LOW COST E-MAIL
What electronic mail can do for you!
by Michael Ciraolo, Antic Associate Editor
It's hard to beat the power of main-frame computers when they're turned to telecommunications. Now that power is within the reach of Atari owners seeking electronic mail services.
Electronic mail is a means of communication, unique and different from courier, postal and telephone communications. With a computer, a modem and the correct sign-on, you can enter a message and have it "mailed" instantly to an electronic mailbox that you know the addressee will check.
Today's electronic mail systems offer online editing capabilities, notification of important messages, lists for multiple distribution (with cc's and blind copies), and so on.
There are two major aspects to "email", as it is often called. With CompuServe's email and many early systems, you can send mail to electronic mailboxes of users in the same system.
It's as if you were accessing a series of telephone answering machines. You can leave messages and letters in the recipient's absence, with the understanding that the correspondence is going to be picked up on a regular basis.
Even if it provides nothing more than an end to telephone tag, email saves money. Business researchers have found that it takes an average of four tries to complete one phone call. Arranging a business meeting with six people around the country would therefore take about 100 phone calls!
Now, large organizations like Manufacturers Hanover Trust, the American Bar Association and the White House each use thousands of electronic mail boxes. These groups have found that email saves time, lowers costs and guarantees that people get messages.
But the early email days are over and now there are more companies around - providing more advanced delivery features. EasyLink and MCI Mail offer the other major aspect of electronic mail, connections to the outside world.With one of these services, you can send telegrams, telexes mailgrams, first-class business letters, courier delivery in two hours or four hours, overnight letters and so on.
Depending on which system you're using, it can be cheaper to send a document up to 10 pages by email instead of by overnight courier or express mail.
We've looked at three email services suitable for the home market CompuServe, EasyLink, and MCI Mail. There are other services which tend to be designed for large organizations. Typically, they have $500 subscription fees or minimum charges. One company to watch however, is RCA Mail, which is planning to start a new home user servlce. Details were unavailable at press time.
CompuServe's email system is strictly electronic it offers no means of printed-copy delivery. However, it is an excellent system for users of Compuserve (CIS), the country's largest network of home computer users.
CompuServe's newly improved email system is called EasyPlex. It can be accessed within the CIS system by typing GO EASY or GO EASYPLEX. Menu driven, with extensive online help available. EasyPlex lives up to its billing as a friendlier version of the service's older email network.
The new version is typical of a mainframe email approach. You type in the recipient's name and address, or personal identification number. You enter your message and your identification number, then send the message. It's that simple.
In reurn, when you log onto CompuServe, you'll automatically be told if you have email waiting. You can read, scan or ignore messages, you can store or delete them after reading.
In addition to this basic set-up, you can also upload files from your Atari to someone else's mailbox. This means you can write reports, magazine articles, letters, etc with your favorite word processor and upload the file at your convenience.
You can also choose what level of prompting you want, from first time user to expert level.
To streamline your emailing, CompuServe also gives you an address book. This is a file you compose and maintain that includes addresses to which you frequently send mail. This saves quite a bit of time and typing, since you only need specify an address book name or number, and have the entire name and PPN entered onto you electronic letter.
The cost for all of this? It is included in the basic CompuServe rates explained elsewhere in this issue. There is no surcharge.
EasyLink, a subsidiary of Western Union, initially attracted negative comments for its difficulty of use. The system required you to memorize many commands, as opposed to the menu-driven MCI Mail.
However, now you can choose to use EasyLink entirely through menu prompts, complete with online help. EasyLink is also accompanied by excellent documentation.
EasyLink is billed by time for basic electronic mail, and also charges for various forms of hard-copy delivery. Assuming you are using one of the Metro or Local Access Numbers in EasyLink's network, thus avoiding WATS fees, the cost is 35 cents per minute for 300 baud access and 50 cents per minute for 1200 baud access.
This basic rate covers typing in an electronic letter, mailing it electronicaly, reading help screens, reading your mail, and so on.
There are two options in subscribing to EasyLink. An annual fee of $25 covers your mailbox and eliminates monthly minimum requirements. If you are a frequent user, you might choose the monthly minimum option: pay only for the messages you send during the first 30 days. After that, there's a $25 monthly minimum. There's also a $1.50 monthly fee for your mailbox.
Unlike MCI, EasyLink does not let you upload previously written files, so if you tend to panic sitting at a keyboard online while the minutes tick away, don't get EasyLink. In fact, if you even pause about 60 seconds while composing a letter on EasyLink, you'll be interrupted by a message asking you to continue.
MCI Mail is supported by a network of independent contractors who supply marketing support and consumer assistance. This means potential subscribers and existing customers will get at least as much personal attention as they need, reagardless of the size of their business or personal needs.
MCI Mail registers subscribers in groups based on billings. Individuals are those with billings under $50 per month, and there is another set of options for individuals with billings over $50 but less than $250. The Executive 250 and Corporate 1000 options are designed for multiple user accounts on the corporate level. Like most long distance services, the more you spend, the more "free" bonuses you get.
With the individual account, the initial cost of MCI is the yearly $18 mailbox fee. Beyond that, you pay for the specific services you use.
The cost of the basic product, what MCI calls "Instant Mail", is determined by the length of the mail piece. Mail up to 500 characters costs, 45 cents. Documents between 501 and 7500 characters in length cost $1, and each additional 7500 characters is another dollar.
Both companies offer a variety of express deliveries to the outside world. Each provides courier-delivered overnight. Express mail can be sent from anywhere, but there are some restrictions on delivery areas. MCI's hand-delivered four-hour mail can go to 18 cities. EasyLink's two-hour delivery reaches 30 major cities. Overnight courier delivery reaches over 20,000 communities worldwide with MCI, over 25,000 worldwide with EasyLink.
If extreme speed for modest mailings is important, EasyLink is cheaper and faster than MCI Mail. EasyLink offers two-hour delivery by DHL Courier. EasyLink charges $20 for tile first five pages of a two-hour letter; which arrives in letter-quality printout. Additional pages are 50 cents each.
This compares with MCI's fastest, 4-hour delivery. MCI charges $30 for the first six pages for four-hour delivery. Additional cost is $1 per three pages.
What do these numbers mean? If you have 12-page contract or article that needs to be somewhere fast, you'll pay $32 for MCI, $23.50 for EasyLink delivery. You can make your own judgements about two-hour versus four-hour delivery.
Overnight delivery for the two companies is similar. EasyLink charges $7.75 for the first five pages and 25 cents for each additional page. MCI charges $8 for the first six pages, $1 for each additional three pages, making it the cheaper service.
In comparing computer-mailed letters, it's important to note an important frill of MCI Mail. For $20 a year your signature and letterhead can be filed with the compauy. Your letterhead and signature are laser printed along with your text. For the $20 annual fee, you have unlimited use of letterhead and signature.
Both services can be used to generate conventional paper mail, delivered in two or three days. One advantage here is cross-country or international speed, because letters are mailed from network centers near the addressee, instead of from the point of origin.
You can also give the service a mailing list if mass mailings are urgent a trick already discovered by campaigning politicians.
For computer letters, EasyLink charges $1.50 for the first page and 50 cents for each succeeding page. MCI charges $2 for letters up to three pages, $1 for each additional three pages. Thus, a ten-page letter will cost $6 with EasyLink, $5 with MCI.
EasyLink also lets you send Mailgrams, Telegrams and Cablegrams electronically something you can't do with MCI Mail.
You can send electronic messages through the Telex network with both services. Billing is by the minute, and in all possible combinations of carriers, MCI is significantly cheaper.
COMPUSERVE INFORMATION SERVICE
PO. Box 20212
Columbus, OH 43220
Western Union Telegraph
9229 LBJ Freeway
Dallas, TX 75243
2000 M St NW
Washington, DC 20036