Finding the Email Program That's Right for Your FamilyJen Jones
When Jeffrey Brathwaite is hard at work in his home office, his wife, Lisa, doesn’t need to yell downstairs to get his attention. Instead she just hops on GTalk -- Gmail’s instant messaging feature -- to save time (and her vocal chords).
“My whole family communicates using Gmail,” says Brathwaite, an Internet technology trainer based in Atlanta, Ga. And that’s no exaggeration. Brathwaite has outfitted everyone from his 4-year-old son to his 77-year-old mother with Google’s free web-based Gmail accounts. Along with the GTalk feature of Gmail, the Brathwaites collectively enjoy other Google tools, such as calendars and photo sharing (via Picasa). “My wife and I use it to keep track of our schedules or send information back and forth. In my opinion, Gmail has more ease of use than any of the others out there.”
Indeed, there are many “others” out there, so how can you choose the best option for your family? For families sharing just one computer, it may be more helpful to use an email software program that resides on your machine. Email software lets you manage several addresses in one convenient spot, as well as download messages for offline reading. On the other hand, web-based email programs can only be accessed while online and are typically easier to set up.
To help you pick the best email program for your family, here are five contenders with family-friendly features that might appeal to you or other members of your family, followed by tips to help you get the most out of each program:
Best for: Parents who want total access over younger kids’ email accounts.
Why you’ll love it: Parents are no doubt concerned about how their kids -- especially those under 13 -- are connecting with online. If you want to have control over your kids’ email accounts, then Yahoo! Mail might be the best bet for you. The Yahoo! Family Account option allows parents to create and monitor your young ones’ email accounts. All you have to do is sign in using the username and password you’ve created for your child. If you want to keep tabs on your kids' email accounts or block them from emailing certain people, click Mail Options and then choose Block Addresses in the Management column. For the adults in your family, the new Yahoo! Mail interface also lets you drag and drop emails into folders to help you stay organized -- which most other webmail programs fall short on.
Bonus tip: Another way Yahoo! Mail will save you time is when searching through old emails. For example, what if you need to find an ancient email from your sister-in-law? It’s a snap to pull up all emails from a specific contact. Just open a recent email from the person, double-click his or her name in the header, and you’ll be able to view all previous messages.
Best for: Busy families who want to coordinate an email program with the family calendar and access both tools at the same time from any online computer.
Why you’ll love it: Gmail might be well known, but some of its family-friendly features are its best-kept secret. One benefit of using Gmail is that your family members can also use the integrated Google calendar, IM feature and photo-sharing services when you’re logged into Gmail. For example, through your Gmail account you can send Google Calendar invites to friends and family or even share a calendar with them. Gmail is also web-browser friendly. Case in point: You can download Gmail Manager as an add-on for the Firefox web browser, which supplies numerous time-saving features, such as allowing you to check multiple Gmail accounts at once. So if you have a Gmail account for personal use and another one for your home business, this tool comes in handy.
Bonus tip: If want to save even more time managing your email, use Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts, such as typing “C” to compose new mail, “R” to reply or “N” to advance to the next message. To turn shortcuts on, click Settings from the Gmail main menu, and then select Keyboard Shortcuts On. It’s that easy.
Best for: Families that want to manage multiple email accounts from one computer.
Why you’ll love it: For families that share a computer but have multiple email users, Thunderbird could be the right program. Thunderbird lets each family member customize their email experience, from personal preferences to email filters to changing the program’s look-and-feel. Thunderbird is also easy to install on your computer -- the program can be downloaded from the web for free. If you’re tired of getting spam -- especially content that is objectionable for your children -- Thunderbird’s easy email organization and strict spam filters are two of its earmarks. To stay on top of your inbox, messages can be tagged with phrases like “To Do” or “Urgent.” When it comes to spam control, go to Tools > Junk Mail Control, and click Enable Adapative Junk Mail Detection. Thundebird’s Privacy tab also allows you to disable remote images from loading, which is another layer of spam protection.
Bonus tip: To get started setting up your family’s email profiles, on a PC open the Start Menu, and select Programs > Mozilla Thunderbird > Profile Manager. On a Mac, open the Mozilla folder and click on Profile Manager. From there, click Create Profile and follow the instructions to enter your account information. Repeat the process to set up profiles for each family member.
Best for: Families that use Macintosh computers and devices and want all family mail and data synched.
Why you’ll love it: If your family already has a Mac, this easy-to-use email program is included on all Macs running OS X. Apple Mail appeals to users of all ages and skill levels -- from grandparents to children -- and has parental controls that you might not have discovered yet. Daniel Hallac, owner of Kidmondo, an online baby journal website, says he set up his 5-year-old son on Apple Mail because of its parental approval features. “Apple’s mail program is really useful because you can put limits on the emails your child can send or receive,” Hallac says. “I haven’t found a web-based mail service that lets me do this. It makes me feel very safe that he can’t receive any errant spam.” To control who your kids can email, go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Parental Controls and set your preferences there.
Bonus tip: Macs are known for offering more graphic design capabilities than PCs, and the same goes for Apple Mail. Planning a birthday party or family gathering? Give email invites a personal touch with Apple Mail’s 30+ stationery templates. To get started, open a new message and click Show Stationery in the top right corner. From there, the program will walk you through the step-by-step process.
Best for: Parents and teens with accounts across multiple email services.
Why you’ll love it: If you own a PC, then you likely have used Outlook Express. However, Windows Mail comes with all PC computers running the new Vista operating system. While Microsoft Outlook is geared at business users, Windows Mail is geared toward home computer users. With Windows Mail, your family can check Yahoo!, Gmail, Hotmail or AOL email accounts all in one central location. Also, if you find yourself often emailing videos and photos of your brood to family members, Windows Mail simplifies the process. All you have to do is open your Windows Photo Gallery, click the picture or video clip you want to send and click “email” from the toolbar.
Bonus tip: If you’re worried about phishing emails that aim to steal your identity by coaxing personal information out of you and your kids, then check out the Windows Mail phishing filter. Though the filter is automatic, you can tweak your settings, making them stronger or more selective, by accessing the Tools menu and clicking on Junk E-mail Options.
Copyright (c) 2010 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.