Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    The new $79 Eudora Pro may be a tough sell to Internet users accustomed to free software

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #373 December 17, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    One of the first things that attract people to the Internet is that it seems like everything is free. Content is free, even that which you'd normally pay for in other media (I've been checking out Time Magazine for free every Tuesday for the past two years).

    E-mail is free, regardless of how many messages you send, or how far they're going. And, it would seem, even the software is free.

    The free ethos is deeply held by many on the Internet, going back to the Net's roots of tying together academics around the world.

    While free means the price is right, it can carry unrecognized limitations. Free content can be worth only what you pay for it, if it means you have no way of assessing its credibility. Free software may mean limited demos, or bug-ridden trial applications with no technical support.

    And if you want to produce a good product, and continually update and support it, it's hard to do if you're expected to give it away. If you try to sell your product, you have to go against a prevailing opinion that the Internet, and all that is associated with it, should be made available free of charge.

    Take Qualcomm's Eudora Internet mail program. Surveys suggest that over 18 million Internet users use Eudora to handle their mail--surely a success story by any standard.

    But the vast bulk of that number are using one of the company's free versions--either the original Eudora or the more recent Eudora-Light. The company didn't intend to be an Internet software provider--its main businesses include CDMA wireless communications, network simulations, and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). Eudora was developed more or less as a hobby.

    Originally available for Macs only, it was later released in a Windows version. Free versions of Eudora are often included in software bundles distributed by Internet service providers, and for a time, it was included with the popular Netscape Navigator.

    More recently, Netscape added Internet mail capabilities right into its Navigator Web browser, while Microsoft included such capability with Win95's Exchange software (arguably the most awkward software in the Windows 95 package. Microsoft is now including an easier-to-use Mail program with its Internet Explorer browser.) So when Qualcomm decided to take Eudora seriously and produced an added-feature Eudora Pro version for sale, it not only had to compete with the free products from Netscape and Microsoft, but with its own free Light version.

    What's the point? Is there any reason that you should consider paying $79 for Eudora Pro when you probably already have a free Internet mail program, either included with your Web browser, or a free version of Eudora itself? Internet mail programs only have to do a few simple tasks. They need to connect to a so-called SMTP mail server to send messages, and to a POP3 server to receive mail. Internet messages must be in simple, plain text format. More complex binary files, including programs, graphics and archived files, have to be encoded into a series of small, plain text files that, while unreadable to mere humans, appear to be normal mail messages to the Internet. All of those free mail programs do a good job with those tasks, and they can even decode binary files attached to basic mail messages.

    Eudora Pro (now in a new version 3.0 for both Mac and Windows 16-bit and 32-bit) includes added power, useful for people who work with a lot of e-mail. You can create multiple folders, allowing you to easily categorize and store your messages. You can create and read mail while off-line. Sophisticated filters let you automatically sort and even answer your messages as soon as they arrive.

    It can also be customized to a high degree. Users can set it to check mail on multiple accounts, or to have multiple users on a single computer. There are stationery templates for anything from virtual letterhead to full-fledged, pre-written responses. There's a built-in spell checker and (finally) a sophisticated address book. Unlike Netscape's free program, it won't let you view Web pages as e-mail, but you can format text with bold, italic, underlining and more, and, to my surprise, the formatting appears even if your addressee doesn't use Eudora Pro. Web addresses appear as hot-links, and automatically load that site in the browser of your choice.

    If you're still not sure whether it's worth switching from a free product to one that will cost you, Qualcomm allows free downloads of a 30-day trial version (

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan