Monday, December 31, 2001 - 11:22 a.m. Pacific

'Product of the year' award goes to free, spam-busting ePrompter


Special to The Seattle Times

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At this time of year the media sink into their annoying habit of making up 10-best lists to somehow quantify the value of the previous year.

This is always a stretch, because few categories include 10 compelling new products. And I challenge you to name 10 great movies or CDs that came out in 2001. Ten computer programs? Forget about it.

In the somewhat insular world of e-mail, however, there is one small product that qualifies as "great."

When I first reviewed ePrompter (Aug. 12), I missed the point. The free utility allows you to check the contents of multiple e-mail accounts while the messages are still on the server. Buried in the middle of the review I noted that the program "saves you from spam and protects you from viruses." What an understatement.

After using the program for several months, it's clear that the spam angle should have been the lead. This handy, little (free) program is the most effective and useful spam-fighting tool available. Of the prevailing spam philosophies ignore and delete, filter, report, rant and rave ePrompter offers the fastest and easiest solution. It fixes the problem now.

Here's how it works: You set it to retrieve the message headers at a certain interval. An alert sounds when new mail arrives, and you get a pop-up list of these headers. The number of messages displays at the bottom of the screen. The option is to read, delete or download the message.

So you get a list of 20 messages and 18 of them are useless spam. A few clicks taking seconds of valuable time keep them out of your yard forever. For a real-world example, you could just place a little recycling bin next to the mailbox so none of the junk mail makes it into the house.

This isn't a complicated idea, and the big guys will certainly weigh in soon. Incredimail has installed the capability in its latest iteration, and Outlook will no doubt include this option in future versions. (For all I know it's already here, buried in the myriad features.)

But ePrompter is great because it is program-agnostic. You don't even need to open your mail client to keep ahead of your messages.

So here at Inbox Central, we award ePrompter the first Inbox "Product of the Year" award, for developing a simple, inexpensive utility that deals with the headache of spam. Will there be a product of the year in 2002? Don't count on it.

ePrompter is downloadable from the company Web site, www.eprompter.com.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright 2003 The Seattle Times Company