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Thread: Tips/Tricks For Programming etc

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Gmail And Other MUAs


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Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2009 21:23:50 +1000

Despite all the alarm and consternation about the fact that the Gmail service was not available for an hour a few weeks ago, it is one of the most reliable email services on the Internet. With appropriate configuration options, Gmail can form the backbone of your email system. If you don't send lots of images and/or videos by email, and you tend to use email mainly as a communication tool, the free allocation that Google gives you will last a life time. And if you are a more resource hungry user, you can purchase more space ... Or you could just organise your archives so that you don't need to purchase additional storage.

The following is a description of how I configured Gmail for four different MUAs:

Apple fans may cite the above list as clear evidence that Apple software is user friendly and superior to those clunky, geeky Linux distributions. And I must confess that the Mac ease of use has a certain seductive charm, although Thunderbird offered an even easier interface which automatically discovered IMAP (which is generally considered superior to POP). Thunderbird also allows manual configuration of the account.

Generally speaking, MUAs that are easy to use and setup can be a technology trap.

The most obvious example is Microsoft Outlook, which would have to be the worst choice for an MUA at home. Although it appears to be easy to use (arguably as easy to use as Mac Mail) there are so many security flaws built into Outlook, that it is extremely dangerous to use outside of a secure corporate network, unless of course you happened to possess considerable expertise in the area of Internet Security. Although, if you were a genuine expert on the topic of Internet security, you'd know not to use Microsoft at home.

Nevertheless, Apple's mail was very easy to setup. Let's hope that Apple don't fall for the same user friendly security flaws. At least the Linux geeks have a better appreciation of the fact that email is not a seamlessly integrated protocol ending in a user-friendly click and trust Microsoft GUI in your inbox.

And I probably would have setup Apple mail when I first purchased the Mac, if it weren't for the fact that I also received a free thirty day trial Mac Account ... And somehow the Mail program detected this and decided that it was going to set me up with a Mac email address.

Ok, so I wasn't going to setup a Mail account that only had a thirty day trial. IMHO Apple missed a great marketing opportunity here. If they had offered free five year Mac Accounts to all Mac PC owners, quite a few of them, like yours humbly might have given it a try, and after five years, bought a new Mac, just to keep the account. And after all Apple would only have been matching what Google currently offers for free anyway.

And, I'd have to say that even though Linux MUAs like Evolution and Kmail might appear a little bit clunky, it is possible to adapt them to unusual configurations (like email delivered locally to an NFS mounted mailbox using mutt dotlock). Although I suspect that the Thunderbird client for Kubuntu might prove equally as versatile if I took it for a comprehensive test drive.

Lastly for those of you who have to endure Microsoft Outlook at work, you may noticed that the latest version of the slowest MUA in the universe mangles plain text emails. It is only the latest in a long litany of forays against plain text emails. Microsoft have tried just about everything to eradicate plain text ... They tried using a default font that was proportional, defaulting the output type to HTML, using strange containers (winmail.dat), and this is their latest effort. But like the old yellow cat the plain text email just keeps on coming back ... The problem is that out in the real world, system administrators and applications programmers are generating millions of plain text scripts with scripting tools (like perl) and sending them to account managers, sales and marketing teams, financial controllers, etc, etc. And they are not going to re-write those scripts to generate HTML any time in the immediate future ...

So if you are wondering why your plain text looks all weird and funky in the latest incarnation of MS Outlook ... Then don't worry. It's not you, it's your MUA! And yes it is possible to fix it. All you have to do is put your right hand on your heart ... Left hand on the right shoulder to the heart ... Right hand on the right shoulder to the heart, face towards Redmond ... etc, etc, ... No it's actually more obscure then that! You have to use the following option: Tools->Options->E-mail->E-mail Options->Remove extra line breaks in plain text message. ...

And we thought Apple had made an art out of hiding options away in obscure corners of a menu ... As usual, Microsoft have turned it into a science! Still it's good that Microsoft have something to concentrate on. While they carry on the campaign to eradicate plain text emails, the rest of the world are writing applications. Now has anyone figured out how to turn off smart quotes in Word?

Overall, if I was recommending an MUA, I'd probably recommend Thunderbird, because it combines flexibility, ease-of-use and compatibility ... And it runs on all platforms (including Linux).


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