[Contest] Postbox [Forum Exclusive]

It wasn’t that long ago that most of us only had 1 email account. Today, it’s likely you have several. Probably, one from your ISP and any number of webmail accounts from Google, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, and the list goes on. Wouldn’t you like to be able to handle all your email accounts in one place instead of needing to login to several different ones? An email client will definitely answer that need.

I’ve been considering trying Thunderbird for awhile and then I recently read Mozilla is cutting way back on its support and development. So, I jumped at the opportunity to try out Postbox 3, a desktop email client for Windows and Mac OS X.  Before we go into my hands-on experiences, let’s first look at what the features showcased on the main page.

Although Postbox 3 will work  with any POP or IMAP email account, they tout it as “the world’s best desktop Gmail client” featuring:

  • “Gmail Label support makes organizing easy
  • “Dedicated Important view for high-priority messages
  • “Send and Archive your messages in just one step
  • “Add detected dates to your Google Calendar
  • “Support for Gmail keyboard shortcuts for the power user”

I found Postbox did a wonderful job with my Gmail accounts. Unlike other webmail services, Gmail allows you to assign an email to any number of folders; a killer feature in my book that I don’t want to do without. Postbox has definitely gone a great job here: every email showed up in all the folders they were used to and just like in the Gmail web client, each message showed which folders to which it was assigned.

Next the next features we see showcased are Postbox’s Social Media capabilities:

  • “Auto-import profile photos from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Gravatar
  • “Update your status on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter
  • “Quick and easy links to sender’s profile pages”

Another very useful feature is Dropbox integration:

  • “Drag files from your Dropbox folder to send them as links
  • “Messages send faster and you’ll save hard drive space
  • “Files can be updated outside of the email message”

Postbox definitely offers an impressive list of features. So, let’s get on with the hands-on portion of this review.

Installation went very smoothly. I was first greeted by the Setup Wizard and given a choice of Standard or Custom installation. The Custom appears to simply give you a choice of where to install the program and Start Menu folder name as well as whether you want Start Menu, Desktop and Quick Launch shortcuts. But there’s a hidden feature here: you can install Postbox 3 as a portable application.

If you choose Standard, it will install into Program Files folder. But I prefer portable installations when possible to keep my system drive and Windows registry as small and tidy as possible. And in this case, it makes it easy to backup my email archives and have a copy handy on a USB flash drive. The first step is change the install location. Just click “Browse” and navigate to the hard drive or USB flash drive where you want it installed. Click “Make New Folder” and name it, then “OK” and “Next”.

At the end You’ll then be greeted with the Welcome Screen. Here’s where the trick comes in. You want to close it without starting the program. If you do, it will then automatically begin the creation of your user profile which it will install in the default location. In XP, it’s “Documents and Settings\<UserName>\Application Data\Postbox”. But it will created in “Users\<UserName>\AppData\Roaming\Postbox” for Vista and Windows .7

As I discovered by from this article in the Postbox Knowledge Base, the trick to making it portable is to use the “-profile” command line switch. Of course, I have little interest in always starting a program from the command line. So, I simply edited the shortcut on my Desktop. Naturally, you first need to create the folder where you want your Postbox profile stored. Since I installed the program on “D:\Portables\Postbox”, I created a “Profile” subfolder in it.

Right click the Postbox shortcut on the Desktop, select Properties and click the Shortcut tab. The Target will be something like this: “D:\Portables\Postbox\postbox.exe” Then I changed it to “D:\Portables\Postbox\postbox.exe” -profile “D:\Portables\Profile” and clicked OK. This is quite similar to the trick to creating a Firefox profile to a location other than your system drive.

Of course, you’ll need to edit the shortcuts in the Start Menu and Quick Launch shortcuts as well. Then you’re really to start the program for the first time. The setup is simple enough. Three pieces of info are needed to get started: Display Name, email address and password. Since I get a good amount of email updates from all the tech blogs I’m subscribed to, I decided to start with that account. (I have accounts on a number of different webmail providers and use each one for different purposes

I input the necessary information and clicked “Next.” I was very pleased to see that Postbox was able to correctly determine the incoming and outgoing server settings for me. After I told it go ahead, it started reading in all the emails on that account’s server. And every thing was there in the correct folders!

Now I want to share a couple of screenshots provided by the developer—email is a private thing, you know. There are two styles of views: the Vertical and the Classic.

This is the Vertical View which is most suited for widescreen monitors. (In the “View” menu, select “Layout” then choose either the Vertical or Classic views.) The Folder pane on the left shows the email accounts you’ve added and folders for the selected account beneath it. The next pane contains the listings of messages in the highlighted folder. The third one is the Message pane. In the screenshot you’ll notice something they the call the “Conversation View” which groups sent and received emails within a thread.  A very nice feature! It’s enabled by default and this article gives further instructions on it.

You should note that the Vertical View with the Folder and Message panes are the default. There’s a drop down menu for “Show” via the “View” menu where can select the Focus Pane and the Inspector Pane.

Here’s the Classic View with the Focus along with the Folder and Message panes selected. The “Favorite Topics” section is quite useful since it allows you a simple and immediate way to classify messages regardless of which folder they end up being assigned. The first thing I did was create a topic called “ASAP” by right-clicking there and selecting “Create New Favorite Topic.”

The Focus Pane seems to be a feature unique to Postbox. It’s likely to be one I’ll end up being unable to live without. And speaking of killer features, I should also mention one that’s been missing on webmail clients: a new featurecalled Canned Responses which lets create templates for your outgoing messages.

As you can see, it’s simple to setup. First, you need to create the template selecting “Options” via the “Tools” menu and clicking “Composition” on the top menu bar. Then click “Response” and “New.”

Since I’ll talk about them later, I want to call your attention to the Inspector Pane on the far right, and to the far left, the Account Pane is showing three Account Groups I made: Public, Private and Biz.

But let’s look at how you use the Canned Response you just created. As you can see, it couldn’t be simpler. After clicking Compose on the toolbar, the Responses you have created will be listed on the drop down menu. You’ll also notice, it also offers the option to create a new one or edit a pre-defined one. This is a very useful feature.

Let’s go back at look at the preceding screenshot. In the Account Pane, you’ll notice the General “Account Group” has been selected. I dragged and dropped the email accounts where I receive messages from tech blogs, forums and the like. As explained in this article: “you can create groups for your ‘personal’ and ‘work’ accounts, and view a combined Inbox for the accounts within. In addition, combining accounts into Account Groups unifies folders the Folders Pane, which makes it easier to transfer messages from one account folder to another.”

The Focus Pane is also shown with the ASAP “Favorite Topic” selected. Now the only message listed is one that I just assigned to that topic by right-clicking the message and going to “Assign Topic” from the context menu. This is a nice feature because sometimes there are messages you need to be sure to respond to but are too busy with something else at the moment… like writing a review.

In the Inspector Pane on the far left shows the information about the sender as well as active links within the message. This is also where you’ll find links to the sender’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn pages as well.

Personally, I’m much of a social media fan. So far, I’ve only noticed one email where a link to someone’s Facebook page showed up and I haven’t grasped the details of how it all works yet. However, it is very simple to send an update to your social media accounts via the “Post” button in the toolbar. It’s not enabled by default so you have to right click the toolbar, select “Customize Toolbar” and drag the icon up there. But the first necessary step is to allow Postbox to integrate with them under the “Web Services” tab in the “Advanced” section of “Options” via the “Tools” menu.

BTW, you might be wondering why I’ve been providing links to various articles from the Postbox Knowledge Base. In the “Welcome to Postbox” screenshot, you can see there’s a link to a “Quickstart Guide.” But the page is not longer there: when you click the link, you will find yourself redirected to the online User Guide which really doesn’t tell how to setup and configure a number of Postbox’s features.

I suspect they are in the process of creating a new guide to help first-time users made use of Postbox’s features and abilities. It’s intuitive enough for most to simply start using it and learn as they go. But there’s no in-program Help available and I found it a bit frustrating to have do searches for basic instructions on how to use the new features of Postbox 3. And unfortunately, there’s no forum where you can learn the ins and outs of the program from experienced users. They lay out their Support policy in this article.

That said; let’s continue with my hands-on experience with Postbox 3. My next step was to add another account. Go to the “Tools” menu, select “Options” and click “Accounts” on top menu bar. At the bottom left corner of the dialog, you’ll find the “Add” button which has the following drop-down choices: “Add Mail Account”, “RSS Account”, “Newsgroup Account” and “Set as Default.” Then fill in the necessary information and follow the prompts. Note: there is a button for “Manual Settings” if Postbox doesn’t find the correct ones automatically. But I never had to do it manually.

After Postbox grabbed all the emails, I noticed something. Whenever I clicked on a folder in an account. I saw a message indicating it was downloading headers for each email. When I checked out the online Help pages, I came to realize that was because by default Postbox wasn’t downloading the messages.

However, I found this article that explains how you can get Postbox to download all the emails on the server so you can access them in Offline mode. The simplest way is to go to the “File” menu and place your mouse over “Offline.” Among the options in the drop down menu are: “Work Offline”, “Download/Sync now”, “Offline Settings.”

Offline settings” will open the “Options” dialog with the “Accounts” tab and “Local Storage” selected. I first put a check in the box to make my Inbox available in Offline mode. Then I clicked on “Select folders for offline use” which takes you a dialog where you have to individually select which folders on which accounts you want available.

Afterwards, I selected “Download/Sync now” via “Offline” in the “File” menu. That went fairly quick considering we’re talking about several thousand emails in those two accounts. But now I have all my emails on my hard drive.

I do want to share an important note from the last article mentioned: “Even though messages can be downloaded for offline use, they are still being synced with the IMAP server, and could potentially be deleted if messages have been deleted on the server. In order to safeguard messages if you plan on deleting messages from the server, please move them to the ‘Local Folders’.”

At this point I’m really pleased with Postbox, but then I’m remember that I’ve just given a program the passwords to my email account. I don’t know about you, but only entrust my passwords to the password manager I use. But the good news is that Postbox offers the encryption of your account passwords. It’s explained in this article.: Click on the “Privacy” in the “Options” menu bar (via “Tools”) and check the “Use a master password box” and the “Change Master Password” dialog will appear. Naturally, it would a very good idea to store your Postbox Master Password in LastPass or some other password manager.

Finally, I decided to look into the various third-party add-ons available for. I found 16 extensions for Postbox 3. There were several that caught my eye but the one I definitely had to try was Thunderbrowse which allows you to open a web page inside of Postbox. I thought that would definitely be handy for checking out updates from my favorite tech blogs. As you can see in this screenshot, it works very well.

All in all, I’m highly impressed with Postbox 3. It’s fast, rich in features and does a superb job handling Gmail accounts. You can install it as a portable application on a USB flash drive and take it with you everywhere you go. There are a number of excellent add-ons and you can encrypt your account passwords. And the license terms allow you run Postbox on any computer you personally use.

It’s not free, but then as many Thunderbird users have recently discovered, free sometimes means you can’t count on continued development. Besides, the price is definitely right at $9.95. If they had a QuickStart Guide and more in-depth help information available, I’d give it an A+.

Reviewed by Jelson

 

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