Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ongoing Hardware Expenses for the Typical Console Gamer

Falmouth Harbor just after dawn - but NOT the Falmouth Harbor where I live and where, along the edges of its man made pleasantry bread was broken; during that regular and frequently repeated lunch a new conversation took place in which the merits of collecting Gamepads was discussed and at which we learned that Chris can almost always dish it out, but as far as taking it goes?  Struggles such as this are generally thought to be good when they are absorbed as a learning experience.  Right?
It never surprises me when money and costs are whinged about when the subject is video games, though more often than not the sub-narrative that prompts that sort of conversation tends to relate to the perceived high costs of purchase for the games or, less frequently, the games systems - not the costs that are associated with maintaining the game play process once you have purchased your console(s) and games.

But it was the costs of continued play that ended up dominating our lunch conversation -- wait a second...  I really should properly set this all up so that you are in on the circumstances and thus can be a bit more involved in the conversation...
The original Xbox Gamepad was originally nicknamed "The Duke" and, as Microsoft's freshman entry into the Games Console Wars approached launch, it was not all that surprising that the layout and design of The Duke appeared to parallel what was at that point one of the more solid and useful game controller layouts.  In fact it was a well-proven and well-established design despite being entirely brand new.
Alright, grab a cold beverage and a good snack, lean back in your chair and imagine you are sitting in the bench seats on the back of the booth at one of the best locals-only bar/pub/lunch places on the Cape.  

No, I am not going to share the name with you because (1) if I did, this being the Internet, there is a better than even chance that tourists will end up ruining what may very well be one of the last truly special hole-in-the-wall pubs for locals in the armpit of the universe; and (2) it's hard enough getting a lunch table on any given Friday already,  why would we want to make that process worse?

This lunch is a sort of semi-regular a couple-times-a-month thing with some friends from Boston who both grew up and still have family on Cape.  They are Mark and Lynda (who are in fact a couple) who both work at a newspaper in Boston, and Kate, who is in broadcast journalism.  When they come home to chill at their parents houses for the weekend, we do lunch.

It may seem now like the whole gamepad and game controller scene with the previous gen Xbox 360 was a mostly vanilla scene but, actually, there were some interesting examples offered up to the gamer public even then - as is demonstrated by this graphically-intense Xbox 360 gamepad that was part of Microsoft's Halo 3: Covenant launch and branding.
As I gnawed on a Club Sandy, dipping it in a bowl of freshly made Thousand Islands alternating with munching what I am assured are home-made pickles fresh from their kitchen - the conversation turned to the high costs of video games today with a bit of retrospective on how it used to be so much cheaper back in the day when being a gamer meant playing games on your PC.  Yeah, the assembled gamers are THAT old.

"Jane's rabbit got loose on our bed again - she was supposed to be keeping an eye on it - and it bit through the charging cable for my Xbox One - so I have to replace it.  Actually I needed to replace it anyway because the battery seems to have hit its charge limit as fully charged it lasts like twenty minutes.

"I did the math though and it is a lot like the whole printer thing, where it is cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to buy a new ink cartridge set?"

"Sheesh Mark, how many printers do you own now?" I asked.

"Six?  No, I lie - seven.  But seriously I can get a new printer for $49 that comes with a set of ink cartridges OR I can spend $69 on a new set of ink cartridges.  I don't know who did the math on that but clearly I am getting a better deal buying a new printer.  I am just saying..."

"So what is the same with the gamepad?"

"Ah," Mark grunted, sounding very sage and wisdomy.  

"Check this out - the cost of a new Xbox One Gamepad is $49.99 right?" to which I agreed, nodding and chewing.

I should explain - in the interest of full disclosure - that 9 times in 10 when I eat out I will - as I did for the lunch during which these conversations took place - order a Club Sandwich with a side of Freedom Fries and a bowl of Thousand Islands Dressing for to dip my sandwich in.  Man gotta have his Club Sandy to make-up for too many MRE lunches. I am just saying that while I would prefer in-flights to an MRE, a nice Club Sandy beats them all, toast-down!
"For that $49.99 what you get is an Xbox One Gamepad, and two AA batteries.  That's it.  But if you only have one Gamepad, you are going to want to buy another anyway for multiplayer local play.  

"Then there is the whole rechargeable battery thing where you want to have a minimum of two gamepads anyway, so that you can have one recharging while you play on the other one, you see?"

"I do indeed see," I admitted.

"So then there is the whole charging kit - that costs $20 and gets you the a micro-USB charge cable and a rechargeable battery pack."

"Okay," I agree.

"I can actually purchase a replacement cable - for $16 - but why do that when for a few more dollars you get a cable and rechargeable battery, you with me so far?"  he prompts.  I admitted that I was, yes.

"So here is the thing - I could simply buy the Charge and Play kit for $20, sure.  But check this out - Microsoft has created a new package deal called the Xbox One Wireless Controller and Play & Charge Kit that costs $74.99 retail but that you can get for less if you shop around.  For example you can get a new one via Amazon for like $60 or so.

"That package deal includes a brand spankin' new Xbox One branded wireless gamepad, a Micro-USB Charging Cable, the rechargeable battery, and a mic-plus-headset for voice chat.  

"If I bought them separately, I would be paying like $50 for the gamepad, $20 for the Charge and Play Kit, and $20 for the Chat Headset - that works out to ninety-bucks man!"

"I see your point," I admitted, having seen his point.

"So this way I get what I need AND I have another gamepad so I can play and charge rotate.  So yeah, cool that.

"But," I pause.

When you get so serious about your Gamepads that you opt to invest in a $159.99 Elite Controller,
it is seriously time for you to start thinking about investing in Gamepad Charging Stands.  I am just saying...
"But what?" he asks, fear appearing on the edge of his voice.

"But can you get matching gamepads in that deal or are they just the black one?"

"Just the black one," he admits, now broadcasting major fear and uncertainty.  "Why would that make a difference?  All of the gamepads are black for the Xbox One," he points out.

"Uh, no, where have you been?  Mine aren't,"  I point out.

"Well yeah, yours are blue because you got the Forza 6 Collectible Xbox One thingy," he says, voice dismissive and yet clearly relieved.  I can tell he was afraid I was going to make a legitimate point about the gamepads beyond the obvious.

"Um, no.  I am not talking about the wicked cool blue controller that came with my very awesome Forza 6 Xbox One that makes tyre burnout sounds when I turn it on and air-wrench sounds when I insert a disc dood.  I am talking about my OTHER gamepads," I explain.

"What other ones?  Aren't they black?" he asks, fear and uncertainty returning in force.

"Well no, of course not."

"What do you mean 'no, of course not'?!" he demands, clearly sensing trouble.

"Well that was why I asked where you have been living?" I allowed.

"Chris, don't mess with me.  What are you talking about?" he asks.

When you reach the stage where you seriously consider a limited edition games console as an "investment" you have stopped being a gamer are started being a hipster.  Walk away man.  Just walk away....  But if you bought a Limited Edition games console as your daily driver, well hey that is totally different!  You do that and we have to say "Welcome to the club mate - grab a seat!"
I take pity on him - the anxiety level is climbing because Mark now suspects that the pride he feels about his cutting edge gaming rigs and his best-of-the-best attitude when it comes to rechargeable batteries and all of that might just be... Not so much...

"Okay I can see how you not being in the industry," I begin.

"Um, Chris you are not in the games industry.  You write about the games industry, but that does not make you part of it," he points out.  Maybe with just a touch of frustration in his tone.

"Wow, did I deserve that?" I ask.

"Well yeah, sort of.  Maybe a little?" Lynda volunteers.  

"You can be pretty insufferable when you get a game two weeks before its street date and then refuse to tell us anything about the game because of that stupid non-disclosure thing you keep using as an excuse not to let us borrow the games," Kate points out.

"Kate, that 'stupid non-disclosure' agreement and the fact that I follow it to the letter and don't loan out games I get before their street date is why I continue to get games before their street date; and I need those games early or I cannot do my job," I point out.

"You know when you talk like that, I know you are saying things, but all I actually hear is 'blah-blah-blah-I-get-games-early-and-you-don't-blah' in place of what I think you think you are saying" Kate tells me.

"Yeah," Mark admits.  "The same thing happens to me."

"You know you guys could get games early if you started writing on the video game beat," I point out.

"Is he telling us we could get games early if we prostitute ourselves to the games industry yet?" Lynda asks.

"Yup - doesn't he sound just like the parents in a Peanuts cartoon?" Kate asks.

"I know, right?!" Lynda says, and then breaks out in giggles.  I do a slow ten-count.

"Wait, you are going to make him go off in a different direction.  We were talking about gamepads?" Mark interrupts.

"Yes.  What I wanted to know is, can I get gamepads in that deal that will match the ones I have in my gamepad collection?" I ask.  Mentally counting to five heartbeats before he says it.

"Whoa.  Wait.  Your what?!" Mark says.

"And the chum has taken the bait, the angler has set the hook, look at that thing fly into the air!" Kate cries, doing her best Martha's Vineyard Fishing Derby announcer's voice.

"Well yeah, I have a collection.  Now, I don't have ALL of the gamepad models mind you - and I don't have any of the new Xbox Elite gamepad - I am waiting to see if they version that.

"So yeah I think if I got that package I would want it to have a the Special Edition Lunar White gamepad - you know, the one with the golden D-Pad?  Or maybe the Special Edition Armed Forces one?  Camouflage is cool," I add.

"Okay you are lying," Mark decides.  Saying out loud what he is clearly thinking.

"Actually no, I am not.  Shall I run down the contents of my gamepad collection for you?"

"Oh please do!" Lynda sings.  "I've never seen him actually blow a blood vessel in his head, this could be fascinating!" she says, reaching out and caressing the side of her husband's head.

"Wow, that is cold blooded," Mark sighs.  

The Gamepad Collection
So I was not kidding about my having a gamepad collection - it started innoncent enough I suppose, but gamepads are a bit like crack cocaine.  You try just one and suddenly blammo!  You are hooked!

 At the present time my gamepad collection consists of the following:

x2 Standard Xbox One Livery Black on Black Gamepads ($59.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Armed Forces Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Lunar White Xbox One Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
x1 Xbox One Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians Gamepad ($69.99)
x1 Xbox One Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians The Master Chief Gamepad ($69.99)
x1 Xbox One LE Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Gamepad ($69.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Xbox One Forza 6 Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Covert Forces Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)

In addition to the above which makes up my gamepad collection, there are the following that I really want to add to it:

Xbox One LE Titanfall Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
Xbox One Special Edition Midnight Forces Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
Xbox One Elite Gamepad ($149.99 msrp)
Mark's initial reaction to my collection was shock and a repeat of doubt - he felt initially that if I was not outright fabricating the contents of my collection, then I was at least exaggerating it.  So I pulled out the trusty iPad Air and showed him.  Thank you Xbox.  Thank you Microsoft Store.

For my part I don't really blame Mark the way that Mark blames Mark.  After all I am on the mailing lists so I get the official press release for each and every piece of games hardware - and game - that gets released.  So I should know all about it.  Mark gets press releases but he doesn't write on the game's beat at his paper - Garret does - so I told him he should talk to and at the very least make friends with Garret.  Right?  Right!

His next reaction was what I consider priceless...  He turned to his wife and said:

"Lynnie sweetheart, I need to amend my monthly games budget..."

"Whoa hold on there sport!" I quickly interrupted.  You are not thinking you can just go buy this stuff at GameStop are you?" I ask.

"Why not?" Mark replied.  Ah, so innocent.  So naive.  I love the perpetual newbs of the world.

"Because you can't.  And even if you could, I seriously doubt "Lynnie" here would agree to it," I began to explain.

"Okay first of all, HE only gets to call me that because I am married to him.  Second, why can't he go to GameStop and buy them?" Lynda asked me.

"Well, since you asked so nice Lynifer, I will explain...  When the Titanfall Gamepad first went on sale a couple years ago it had an msrp of like $65.  But did you notice that part of the description and name included the words 'Limited Edition' when I listed it?

"It was a Limited Edition Gamepad Lynellen.  That means they only made so many, and it was only sold for so long.  If Markus-in-Errorus here wants one NOW, he will have to pay something like $125 and that is IF he can find someone willing to sell it straight out.  Most of the collectors sell their extras in auctions because they make more that way.

"I have seen the Titanfall Gamepad go for more than $200 at auction," I add, twisting the knife.

"Jumping Jesus on a Pogo-Stick!" Lyn blurted.  "But it is just a gamepad!?" She added.

"No, it is just a Limited Edition Titanfall Xbox One Gamepad," I corrected her.  "And it will cost serious coin to buy it at this point."

Ah the joy of depression.  But the question seriosly got me to thinking about it so I did a little Google work to see what the current Gamepad Collector Market Report was, and was pretty shocked by what I discovered.

Here is a list of the more popular SE and LE Gamepads, their original msrp, and the current general market value.  Note that "msrp" stands for Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price, while "aap" stands for Average Auction Price.
  • Armed Forces SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Call of Duty Advanced Warfare LE - Available @ Retail ($69.99 msrp / $79.99 aap)
  • Covert Forces SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Elite Gamepad - Available @ Retail ($149.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Fallout 4 SE ($69.99 msrp / $250 aap)
  • Forza 6 SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Halo 5: Guardians LE - Available @ Retail ($69.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Halo 5: Guardians Master Chief LE - Available @ Retail ($69.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Lunar White SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Midnight Forces SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Titanfall LE ($69.99 msrp / $125 to $200 aap)
  • Xbox One Wireless Gamepad - Available @ Retail ($59.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
There are other examples but they are third-party issues that do not have the right to sport the official Microsoft Xbox One badge...  So a lot of gamers (myself included) do not consider them to be either official or really legitimate in terms of collectibles.

 The Limited / Special Edition Gamepad Scene

You can't really blame Mark wither for his reaction or his feelings on the matter - sorry about that mare - because really even for the folks who are close enough to the inside to be given notice about this sort of thing, it caught a lot of us by surprise as well.

One reason it was so surprising is down to the manner in which the custom controller issue was addressed in the past.  Specifically with the previous gen hardware.  For the Xbox 360 that sort of thing largely applied specifically to the consoles not the gamepads, and it was next to impossible to obtain in quantity any specially branded or livery based gamepads exclusive of the consoles themselves.

When we think about it, today the modern games console is largely out-of-sight in the standard entertainment center, so objects like the Gamepad really do represent the livery for the console more today than ever before.

That being the case, making and marketing SE and LE gamepads makes total sense, and we can see how Microsoft - or for that matter Sony too - will do whatever it takes to help in marketing those.

Our experience has been mixed - because while the different edition controllers are not supposed to FEEL different to the player, some of them do.  Specifically every SE or LE gamepad we have used has turned out to be better feeling, and perhaps a bit more tactile in its response - than the bog standard black-on-black stock gamepad that comes with the X1.

Now having admitted that, I should also add that the Elite Gamepad actually had the opposite impact on us!  It felt LESS solid and LESS secure to us than the bog-standard gamepad.  How about that?

If you plan on getting in on the whole gamepad collecting bug that is growing popular NOW is a really great time to do that.  Considering that only a few of the gamepads are presently NOT for sale via retail, waiting will only make it more difficult.

So hey - collect - play - enjoy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Email Information Management

Back in the day hearing that voice saying "You've Got Mail!" was really something of a big deal for a lot of users and not just the ones on AOL.  I know hackers who added that voice to their email notice programs just because it is both cool and rather retro!  Here we see Tom Hanks (in the film You've Got Mail) getting mail... 
Before we get started in addressing this perennially thorny issue, I thought it might be a good idea to first discuss the matter of just how do we spell let alone capitalize the word around which this post is centered?

This really is one of those issues that appears to have officially come down to personal opinion over empirical declaration, because when we finally sit down to cut bait the fact is that nobody knows officially how to spell email.

Actually would it be more correct to say “nobody knows officially how to spell email,” or would it be less correct? Huh...

The issue surrounding the question of whether it is spelled “email” vs. “e-mail” vs. “Email” vs. “eMail” vs. “E-Mail” vs. E-okay wait this is rapidly growing ludicrous...

The point to this is that the matter raises blood pressures across the world and has actually been the source of bitter arguments, some of which resulted in violence in the workplace!

If you think this is not a serious issue, consider this: as recently as 2011 in one of the semi-annual meetings of the American Copy Editors Society it was announced by the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook (the AP Stylebook is a reference source that pretty much ALL professional journalists and most of the non-professionals use daily) that they had changed their recommended spelling: "e-mail" is now "email."

The results of that announcement? 

Bitter argument by both journalists AND editors over that change. Now we in the Fourth Estate consider our editors to be the final word on questions like this, so when even THEY cannot agree? Well, let's just say that is a disturbing development.  We really don't like it when Mum and Dad fight.

I identified this issue as perennial because it is a constant and ongoing one - in fact it tends to pop up in conversation and concern almost daily when someone asks for the address to which they should address a message intended for me either as a journalist or as a member of the human race!

When a question like this grows violent the best means of settling it is to consult OTHER reference sources - but when we checked with the Chicago Manual of Style and then Merriam-Webster we found that they pretty much demand “e-mail” be used. Across the pond in Old England the Compact OED - which is generally the preferred consult of journos on-the-go gives the word as “email” so no help there...

If you are thinking that this should clarify the matter - after all we ARE talking about the OED and even Dr. Who agrees that the OED is the final word on spelling - considering the bloody-minded and often violent tendencies of the editors of the Compact OED there's still plenty of reason to be concerned.

After all, in 2010 those red-pen-wielding fiends were responsible for one of the bloodiest attacks on the English Language in recent memory when they abruptly severed 16,000 hyphens - but then we are told that on the wall of the offices of the lead editors at the OED there are Voldemort for Prime Minister campaign posters. I'm just saying...

What brought all of this up was a relatively meaningless comment that cropped up in a conversation yesterday between an editor and I with respect to their providing a small packet of information that I would require to work up a time and budget estimate for a small think piece on the effects of mobile games and mobile gaming on productivity hour estimates at companies that lack a firm policy on the use of personal phones in general, and smart phones specifically, in the work place.

I used "email" and they commented that the correct spelling is "e-mail" and there you go.  Game On!

Just because you CAN forward an email does not mean you SHOULD. And sure, Grandma may think it is cute, but really?  Really?

This is NOT About THAT

So yeah, that happened... But since this post is actually about consolidation of email and was prompted by our preparations for our annual Pre-Spring Cleaning Efforts in the office, we will leave the matter as stated above with the qualification that we are going personally with "email" and will refuse to argue that point because hey, that train has sailed!

Yesterday a sub-editor for a gaming publication I occasionally write for asked me why half-a-day had passed before I replied to their email.

My simple answer was that the email address they used for me is one of the webmail accounts I have and I only check that a couple times a day.  

If they need to get my immediate attention they would be best served using my main email address, which is POP-3 based, so I get those mail notifications pretty much instantly throughout the day thanks to the wonders of the smartphone.

They did not find that amusing.

The thing is email in this modern day comes in several flavors, with the two most popular being POP3 and WebMail.

POP3 - or Post Office Protocol 3 - works in many ways just like the physical post office but is a bit more flexible too. What I mean by that is that it has several layers of physical security that protects your email.

Layer 1: Email Service
When anyone anywhere in the world sends you email and your email service provider supports POP3 the email that they send you goes into your POP3 queue.  It is then stored there until you access and download it. So the people who send you messages will be able to verify that the message was delivered - but not read.

When you retrieve (read) the email, your local computing device basically downloads that email from the POP3 Server of your service provider, allowing you to read it immediately or later, if you don't have the time then.

The beauty of that is that you can connect to the server and download your mail in one big package and then later, when you have time, you can view and reply to any messages on your local computing device regardless of whether or not you have a 'net connection.

The next time you use your email app to check your mail the app will automatically upload (send) any messages you have replied to that are in its send queue at that time.  Isn't tech cool?

POP3 is like this guy delivering your email!  Okay not really. But then Cliffy was on Cheers back when mail did not usually HAVE an "e" in front of it.  Just saying...

Layer 2: Email Storage
If you have set your POP3 email app to both download the email messages AND leave a copy on the server, unlike the real post office it will actually retain a copy of that message for you.  

Should your local computing device be destroyed or stolen, you can still retrieve copies of any of your email messages from the server via another device.  Which makes it a sort of email message archive if you like.

You can ALSO set your email app to download your new messages and then delete the original so that it is NOT stored on the POP3 Server. It is entirely your call.

Basically the POP3 protocol makes it easy for anyone to check their email from any computer in the world, provided they have configured their email program / app properly to work with the protocol.

In addition to that and depending on the complexity of their POP3-capable email app, they may even be able to use a single app to download, read, and reply to ALL of their email accounts. And that is pretty much where this is headed.

WebMail on the other hand is just what it sounds like - a web-based email services.  

Examples of webmail include sites like Yahoo, GMail, and the web-based email services that are provided by a lot of ISPs and Website Hosting outfits these days.

Like POP3 the webmail server will accept email messages on your behalf, and then when you log into the webmail interface, present any messages you have received to you, in your inbox.

Unlike POP3 though, just reading a message does not make it go away from the server.  You have to personally delete the message when you are done reading or replying.

Both have different pro and con aspects to them.  For example with POP3 - assuming you have a properly configured email client like Thunderbird or Outlook - you can basically have ALL of your email in one place.  

These email clients are even smart enough to insert the correct reply to address in any email you write, and you can even configure them to use specific security or confidentiality settings based on that address you are replying from!

POP3 allows you to grab your mail from the server and read or reply to it later, whereas with webmail you have to do all of that online - so you cannot write an email message while you are offline - say traveling on a train or in a car - you have to wait until you have 'net access to do that.

One of the serious cons for POP3 - and this is usually the one that webmail fans immediately bring up when the two types of email service are compared - is the fact that POP3 often can serve as an infection point for computing devices that are not properly secured with anti-virus and security software.

Basically with POP3 you are physically downloading a copy of the mail - and any attachments - to your local device.  So if that email contains an evil payload and your security is not up to snuff, you could end up either infected, or running a hostile app.

With webmail all of the interaction takes place on some remote webmail server out there in the cloud, so if you get a nasty delivery chances are a lot smaller that it will actually succeed in delivering its nefarious payload to your local computing devices.

Another point in its favor is that webmail users never have to worry about whether they are running out of hard drive space on their local device - they only have to worry about exceeding the storage limit on the webmail server itself.

The Conveniences of POP3

Now having taken all of this into consideration, the conveniences of POP3 email are sufficient - and this is especially true if you are forced via your career to maintain a number of different email addresses - to make the efforts of properly securing your local computing device worth doing.

Actually - and I am not being mean here - you should be properly securing it anyway.  So really you could view switching to POP3 to be a bonus since it will encourage you to practice safe surfing and safe computing - which like I said, you should already be doing!

Filtering Email
One of the best aspects of using your local computing device in conjunction with POP3 apps is that, depending on the app, they can really be smart AND useful.  Specifically they tend to support some pretty useful utilities - like email filtering.

With email filtering you can set up all sorts of rules that the email that you receive has to follow.  When you get on a mailing list from an aggressive company, you can add their domain to your DO NOT ACCEPT list, and any offending email is deleted behind the scenes so you never see it.  Your app simply drops it into the round filing cabinet for you.

By using the Spam filters on your email app it will eventually build a list of the various companies, email domain names, and the like who you prefer not to receive email from, and present you everything except the email from those people or businesses.

You can also set up keyword rules - for example you can add Viagra and Penis Enlargement as either a single rule -- your app will delete any email messages that contain the words "Viagra" and "Penis Enlargement" before you ever see them.  Or you can set that up as two rules, and so never see another Viagra advertisement OR a Penis Enlargement advertisement again.  Yeah, that's a good thing.

How Popular is POP3?
Obviously using a POP3 App/Client to pull all of your mail into one convenient place will only work if you CAN pull all of your mail into one convenient place, right?

With that in mind, there are some simple steps you can take - and before you ask, I recommend using the Thunderbird Email App from OpenOffice/Mozilla because it works well, it is free, and it is easy.  You can also use Microsoft's Email program - they call it Outlook - and obtain the same results as long as you are willing to pay for it depending on the version.

Regardless of the app/client you use, you should be aware that they all treat the email process the same way - that is to say that they all consider receiving email to be ONE side of the process, and sending email to be another side.

You receive mail via a POP3 Server, but you SEND all of your replies via an SMTP Server.  So you are going to need to set up for both when you are consolidating - and I strongly recommend you test every account you have set up in the app/client to verify that it is in fact working as intended.

The Steps You Need to Take
Once you have picked the POP3 App/Client you want to use, and installed it, you will need to do the following - and this is true whether you are just getting started or you have decided to consolidate all of your mail accounts like us:
  1. Contact your ISP to get the instructions from them on how to configure your email app to access their POP3 services.  You will also need - in addition to the address of their POP3 email server and the login settings as well as any special settings they may require, such as alternate port numbers - the SMTP Server settings and login information as well.
  2. The POP3/SMTP settings for any alternate email service providers - specifically and including Webmail providers - so you can add them to your Client/App.
About number 2...  To help you out I went looking to see what commercial and personal email services actually include POP3 as part of their services, and this is the list of companies that I found DO support it:
There you go - those are the big ones that pretty much everybody uses.  If your provider is not on the list check their site for POP3 Settings.

Bear in mind that some of the free webmail services that offer point-to-point automatic encryption do NOT offer POP3 services - they can't and protect your email with encryption.

Really was not kidding about you needing to maintain proper security on your computing device.  If you make the switch to POP3 you will need to do that.  Anti-Virus, Anti-Phishing and email scanning are a given in this world today.
Email Encryption?
That noted though you CAN do email encryption AND digital signing of email using Firefox with the free Enigmail Add-On.  Just saying....  You will want to get one of the free PGP Encryption programs for your OS though, as well.