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Originally published Saturday, February 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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iWork has template for future of e-mail

When I called the Mac store about a memory upgrade a few weeks back, I asked the clerk what he had heard about Apple's new iWork program...

Special to The Seattle Times

When I called the Mac store about a memory upgrade a few weeks back, I asked the clerk what he had heard about Apple's new iWork program. He practically gushed enthusiasm through the phone.

It makes everything easier, like a smart combination of Word and PowerPoint, he said. And he mentioned something called "e-mail templates." That sounded like a necessary step forward. Sending messages has lately evolved into a process only slightly more interesting than listening to paint dry.

The idea of e-mail templates evoked a brave new communications world in my innovation-starved mind. Imagine a way to easily create compelling visual messages and attach them easily to your e-mail. And the first people to use the new tool would have the edge.

The clerk, it turns out, was mistaken. There is nothing in this program specifically designed to jazz up your messages, and nothing in my vivid imagination was included as a feature.

Well, almost. It turns out iWork's ability to create templates is not specifically tailored to e-mail, but with a little tweaking you can do some really cool things. And you will be the first on your block.

Out of the box, iWork contains about 40 templates of varied use. You select one and then type your own message over the included type, saving to result in a slick invoice, newsletter, or whatever. You can easily drag in images from other programs, to result in a visually inclined document.

To prepare the results for e-mail you can export to either HTML or PDF formats, which are both pretty universal. You then attach it to a message, offering the recipient something moderately creative and, presumably, interesting enough to read. It's a bit of a tricky move, but only because it is something that's not really in the manual.

And while this practice is pretty much untried, there are certain safeguards.

It's not really a good tool for mass mailings. People aren't supposed to open an attachment from someone they don't trust, so this method can only be a path between acquaintances. Which is a good thing.

Soon enough, you could create an iWork template framework, for every occasion. Come to think of it, you could probably create a template library with Microsoft Word with a little virtual elbow grease. Still, it would be really cool if someone made this possible in an automatic way.

With regard to e-mail, the thrill is gone. Send a message. It's read in less than a minute. So what? And all the new e-mail software only gives you better ways to organize more messages or a cleverer path to spam prevention.

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These features may be helpful, but they are hardly worth writing home about — electronically or otherwise. But templates could be the future, and anyone who seamlessly integrates this feature into a mail client will really have something.

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.

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