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MR/2 ICE v0.99u2- by Chris Williams

When I "raved" about Mail Reader/2 Internet Cruiser Edition (ICE) just a couple of issues ago, I may have left you with the impression that I liked the product. Now that I've lived full-time with ICE for the last several weeks, I've had a chance to experience life with it "in the real world". The verdict: despite some beta growing pains, ICE is very cool!

Rarely have I used a beta product that has been so reliable for me in almost every respect. Usually, "beta" means getting your crash helmets out and saving all of your data. In contrast, ICE has been more reliable in its beta form than quite a few production applications I've seen. The best part is, ICE will most likely be at version 1.0 by the time you read this or shortly after. Look for ICE to cool down the streets in production form sometime by mid April. Understanding that programming is often more of an art than a science, I can certainly live with that kind of schedule. When was the last time a product from a large software company shipped only a couple of weeks after it was originally promised? Further, since the program is already available to the general public (as v0.99u2) and the author is taking registrations, the differences between this and final version become academic.

To recap some of it's features, ICE is a 32-bit multithreaded POP3 and SMTP mail reader, complete with a 70,000 word thesaurus and 120,000 word spell checker. It has a simple, WPS aware interface that relies heavily on OS/2's spiral notebook (gif 11k) scheme. There are lots of other neat features like configurable toolbars with bubble help text and automatic uuencoding/decoding of attachments, just to name a couple.

Installation

Installing ICE is almost as easy as using it. Just create a directory where you want ICE installed, copy the .ZIP files for the main program, spell checker and thesaurus to that directory and unzip them. ICE will automatically configure itself to the settings used by your ISP and display them for you to verify the first time you run it. Make any corrections you may need (which are usually none), and you are ready to go! There is only one big downside to the installation process: you have to create your own program object for ICE. A real installation program that would create the icon for you and optionally place it in a new folder with a name you can modify, or in another folder of your choosing, would be a nice addition.

Basic Features

As it stands right now, ICE provides all of the basic features you could ask for in a mail tool save for MIME and PGP support. These won't make it into version 1.00, but don't fret, plans are to include MIME in a future version that should be released in about one or two months. After that, Nick says he has plans for, "fun things like sound and some other goodies I've got in the back of my mind... a POP3 Server utility that will let you preview/maintain messages without fetching them, an editable clipboard with multiple 'slots' and keystrokes working like macros."

Speaking of extras, lots of people have contributed utilities to help you move to ICE from competing products. These range from programs to convert your Post Road Mailer and PMMail v1.1 files (UltiMail is in the works) to ICE format, to utilities like a program to help you decode MIME messages.

Another feature I use regularly is multiple configurations for different service providers. I have two, and ICE lets me use either one while sharing the same set of folders and address books. It's also possible to have multiple configurations for the same service provider. My favorite feature by far is the split screen editor for replying to received messages. You can copy and paste from one to the other, and the "paste quoted" option automatically inserts a ">" character in the first column for you.

Operation

Using ICE is a joy. It's a snappy program performance-wise. I would rate it as somewhat slower than PM Mail v1.1 and faster than Post Road Mail v1.03a. My Notebook, a ThinkPad 760CD with 40MB RAM, makes ICE scream right along. I've run the program on a number of smaller systems, including a 386SX/25 with 8MB RAM with no trouble. When it comes to usability, ICE will really make you appreciate the power of the spiral notebook in OS/2. The main program window is a large notebook that breaks everything into tabbed sections; one each for the inbox, outbox, and mail folders. Open a mail folder and a tab is dynamically added (gif 11.3k) to the notebook for that folder. Close the folder and the tab goes away. There are context sensitive, pop-up menus everywhere. The best way to explore these is to click with mouse button 2 on everything to see what happens. It's quite simple and intuitive.

Of course, reading and processing your mail is the main goal of all of these tools. ICE makes this very simple. The dialogs for the letters have nice, large buttons across the bottom (gif 9k) for the most commonly used functions like Reply and Close. Across the top is a button bar with enough choices to please almost anyone. If you can't remember what one of these buttons does, just leave the mouse cursor over the button for a second and a help text bubble appears explaining what that button does. If you don't like button toolbars, you can also turn this function off.

ICE is one of the most well threaded applications I've seen, and definitely the best threaded of the available mail tools in my opinion. The send and receive functions are even on separate threads. That means you can send and receive mail at the same time. Reading and editing messages are on separate threads. If you're the type to try it, you can send receive, edit, reply, and file messages all at once. ICE will keep up with you--and probably be a lot less confused about what you are doing than you are! Not only does this show off the power of OS/2 computing, it's very convenient. I routinely start reading my first mail message immediately after it's been pulled off my POP3 server--before ICE has finished pulling in the rest of my waiting mail. I can be editing a message and ICE will automatically be checking for new mail, beeping if something comes in. You never have to wait very long for anything.

Utilities and Extras

The address book (gif 7.3k) in ICE is relatively basic. There are only a few fields to fill in: A "Tag" or alias field, full name, e-mail address, and a general comments field. There is also an option to have an entry displayed in a pop-up menu when you click with the right mouse button on the "To:" field for sending a message. A group list of addresses are handled in a separate but related "Group address book". Each group also has its own tag line and comments and can consist of specific addresses from the address book, other addresses, or other groups. If you want to send to multiple addresses or groups from those stored in the address book, you select them at the time you create the message. The Address Group function isn't as obvious as the address book, but once you are at ease with the address book, the feel between the two is very similar. It would be nice to have these two features merged into a single utility.

There are also some nice extra features included with this package that can make life a little easier. Aside from the spell checker and thesaurus (which are more than adequate for my needs), there is a calendar, a calculator complete with scientific functions, and a text editor (the same one used by default for editing your messages). By the way, if you don't like the editor included with ICE, you can use any other OS/2 text editor you want.

ICE also gives you the ability to use canned replies and filters. While I myself have not used these features all that much, the way they are implemented is very straight forward. The filter allows you to automatically sort your messages as they arrive and do any number of things as a result of receiving certain messages. This includes launching a REXX program which, provided you are familiar with REXX, would allow you to do most anything on your PC. This is still a fairly new feature for ICE; there is more to come in this area, but the basic ideas look to be very useful and promising. In the meantime, you will have to live with the fact that most of the options in this area are still disabled because the code to support them is just not there yet.

Templates are also widely used throughout the program. In fact they are so integrated, you won't realize you are using them until you start digging to find out how and why your e-mail messages look the way they do. A template specifies what basic things show up in all of your messages. They exist for new messages, replies, forwarded messages, and more. Eventually, you will be able to create and use your own in addition to modifying the ones provided by default. Template processing is how ICE allows you to have multiple signature files, attributes, and many other features. While it is undocumented at this time, it is possible to have more than one signature file, but it's not something the squeamish would want to try. The template language itself is not documented very well in the program either. It's very powerful, but again, if you're not a programmer, you will probably be better off waiting for this feature to mature a bit more before giving it a try.

The demo version of ICE is available from Nick Knight's MR/2 Web site. Unlike many shareware programs, this demo is fully functional. While in "beta", updates to the package have come at the rate of about once per week. Plans are to slow that release rate to about once every two weeks after version 1.0. Nick says there are still a number of minor bugs he wants to squash--none of which have slowed my ability to run ICE with confidence.

Shortcomings

So, what's not so good about ICE right now? Mainly the fact that some of the features with high levels of promise aren't finished yet. Formatted printing has caused a few headaches. I'd also love to be able to have complete control over the templates without having to play with things I may not fully comprehend since I didn't write the program myself. It's so close you can see how good it will be, but it's not quite there yet. I'd also love to see a true installation program that takes getting everything installed from 'Easy' to 'Nearly Idiot Proof'.

Conclusions

ICE can be registered through most of the major shareware channels. If you don't register after a reasonable amount of time, it will start reminding you to do so. At US$25, this one is a real bargain. You're also registered as a user, so you can have multiple copies on different machines provided you're the only one using the product.

If you like the idea of having a 32-bit mail tool with the power of the best of the competition and a fast, intuitive interface that's actually pleasing to look at, ICE is definitely for you. Expect this product to be a major player in the OS/2 corner of the Internet world. A few Windows 95 and NT users I know have also looked with envy at my copy. One of them is actually going to buy a copy of Warp Connect so he can give ICE a try. When was the last time you heard that from a MS fan?


 * MR/2 Internet Cruiser Edition v0.99u2 (726k)
Knightware Software
Author: Nick Knight
Registration: US$25
Chris Williams has been actively involved with OS/2 systems for the past six years. A former IBM employee, OS/2 Ambassador, and long time member of Team OS/2, he is currently a PC and network specialist for Perot Systems Corporation.

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