E-mail cards are fun, free greetings

October 19, 1998|By Mike Himowitz

The subject of online greeting cards came up this week with the birthday of my elder son, who's away at college and was forced to celebrate this sentimental occasion far from hearth and home.

In addition to the birthday present, regular cards and birthday cake we arranged to send him, I thought an electronic birthday greeting would help ease the pangs of homesickness that would undoubtedly overtake him. (OK, OK - he undoubtedly had a fine time carousing with his friends, but it's nice to think he misses us sometimes.)

In any case, I discovered a couple of ways to send electronic birthday cards, all free and none requiring much more of the sender than clicking a mouse and typing a few lines of greeting.

If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, look no further than the program's accompanying e-mail client, Outlook Express (or its big brother, Outlook 97). With Outlook, you can create e-mail using something called Stationery, which will add colored backgrounds, graphics, photos and typefaces to an otherwise plain message.

To make this work, click on the Actions menu, then select New Mail Message Using. Choose Stationery from the submenu that appears and you'll see a list of predefined messages and greeting cards. Pick one, and you'll find your e-mail screen has become a composition tablet. All you have to do is add your message (you can also insert graphics stored on your disk) and send the mail.

The main problem with this method is that your recipient needs an e-mail program that can display messages with HTML coding (the markup language used on the World Wide Web). Outlook will do the job, and so will the current release of Netscape Navigator's e-mail program. But other e-mail clients, particularly older versions, may not be able to handle HTML. If they can't, your loved one will receive a jumble of meaningless garbage instead of the beautiful card you designed.

This brings us to the second method of sending a greeting on line, which is virtually foolproof. Just visit any one of a dozen Web sites that specialize in free greeting cards. Although they're all a bit different, most allow you to select a subject (birthday, get well, etc.), a cover graphic, background and message. Then enter your recipient's e-mail address and click the Send button.

This will send an e-mail message informing your recipient that there's a card waiting on the Web. When your recipient surfs to the greeting card Web site, he or she will find the card there. It's not quite as warm and fuzzy as a direct e-mail greeting, but it works quite well.

Here are some good greeting card sites I've found:

For a superb variety of cards that include music and animation, visit Blue Mountain Arts (www.bluemountain.com). There are cards for every conceivable holiday (American, European and Asian), religious cards for Christians, Jews, Moslems and Buddhists, and an astounding variety of subject-oriented greetings. My favorite is the "Sorry" card, a sort of all-purpose abject apology that is useful for husbands everywhere (we always have something to be sorry about).

Blue Mountain Arts is a real greeting card company, and its cards are beautifully executed. I particularly enjoyed the sound effects and animation. For chuckles, check out the birthday card with the dancing pig.

If you're looking for a simple but elegant greeting, head over to The Electronic Postcard Rack, created by the Social Media Group at the MIT Media Lab (http://postcards.www.media.mit.edu/Postcards/).

While there are no fancy tricks here, you can select a postcard cover from a menu of paintings by the great masters, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Jan Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet (courtesy of the Web Museum). You'll love this site if you're a true Webhead, because you can embed your own HTML code in the message to produce a postcard complete with links to other Web sites and online graphics.

If you're a fan of fine photography, pay a visit to the Corbis Web site and send a free electronic post card courtesy of Bill Gates (www.corbis.com). The Microsoft chairman owns this company, which has amassed the rights to more than 25 million photographs (including the works of Ansel Adams) and has 1.3 million of those images online.

To create a postcard, you can select images from a dozen collections - all of them superb. Don't expect much in the way of customization - just a brief greeting and your name. But the results are outstanding (as long as you're willing to put up with a Corbis stamp in the corner of the card). Regardless of what you think about Gates, spend some time on this fascinating site.

For maximum customization (and for cards commemorating occasions such as National Beer Week), visit the Joke-a-Day Web site's card room (http://www.jokeaday.com/nfgreet.shtml). fTC In addition to a choice of graphics, you can pick the salutation and closing. The results don't look quite as finished as the cards created by some of the other sites, but the selection is excellent.

Finally, even if you don't send a designer card over the Web, you can send something even better via e-mail - your voice.

It isn't hard, and it works with virtually any e-mail program. Just make sure there's a microphone plugged into the proper jack on your sound card, then run the Windows Sound Recorder, which you'll find under Accessories on the Start Menu.

This works just like a tape recorder - sing your best rendition of Happy Birthday and save it as a file on your hard disk. Then use the Attach icon in your mail program (usually a paper clip) to attach the sound file to your e-mail. When your recipient gets the message, all he has to do is click on the attachment to launch the Windows media player and hear your voice.

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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