SAN FRANCISCO (01/25/2000) - The challenge for any e-mail program is to smoothly handle the torrent of e-mail that advanced users receive without drowning casual users in needless complexity. Outlook Express (OE) 5.0, Microsoft Corp.'s free e-mail and Usenet news program, delivers on both accounts. OE 5 has the features you'd expect from a modern e-mail client, such as HTML-formatted mail, IMAP support, and a fast and flexible Find facility, but it also adds plenty of niceties that make e-mailing easy. For example, you can read and scroll through the Inbox using only your spacebar.
Outlook Express 5.0's new Junk Mail Filter isn't perfect, but it cuts way down on the number of junk messages you have to read.
The new Junk Mail Filter and Mailing List Manager features illustrate OE 5's mail aplomb. The former applies an algorithm that attempts to detect junk mail, or spam, in your incoming mail. A Sensitivity slider lets you fine-tune how fervently the program classifies questionable mail as spam. The Average setting worked surprisingly well. Initially, OE incorrectly marked some mail -- mostly from mailing lists -- as junk, but we reclassified subsequent messages from those senders by simply adding their e-mail addresses to the Address Book. The Mail Rules feature lets you easily mark junk as read mail -- and automatically delete it.
The Mailing List Manager lets you define mailing lists; then you can manipulate and file their messages into folders. You can "burst" mailing-list digests into individual messages and then apply Mail Rules to those messages-perfect for filtering out screeds from that buffoon who mars your favorite list.
You can now sync contacts in your Palm PDA with entries in OE 5's Address Book; oddly, you can't yet synchronize e-mail with a Palm device. OE 5 can send and receive mail from Microsoft's Hotmail service, offering an alternative to using a Web browser. Finally, Microsoft has added schedules for mail downloading, and you can control PPP to dial up and disconnect from your ISP.
The improved Mail Rules feature lets you use more criteria to filter mail than that feature in previous versions, and you can have separate rules for POP, IMAP, Hotmail, newsgroup, and outgoing mail. AppleScript support, already extensive, now lets you automate and extend the program by adding any feature you can conceive.
Shortly after OE 5's release, Microsoft discovered a security hole that could allow a malicious user to send an e-mail message that sneaks a file (possibly one containing a Trojan horse or a virus) onto your hard disk. At press time, the company was working on a fix. However, the biggest source of user complaints has been OE 5's difficulty in importing mail from OE 4.5 and Claris Emailer; users have reported repeated freezes and incomplete imports. The import process is also very slow, often taking hours, depending on the size of your previous mail database.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Outlook Express 5.0 is a terrific update that should gain the program many new converts. Users cramped by the limitations of Netscape Communicator or Qualcomm Eudora Light will appreciate OE 5's feature set. The feature gap between OE 5 and Claris Emailer is smaller, but since Claris is no longer updating the latter, OE 5 offers Emailer users an excellent lifeboat-import problems notwithstanding. If you're new to e-mail, OE 5 is likely to fulfill all your needs and then some.
RATING: 4.5 mice
PROS: Excellent tools for reading and manipulating e-mail and Usenet news; expertly handles junk mail, mail rules, and mailing lists.
CONS: Some import troubles; reported security bug.
COMPANY: Microsoft (425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com).
LIST PRICE: Free.