The Bat! by Jerry Maizell

Author: Jerry Maizell
Source: Near North News, 222 W. Ontario St. 502, Chicago, IL 60610-3695, United States

In the immortal words of Batman's colleague, Batgirl: " I'm still naive enough to believe the impossible can't be done." Perfection being impossible, my quest for the perfect e-mail program has been doomed from the start. Yet it continues to turn up excellent examples of the programmer's art, sometimes in the unlikeliest places.

In 1812 Russia annexed the eastern half of the Romanian Principality of Moldavia, known as Bessarabia. After WWI Bessarabia rejoined Romania. During WWII the USSR re-annexed it, creating the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. Among the benefits of the evil empire's demise has been the flowering of software development. RIT Labs, a small company in Moldavia, produces The Bat!, an innovative e-mail application.

As suggested in my review of Calypso (NNN, Nov. 21), while the multithreading, multitasking capabilities of Windows are limited, e-mail programs can and should take advantage of them. Rather than forcing users to wait for all messages to be downloaded before being able to read any (as Eudora does), Calypso and The Bat! receive or send mail in the background, so you can continue working.

The Bat! goes a step further with its Mail Ticker, a streaming tickertape listing of unread messages that you can display over other programs. I have the ticker in my word processor as I type this column. It shows 28 new or unread messages, the sender, subject and size of each, and the times they were sent.

If you prefer an uncluttered desktop, you can tell that unread mail is detected when the bat in the program's icon starts flapping its wings. Mail from multiple e-mail accounts can be retrieved with one click. An autosave feature not only protects you from data loss, but is useful for reviewing messages before sending. Messages saved in the outbox are marked with an "under construction" sign.

Many of the features and the layout of The Bat! are similar to other e-mail clients, and you can easily import your message base and address book. But The Bat! stands out by its almost endlessly customizable modules, perhaps too much so for new or less experienced e-mail users, who may be confused by the many choices. For the power user, however, or anyone who recognizes the pivotal role e-mail is destined to play in our lives, such a flexible and powerful tool may soon be essential.

The default templates provided for composing messages and replies, while not to my personal taste, are fine for casual users. The more demanding will find good tools included for customizing them with minimal hassle. Some of the best features are not intuitive. For example, to add a favorite address to the popup menu click its "F" box in the address book. An arrow in the corner of a message in the inbox indicates that you replied to it. To see the reply press Ctrl+Backspace.

The Bat!'s name stems from the similarity of e-mail to a bat's sonar-like facility -- communicating with the unseen. If Batman yet stalks the villains of Gotham City in the Batmobile, Robin is surely in the Batcave, bashing cybercriminals via the Batcomputer. We needn't guess what e-mail program he uses.