Apple Computer, Inc., have just released a public beta of a new Webmail service for use with their iTool’s mac.com email accounts, allowing you to access your mac.com mailbox from anywhere in the world.
In the past, you could only access your mac.com address using a standard POP3 or IMAP email client, like Eudora, Outlook Express or Mail.app. Now, you can access it from a web browser, by simply going to the Apple iTools page and logging in.
Once you login, you’ll be presented with your inbox and any email waiting for you.
First you’ll see your tools, which we’ll cover in more detail in a moment.
Then you have the individual email messages listed, with the senders name, the Subject, the date and time it was sent and the actual size of the message.
Message with an Aqua dot next to them are unread, while those with out are obviously read one.
In the screen shot above you’ll the messages are sorted by Date & Time – notice the darker grey in the description bar. You can sort by the criteria by simply clicking in that sections description bar.
You also get a summary of how many messages you have, which folder you are in and then the account you are logged in as.
Many of the toolbar options, don’t become available until you select an email message.
The first option is available all the time and is Get Mail. This allows to re-poll your mailbox and grab any new messages.
Delete allows you to delete a message from your mailbox and is only available when to select one or more messages.
Reply, Reply All, Forward allow you to respond to the just sender; respond to everyone listed in the TO and CC fields; or forward the message on to someone else.
Add Sender adds the contact details like Name and Email Address to your online address book.
Move to Folder lets you sort your mail in to different folders. This is particularly useful if you want to store some email for later reference, or to group mail from mailing lists together.
After the divider line, you have the Compose option, which allows to create a new email message.
Then you have the Go To Folder pop-up menu that allows you to open up another mail folder.
In the top right corner of the tool bar, you have a small circle with a question mark in it. This is the Help Menu, which opens up in a separate window and provides assistance and advice on a variety of topics.
Underneath the main toolbar, you have a second row, which provides a summary of which message you have selected, how many messages in the current folder and the name of the current folder.
Then on the far right you have a search option, where you can search for text in a number of different fields.
Clicking on the Composeicon on the main toolbar, takes you to the Compose Screen.
By default, you are presented options to enter in addresses in the TO and CC fields. If you use the BCC field then you can enable this in the preferences section.
You can enter addresses in three ways;
The first is the good old fashion way – Manually.
The next is using the Quick Address option, which allows you select an email address from a pop-up menu of commonly used addresses.
The third option is to select the Address icon from the toolbar. This will bring up a list of the entries in your address book, from which you can choose to add the address to the TO, CC or BCC field. You can select multiple addresses and add them to different fields if you want to.
You then have the Subject. The Save a Copy option saves a copy of the message in your Sent Messages folder.
One of the things I really like about the iTools Webmail interface is the huge area it has to enter your actual message. So many other webmail services give you such a tiny text entry box that I’m sure it was only intended to fit on a Palm screen. With the iTools one, you can clearly see your message, making it easy to ensure that you can easily proof it before sending (Something, I should do more often :-).
Other options you have are to include file attachments or save the message as a draft, so you can continue working on it later if needed.
Then you have the option to send. My only complaint about the Compose screen is the fact that you have to scroll back up to the top of the screen to click the send button. A Send button in the bottom right corner would be useful. I’d keep the one in the toolbar, as I’ll often double check the address fields and add an attachment before sending.
It would also be nice if the FROM address was listed on this screen, as many people use multiple iTools accounts and you’ll then be 100% sure you are using the correct account.
One of the things I really like about the iTools Webmail interface is the huge area it has to enter your actual message
The iTools Webmail Address Book is quite simple to use, yet well featured.
It breaks each entry up in four fields – First Name, Last Name, Nickname and Email Address. You can also specify if that entry appears in the Quick Address list.
One thing to be aware of with the nickname is that it’s actually used as part of the address – so be careful what you use for the nickname.
Adding a new address book is quite easy. Either click on New and manually enter the details, or you can use the Add Sender icon on the main toolbar.
The first section of the Preferences deals with composing email.
You can add a photo, or in fact virtually any image, that will be displayed in the message if sent to another mac.com account and you have the standard Signature that can be added to the footer of each message you send and appears in all receiving email clients.
When replying to a message, you can have the original text quote, thus including a point of reference for your comments.
If you want to manually type in a BCC address header, you’ll need to enable the Add Bcc Header option. You can still add BCC entries using the Address Book without this option enabled.
If you want to keep a copy of each message you send, you can elect to have it saved in the folder of your choice.
When deleting messages, you can have extra layer of protection; Just like the Mac OS Finder, when you first “trash” the message, it places in a “trash can” in this case the Delete Messages folder. You then have to manually empty the Deleted Messages folder by choosing Show All Folders from the Go to Folder pop-up menu and check the box next to your Deleted Messages folder and click Empty.
The next section deals your viewing options.
You set your local time zone using the Time Zone pop-up menu.
You can configure the number of messages it shows in an index before going to a new page. On slower internet connections, it may be useful to set this to a lower figure and if you get tons of email it may be useful to increase the figure.
Although I have enabled the Show “All Headers” Option, most people won’t need to as it only displays a lot of “jargon” that administrators are interested in.
The last section handles some account configuration options.
If you want, you can have your mail automatically forwarded to another email account. Most of the time you won’t want to do this, as there plenty of other ways to handle that, but sometimes it is easier to have everything in one central mailbox, so the option is there.
You can set an Auto-Reply message that send straight back to the sender of each message you receive. Use this option with caution, particularly you have subscribed to mailing lists. These messages can get very annoying for people sending email.
You can also have Webmail import mail from another email account if you wanted using the Check Other POP Mail option.
You can also set various options like your name, address, contact telephone numbers and birthday in the Accounts menu.
Using both Webmail and POP3
You can use both the Webmail interface and a POP3/IMAP email client like Eudora, Outlook Express or Mail.app, together, quite easily.
I hear you ask, “But, why would you want to do this?” and I’ll answer you by saying there are a couple of reasons.
The first is you only have 5megs of storage space in your mac.com mailbox and once this is full, you can’t receive any more email – unless you delete some. Now this is fine until you want to keep archive copies of email you receive and the best way of doing this is by downloading them to your own computer, where you hopefully have gigabytes of free hard drive space 🙂
The POP3 clients allow you to compose and read email while you’re not connected to the internet. This is particularly useful if your charged on a time basis from your ISP, or are working on a laptop while travelling. When you are ready, you can log on and then send your mail in one hit.
The POP3 clients also have more powerful features like spell checking and filters/rules.
However, having the Webmail interface is great if you are away from your machine and need to send a quick email, or check your mail – you just log on from any machine with a web browser.
In order to use BOTH the Webmail interface and a POP3 client, you need to ensure you setup the POP3 client correctly. Basically, all the settings like Username, Mail Server and SMTP Server remain the same – but there is one option that is hidden away under advanced or extra settings menus that should be set and that is the Leave on Server for XX days option. You can set the period to virtually anything you like, but common settings are 5, 7, 14 and 30 days. See the images below to see how I have configured Eudora.
In the meantime, you can read the mail with the Webmail interface and/or your POP3 client, which can be extremely useful if you are going to be away for a few days and want to keep in touch.
Things I’d like to see added to Webmail
I’m not sure why Apple released the Webmail option as a beta – as far as I can tell, it works extremely well, and is certainly the best looking Webmail system I’ve seen, but there are a couple of things I’d like to see added to the system.
Spell Checker: with support for both “real” English (aka International English) and US English, as well as other languages and it is selected based your country setting in Account Setup.
Filters: I’d like the option to have mail automatically filtered off to separate folders. This option is particularly useful you subscribe to mailing lists and want to keep mail from them together for easy identification.
Fax receive option: I doubt I’ll see this one, but there are many webmail services like mBox that offer fax to email services where they basically convert incoming faxes to a graphic format like a TIFF or JPEG and place them in a mailbox.
Voicemail: Same as fax receive, I doubt we’ll see this, but again there are plenty of webmail services that offer this feature – they convert the message in to a .wav or .mp3 file and deliver it to your mailbox.
For the Fax and Voicemail, I’d even be willing to pay a small fee – I already do to mBox, but prefer the look the look and feel of the iTools Webmail system.
Included as an option for use on my own Mac OS X Server: I’d love to be able to offer Webmail services to people on my intranet and while there are plenty of other options out there, as mentioned above, I like the look and feel of the iTools Webmail interface.
I’m not sure why Apple released the Webmail option as a beta – as far as I can tell, it works extremely well, and is certainly the best looking Webmail system I’ve seen
If you don’t already have a mac.com address, you can easily sign up for one, FREE OF CHARGE, by visiting the iTools website.
By signing up, you’ll get access to the following services;
- iCards – Electronic greeting cards, that can personalised with your own images
- HomePage – Publish your own website with text, photos and movies with the address of homepage.mac.com/username
- Mac.com email – a 5meg mail box with an address of firstname.lastname@example.org, which can be accessed by a regular email client and/or via the new webmail interface
- iDisk – 20megs of online hard disk storage
NOTE: You will need to sign up using a Macintosh computer running Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X, but many of the features like Webmail and iDisk can then be accessed from virtually any machine, including those running Microsoft Windows. You must also be at least 13 years of age.
All screenshots in this article were taken using Ambrosia Software’s SnapzProX. For more information on SnapzProX visit http://www.AmbrosiaSW.com/utilities/snapzprox.
A copy of this article, with colour images, is available from my website, http://www.nicholaspyers.com.
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