On the lighter side, organizing your email can be a bit of a chore. Microsoft Outlook is, of course, the industry standard for business email… And it works pretty good (though sometimes the user interface bugs the heck out of me).
Microsoft Exchange Servers provide automatic email encryption within an organization; Outlook has good search tools, organizing tools, filing tools, address book tools, and so on.
That being said, Mozilla Thunderbird + Lighting offers a very good alternative to Outlook with a few features that aren’t natively available (Evolution Mail, Claws Mail, KMail, etc. are other excellent alternatives to Outlook). Personally, after using it for a while I prefer Thunderbird because of the available PGP encryption (Microsoft charges a pretty penny for inter-organizational email encryption). I also really like the user interface and the customizability of the program.
With so many great features available in an email client, it’s a good idea to figure out what they all are and how they work. Here are a couple of great tools and add-ons that I’ve been able to take advantage of:
- Address Book – Putting your contacts into an address book is a great way to organize yourself. You can store email addresses, phone numbers, photos, mail addresses, put together mailing lists, set up signitures, and make your emails all-around more professional. Sure, online email address book tools are similar, but who really wants to keep all of that personal client information out there on the net?
- vCards – vCards are a standard format for electronic business cards which are compatible with many PDA devices and email clients. Essentially, it makes it easier for someone to import your contact information into their address book; it’s a great feature to take advantage of.
- Email Signatures – Your business emails will be far much more professional by merely adding a formatted signature to them. I recommend setting up email signatures for everyone. Don’t forget to attach your vCard.
- Enigmail Email Encryption – Oy vey! Email is not secure. At all. Generally, it’s no big deal, but heck you never know what bit of conversation that someone will find value in hacking into. GPG email encryption provides a free, easy means of communicating securely to anyone, anywhere (given that they have a means of decryping). The Enigmail plug-in alone makes me wonder why more organizations don’t use Thunderbird/Lightning. It can be set up to be automatic through your address book, and it works seamlessly.
- Email Threads – One great feature of the latest version of Outlook is that it automatically groups conversations. Thunderbird provides the same sort of functionality out of the box. What’s more the ThreadVis plugin offers an additional graphical conversation maps to keep track of different branches of the conversation, forwards, and so on.
- Email Search – Finding old messages is often a chore. That said, modern email clients provide great search tools for finding old emails, regardless of how they’ve been organized.
- Calendar/Task Lists – When it comes to organizing my life, I find that it’s extraordinarly important to organize myself with a personal calendar and a running to-do list. To me, it makes perfect sense to associate calendars with email clients. The Lightning plugin works great for all of those things.
- Appearance – It may sound silly, but email is something that you have to look at a lot as an engineer these days. Thundebird offers some great themes which look great. Personally, I use the TT DeepDark theme, but there are tons. Check out Silvermel, OfficeBlack, LeopardMail, Noia, and so on.
Admittedly, I haven’t organized my email life as well as I could, but the tools are great. If you haven’t checked out Thunderbird, I’ve had good luck with it and recommend it highly. It’s most certainly a suitable substitute for MS Outlook or any other email client.
For those of us stuck in Microsoft Exchange Server land, check out the ExQuilla add-on. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s a very exciting project that I intend to take a look at whenever I get a free minute. 🙂