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J Street Mailer: Release One- by Chris Wenham

According to OS/2 e-Zine!'s editorial policy, native OS/2 applications designed specifically with OS/2 in mind always get priority over those that are mere "also OS/2" ports. Innoval's J Street Mailer was a notable exception to this rule, seeing as it has roots in Post Road Mailer for OS/2 and was borne of a company that has shown a lot of support for OS/2 in the past. But being a Java application I had some doubts on the performance it would exhibit, and just how realistically it could be deployed. Experience with its early betas (and early Java Virtual Machines) were not great.

So to judge it properly, I made it my main e-mail client for about a week, running my usual, native client only once or twice a day whenever I had to. I made J Street run alongside memory munchers like Netscape and Lotus SmartSuite, several smaller programs and a scattering of open folders, continuously up to 7-8 hours or more during the course of average work, dealing with the usual 200-250 emails I get per day (thanks to numerous mailing lists). The experience, to say the least, was an eye-opening one.


J Street Mailer doesn't come with an installation program of any sort, not even a sampling of CMD or batch files to get you started with. The readme files give you a good idea of how to get up and running, and my previous experience with ICQ for Java was enough to create a CMD file that launched the client. J Street only has one crucial file; innoval.jar. Everything it needs is packed within this file, which self-extracts whatever supplemental files are necessary the first time you run it.

Performance and Stability

This is the part that did all the eye-opening and the one I hammered on the most while testing. J Street is fast for a Java app, surprisingly fast. You'd expect a Java application to be a dog, a hit to the system, perpetually leaning on the swap file. Yet on my machine, an AMD K6-200 with 32 megs of RAM, it was very well behaved as it ran alongside an average workday load. As I write this in Lotus WordPro, J Street is running alongside Object Desktop Pro, Netscape Navigator, an IRC client and a few small utilities and open folders. Once everything has settled down, task switching from one application to another is about 1 or 2 seconds of hard disk activity and screen repainting for a moderate, average workday load.

I'll be frank; it's slower than a native program, and will probably lengthen the "Long Dark Teatime of the Soul" that your computer goes through whenever there's some heavy swap file activity going on. However, if you only run your client when you actually need to check or compose mail, or you're willing to chuck another $50 of RAM into your machine, you wouldn't even notice that.

J Street Mailer is more than fast enough to be usable in an average work environment, plus, I did not experience a single crash during the time that I tested it.

User Interface

J Street Mailer (.GIF, 18K) isn't a beauty, but it's pleasant to look at, with a frame layout reminiscent of Netscape Mail -- divided into three frames, one for the folder tree, another for the selected folder's contents, and the largest frame on the bottom for the message body. J Street Mailer features a button bar similar to PMMail, but which lights up as the mouse glides over.

Its color scheme is a drab gray, and unfortunately it doesn't respond well to colors drag-n-dropped from any of Warp's palettes, nor does it have any other color customizing mechanism anywhere.


This is the next pleasant surprise. For a young application it's definitely not short on features, with a spellchecker and support for HTML formatting in e-mail messages. Mail filtering is exceptionally good, with a "Wizard"-like interface and a number of methods from straight boolean comparisons, checking against a list of keywords, or utilizing your own custom filter programs (written in Java, of course).

J Street can handle multiple e-mail accounts, but not like PMMail does. You can switch between accounts easily, but J Street can only periodically check for mail in the current account, ignoring the rest until you switch back to them.

In each message window's corner is a tiny icon of a pushpin, clicking on which will pull up a "sticky note" window for you to jot some notes or reminders into. The note is then kept "attached" with the message for as long as you have it, but doesn't become part of the message should you want to forward or reply to it later.

Folders and nested folders can be created easily to sort and filter mail into, so it's even possible to modify the entries in your address book (.GIF, 10.6K) so that mail sent to a particular address will get filtered into a separate "Sent Mail" box -- something which could be extremely handy to separate business from personal mail. Unfortunately, J Street doesn't support dragging-n-dropping of mail into folders like PMMail does.

Finally, attachments are handled with a reasonable amount of elegance. Again, no drag-n-drop, but the means for attaching is simple enough (a standard file-open dialog), with attached files on incoming messages displayed as tiny icons along the bottom of the message frame. Click on an attachment's icon and you have the option to save, or to view and print if J Street recognizes the format.

Personas and Virtual Folders

Unique to J Street Mailer are two concepts; Personas, which replace the usual signature files, and Virtual Folders that replace and enhance the search feature.

A Persona (.GIF, 10.8K), for which you can define as many as you want per account, lets you customize everything from "From" and "Reply-To" addresses, signatures, tagline files, quoting methods and even what folder to put sent mail into. The idea is that with them, you'll no longer accidentally send a mail to a business associate with "Love, Dad" appended at the bottom by mistake.

Virtual Folders (.GIF, 5.5K) bring a new twist to searching and can be quite useful at times. More advanced than a regular "dumb search" you can scan for all unopened messages, all messages sent to or from a list of addresses, between a certain date range, or containing any of a list of keywords in the subject or body.

The results are displayed in a separate "mini mailer" with its own messages list and message browser pane. One of the first uses I found for it is to list all unopened messages that may be "hidden" in nested folders somewhere - put there by a filter.

To my disappointment, it's not possible to mix criteria yet, such as "Search all unopened messages with this keyword and that is less than 30 days old".

Help and Documentation

J Street's help section (.GIF, 26.7K) is definitely comprehensive and covers all the subjects well. All the help files are written in HTML (making them easily accessible outside the program itself) and the program includes a handy viewer that divides the content into a short list of main subjects, or a longer list of details.

I noticed that at the top of the help viewer it listed the current help file in URL format, so for a bit of fun I typed in the URL for the OS/2 Supersite. Imagine my surprise when it not only loaded the page, but also formatted it better than Netscape did (albeit with an awkwardly small font). It doesn't support Javascript (perhaps sensible in an e-mail client) but handled table cell colors and form elements nicely. I suspect InnoVal used a third party library here, but I'm not complaining, and it's the same HTML rendering engine used to display formatted e-mails too.

Potential Show-Stoppers

J Street's most annoying hang-up is when it refuses to close until the current mail fetch is complete. Although it will time-out while contacting the server, once it thinks it has connected it won't let itself close down until it's finished the whole operation -- no matter how many times you click on the close button in the title bar. So if you lose your internet connection, or the server gets clogged halfway through a fetch, you'd better have a task killer handy since there's no way to make J Street abort its operation.

Second is its insistence on popping up multiple dialog boxes after every problem contacting the server. I prefer PMMail's quiet method of simply reporting its problem in the unobtrusive status bar.

The remaining problems are hard to criticize it on, as the beta of the next version claims to fix almost everything I was going to complain about. Chief is that a folder's icon cannot display the presence of unread mail like PMMail does, and second is that it won't let you feed a URL into either its own or an external browser yet.

This Is Java?

Diet Pepsi's current advertising shtick is to show someone taking a swig of their drink, look at the can in astonishment and say "This is diet?" InnoVal could get away with a similar rip-off; "This is Java?" After playing around with slowpokes like ICQ for Java, GetRight and other sludgy utilities, it was a kick in the metaphorical pants to run J Street next to memory hogs like Netscape and WordPro and not even notice it. Maybe I pressed the right button last week, maybe IBM finally found the "Tortoise/Hare" switch in OS/2's Java VM, but if all Java apps were written like J Street Mailer I'd have no problem at all with a caffeinated future.

PMMail is the only other client in our review that runs in both OS/2 and Windows, but J Street can do that and run in Linux and (potentially) BeOS too.

In retrospect, I don't know who take my hat off to; Innoval's sharp coding, or IBM's Java VM. Perhaps it's a bit of both. Still, sit up and pay attention, because this is the first application to seriously challenge my preconceptions of Java, and it may just do the same for you.

* * *

J Street Mailer: Release One

by InnoVal
download from the InnoVal home page (ZIP, 2 megs)
Registration: US$49

Chris Wenham is the Senior Editor of OS/2 e-Zine! -- a promotion from Assistant Editor which means his parking spot will now be wide enough to keep his bicycle and a trailer.


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