Millions of people associated their original contact with e-mail with three keen words, as uttered by an exuberant lad with a mission. "You've got mail! "...

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Millions of people associated their original contact with e-mail with three keen words, as uttered by an exuberant lad with a mission. “You’ve got mail!” became an essential part of their lives, in some cases offering them proof that someone actually cared.

There is supposedly a way to change the greeting from hyper male to dulcet female, as well as offering the option to attach any sound file as a notifier. But getting under the hood was never part of the AOL experience. As a result, these three mildly ungrammatical words turned into part of the culture.

Flash forward to modern times, when this is finally done correctly. In fact, only a chosen few will earn access to the technology that brings intelligent caller ID to the computer experience. Unfortunately, having a Mac is only the first requirement. You must also have the latest operating system: Tiger, and a Gmail account as your primary e-mail pipeline.

You can convert, or wait a few months until some other wizards present the same feature on other platforms.

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One of Tiger’s new features is called Dashboard, which hosts a variety of memory-resident utilities that pop up when you hit F12. Included in this category is MailPop, which, like all of these widgets, is available as a free download from the Apple Computer Web site (www.apple.com) .

MailPop, once installed and configured, announces each message as it arrives. I wasn’t quite prepared for this, when it shouted, “You have a message from Laura!,” a few minutes after loading the application. (The voice, which doesn’t appear to be configurable, comes from a bright female, though not as over-the-top as the AOL guy.)

The cool newness subsided a few minutes later with a missive from “Mlldllvry Subsnissm.” I had to switch to Gmail to identify my old pal Mail Delivery Subsystem.

OK, so nothing’s perfect. But MailPop comes through when it counts. People’s names are well articulated, but it has trouble with corporations or labels. So in its own way it is telling us what we already know: Spam is incomprehensible.

MailPop doesn’t do much else, aside from displaying your correspondent’s picture if you enter it into your address book. This can become a private little joke, especially if you attach a picture of Darth Vader to a cheating boyfriend’s name.

Other than that, you only need to remember to turn the sound down when you go to bed. I forgot to do this the first night and received an early- morning message from CNN Headline News. Through a veil of half-sleep I then imagined a news flash about Tim Eyman attacking Bainbridge Island.

After a short learning curve, MailPop has earned its keep. We e-mail addicts come to attention whenever the e-mail chime sounds. We then run to the computer and, more often than not, issue disappointed curses.

At least MailPop lets us know whether it’s worth coming down from the roof to read the latest delivery.

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.