's Message Center so poetic. It lets you store contact information for your associates using a unique address card system. Not just e-mail addresses -- with space for address, phone and company information, it can replace your Rolodex. If your e-mail buddies also use Communicator, you don't even have to type in their address card information -- they can append it to their messages automatically.

Beyond address cards, the address book also lets you search the Web's major e-mail lookup tools (Switchboard, WhoWhere, Bigfoot and others) without even opening a browser window. Select Address Book from the Communicator menu to try it.

	Trapped between two bits
	decisions without a thought
	filters crest the waves
The Message Center includes powerful mail filters, although it is possible to completely miss this feature if you don't look in the right place. Hiding up in the Edit menu is the Mail Filters... function, where you can tell Communicator how to deal with your incoming mail messages. You might use filters to shunt all messages from the dog-lovers mailing list to a special folder that you've created for that purpose, to control the influx of "spam", or to highlight messages from your boss, your best friend or your evil twin.

The filters window is rather intuitive -- you can filter based on the sender, subject, message body text, and other header information. Press the "More" button to create a more complex filter that does two comparisons (for example, highlight messages from gregor@best.com AND a subject line that includes the word BrowserWars -- press it again for three comparisons (the maximum for one filter.) Once you've created two or more filters, you can drag them around the list to change their precedence. To delete a filter, highlight it and press the Delete key.

	But wait -- there is more
	The features go on and on
	Like a bad haiku
As the sun peeks over the mountains, a date with the Sandman prevents me from extolling all the other virtues of the Message Center -- such as its bountiful security features and tidy spell checker. There is little doubt that once you explore them, you'll find that the Message Center will make you rest easy -- even as you toss your old mail client in the trash.

Articles by Kevin Savetz