16 e-mail and instant messaging boosters

Communicate better with these (mostly free) downloads

The Internet was built on a very simple idea: People should be able to communicate more easily with one another, using their computers. So it should be no surprise that communication -- particularly in the form of e-mail and instant messaging -- is still at the heart of why most people go online.

We've rounded up 16 great downloads to help you communicate better through e-mail and instant messaging. They'll help enhance the way you use e-mail (whether it's Web-based or handled in software on your PC), and they'll power up instant messaging chats, too. So if you want to be known as the Great Communicator, read on.

E-Mail software

Most people live in e-mail these days. We have downloads to help you get even more out of it. Whether you want to kill spam, improve the management of multiple e-mail accounts or use free e-mail software that's better than your current program, here are our suggestions.

Thunderbird: Are you unhappy with Outlook? Or are you unwilling to pay its price, and you're underwhelmed with Outlook Express? Give the free Thunderbird a look. This e-mail client from Mozilla -- the same folks who bring you Firefox -- is simple to use and offers plenty of the high-end features you'd expect from a top e-mail program, including the ability to encrypt and digitally sign messages, as well as to create filters so the app can automatically handle mail when it arrives.

Setup is a snap: If you already have e-mail software, Thunderbird will import your existing settings. Creating a new account is similarly easy, and the process even includes setup screens for Gmail, which can be difficult to set up with other e-mail clients.

It isn't an all-around personal information manager like Outlook -- it has no calendar, for example, and you can't create to-do lists. But if all you want is e-mail, it's a winner. It will even handle RSS feeds and newsgroups, so you can keep up on the latest blogs, news and discussions. If you're not happy with your current e-mail software, it's well worth the free download.

Download Thunderbird | Price: Free

Windows Live Mail: Windows Live Mail, the newest addition to Microsoft's e-mail lineup, is the successor to Outlook Express (shipped in versions of Windows before Vista) and Windows Mail (included with Vista). Neither Outlook Express nor Windows Mail will ship in future versions of Windows; anyone who wants a free e-mail client in Windows 7 will have to download Windows Live Mail. It's very much like both of the older programs, and it shares the same pluses and minuses. On the plus side: Setting up new accounts and using the app are both quite easy, and it includes lots of features for dressing up e-mail, such as stationery, emoticons and pictures, background colors and font sizes. The program also lets you read RSS feeds and participate in newsgroups.

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Preston Gralla

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