… and back to Thunderbird

It has been a while since I’ve last posted about email – still a topic very close to my heart, be it on the server side or on the client side (though the server side generally works very well here, which is why I don’t post about it).

Waybackwhen, I’ve written about Becky! which is also where I’ve declared the points I deemed important in a mail client. A bit later, I’ve talked about The Bat!, but in the end, I’ve settled with Thunderbird, just to switch to Mac Mail when I’ve switched to the Mac.

After that came my excursion to Gmail, but now I’m back to Thunderbird again.

Why? After all, my Gmail review sounded very nice, didn’t it?

Well…

  • Gmail is blazingly fast once it’s loaded, but starting the browser and then gmail (it loads so slow that “starting (the) gmail (application)” is a valid term to use) is always slower than just keeping a mail client open on the desktop.
  • Google Calendar Sync sucks and we’re using Exchange/Outlook here (and are actually quite happy with it – for calendaring and address books – it sucks for mail, but it provides decent IMAP support), so there was no way for the other folks here to have a look at my calendar.
  • Gmail always posts a “Sender:”-Header when using a custom sender domain which technically is the right thing to do, but Outlook on the receiving end screws up by showing the mail as being “From xxx@gmail.com on behalf of xxx@domain.com” which isn’t really what I’d want.
  • Google’s contact management offering is sub par compared even to Exchange.
  • iPhone works better with Exchange than it does with Google (yes. iPhone, but that’s another story).
  • The cool Gmail MIDP client doesn’t work/isn’t needed on the iPhone, but originally was one of the main reasons for me to switch to Gmail.

The one thing I really loved about Gmail though was the option of having a clean inbox by providing means for archiving messages with just a single keyboard shortcut. Using a desktop mail client without that funcationality wouldn’t have been possible for me any more.

This is why I’ve installed Nostalgy, a Thunderbird extension allowing me to assign a “Move to Folder xxx” action to a single keystroke (y in my case – just like gmail).

Using Thunderbird over Mac Mail has its reasons in the performance and in the crazy idea of Mac Mail to always download all the messages. Thunderbird is no race horse, but Mail.app isn’t even a slug.

Lately, more and more interesting posts regarding the development of Thunderbird have appeared on Planet Mozilla, so I’m looking forward to see Thunderbird 3 taking shape in its revitalized form.

I’m all but conservative in my choice of applications and gadgets, but Mail  – also because of its importance for me – must work exactly as I want it. None of the solutions out there are doing that to the full extent, but TB certainly comes closest. Even after years of testing and trying out different solutions, TB is the thing that solves most of my requirements without adding new issues.

Gmail is splendid too, but it presents some shortcomings TB doesn’t come with.

Epic SSL fail

Today when I tried to use the fancy SSL VPN access a customer provided me with, I came across this epic fail:

Of all the things that can be wrong in a SSL certificate, this certificate manages to get them wrong. The self-signed(1) certificate was issued for the wrong host name(2) and it has expired(3) quite some time ago.

Granted: In this case the issue of trust is more or less constrained to the server to know who I am (I wasn’t intending on transferring any amount of sensitive data), but still – when you self-sign your certificate, the cost of issuing one for the correct host or issuing one with a very long validity becomes a non-issue.

Anyways – I had a laugh. And now you can have one too.

What sucks about the Touch Diamond

Contrary to all thinking and common-sense I’ve displayed in my «Which phone for me?»-post, I went and bought the Touch Diamond. The perspective of having a hackable device with high resolution, GPS and voip capability and flawlessly working Exchange-Synchronization finally pushed me over – oh and of course I just like new gadgets to try out.

In my dream world, the Touch would even replace my iPod Touch as a video player and bathtub browser, so I could go back to my old Nano for podcasts.

Unfortunately, the Touch is not much more than any other Windows Mobile phone with all the suckage and half-working features they usually come with. Here’s the list:

  • VoIP is a no-go. The firmware of the Touch is crippled and does not provide Windows Mobile 6+ SIP support, Skype doesn’t run on Windows Mobile 6.1, but all that doesn’t matter anway because none of the Voip-Solutions actually use the speakerphone. You can only get VoIP sound on the amplified speaker on the back of the phone – or you use a headset at which time, the thing isn’t better than any other VoIP solution at my disposal.
  • GPS is a no go as the Diamond takes *ages* to find a signal and it’s really fiddly to get it to work – even just in the integrated Google maps application.
  • Typing anything is really hard despite HTC really trying. Whichever input method you chose, you lose: The Windows Mobile native solutions only work with the pen and the HTC keypads are too large for the applications to remain really usable. Writing SMSes takes me so much longer than every other smart phone I’ve tried before.
  • T9 is a nice idea, but here and then, you need to enter some special chars. Like dots. Too bad that they are hidden behind another menu – especially the dot.
  • This TouchFLO 3D-thingie sounds nice on the web and in all the demonstrations, but it sucks anway, mainly because it’s slow as hell. The iPhone interface doesn’t just look good, it’s also responsive, which is where HTC fails. Writing an SMS message takes *minutes* when you combine the embarrassingly slow loading time of the SMS app with the incredibly fiddly text input system.
  • You only get a German T9 with the German version of the Firmware which has probably been translated using Google Translation or Babelfish.
  • The worst idea ever from a consumer perspective was that stupid ExtUSB connector. Aside of the fact that you’d practically have to buy an extra cable to sync from home and the office, you also need another extra cable if you want to plug in decent headphones. The ones coming with the device are unusable and it’s impossible to plug better ones. Also, the needed adapter cable is currently not available to buy anywhere I looked.
  • The screen, while having a nice DPI count is too small to be usable for earnest web browsing. Why does windows mobile have to paint everything four times as large when there are four times as many pixels available?
  • Finger gestures just don’t work on a touch sensitive display, no matter how much they try. At least they don’t work once you are used to the responsiveness and accuracy of an iPhone (or iPod touch).
  • The built-in opera browser, while looking nice and providing a much better page zoom feature than the iPod Touch also is unusable because it’s much too slow.

So instead of having a possible iPhone killer in my pocket, I have a phone that provides around zero more actually usable functionality than my previous W880i and yet is much slower, crashier, larger and heavier than the old solution.

Here’s the old feature comparison table listing the features I tought the touch would have as opposed to the features the touch actually has:

assumed actually
Phone usage
Quick dialing of arbitrary numbers (the phone application takes around 20 seconds to load, the buttons are totally unresponsive)
Acceptable battery life (more than two days) ? yes. Actually yes. 4 days is not bad.
usable as modem yes yes
usable while not looking at the device limited not at all mainly because of the laggyness of the interface
quick writing of SMS messages it’s much, much worse than anticipated.
Sending and receiving of MMS messages yes not really. Sending pictures is annoying as hell and everything is terribly slow.
PIM usage
synchronizes with google calendar/contacts
synchronizes with Outlook yes yes
usable calendar yes very, very slow
usable todo list yes slow
media player usage
integrates into current iTunes based podcast workflow
straight forward audio playing interface
straight forward video playing interface
acceptable video player yes no. No sound due to no way to plug my own headphones.
hackability
ssh client yes not really. putty doesn’t quite work right on VGA Winmob 6.1
skype client yes no. a) it doesn’t work and b) it would require headset usage as skype is unable to use the speakerphone.
OperaMini (browser usable on GSM) yes limited. No softkeys and touch-buttons too small to reliably hit.
WLAN-Browser yes no. Too slow, Screen real estate too limited.

Now tell me how this could be called progress.

I’m giving this thing until the end of the week. Maybe I get used to its deficiencies in the matters of interface speed. If not, it’s gone. As is the prospective of me buying any other Windows Mobile phone. Ever.

Sorry for the rant, but it had to be.

Mozilla Weave 0.2

I have quite many computers I use regularely, on all of which runs Firefox. Of course I’ve accumulated quite a lot of bookmarks, passwords and “keep me logged in”-cookies.

During my use of FF2, I’ve come across Google Browser Sync which was incredibly useful, albeit a bit unstable here and then, so last Christmas, I was very happy to see the prototype of Mozilla Weave to be released. It promised the same feature set as Google Browser Sync, but build from the makers of the browser on an open architecture.

I have been a user of Weave ever since and it was even more inconsistent in availability than what Google Browser Sync ever provided, but at least it was just the server not working, not affecting the client which GBS did here and then, which made me lose parts or all of my bookmarks.

Over time though, Weave got better and better and with todays 0.2 release, the installation and setup process actually got streamlined enough so that I can recommend the tool to anybody using more than one PC at any time.

Especially with the improved bookmarking functionality we got in Firefox 3, synchroniuzing bookmarks has become really important. I’m very happy to see a solution for this problem and I’m overjoyed that the solution is as open as weave is.

Congratulations, Mozilla Team!

A look at my IRC configuration

It has been a while since I’ve last talked about my irc setup. Last time was when I initially started to get my feet wet in IRC. In the three years (three years already? How time passes!), I have been active in IRC to various degrees (with some large wow-related holes, but that’s a different story).

Currently, my rate of IRC usage is back to quite high levels, mostly due to #git which is a place where I actually feel competent enough to help out here and then. Also #nesvideos is fun to be in as ever.

What has changed since 2005 is my setup:

  • Whereas back then, I was mainly working on Windows, I have by now switched over to OSX, so the question of clients is raised again, but see more on that later on.
  • By IRC proxy changed from ctrlproxy to ZNC. It’s easier to configure and I’ve had much better success with that than with any other bouncer I tried. It’s the only bouncer I know so far that does the thing I need bouncers for out-of-the box: Log the channel while I’m away and replay the log when I reconnect.
  • The client has radically changed. While I stayed true to X-Chat after my switch to OSX (using X-Chat Aqua), recently, I have tried other clients as Colloquy (no light-on-dark-theme with colored nicks) and Linkinus (not offering any features making up for the commercial nature), but honestly, Mibbit works best. And it works when I’m on my girlfriend’s computer. And it even (somewhat) works on my iPod Touch. And it looks good. And it provides all the features I need. I’m of course still connecting to my bouncer, but that’s easily configured once you create an account there.

IRC is still a very techie world, but it’s such a nice way to spend time on.

First mail, then office, now IRC. What’s next?

I know that I may be really late with this, but I recently came across Mibbit, a web based IRC client. This is another instance of the recent rush of applications being transported over to the web platform.

In the early days, there were webbased email services. Like Hotmail (or the third CGI script I’ve ever written – the firewall/proxy in my school only supported traffic on port 80 and I didn’t know about tunnels, nor did I have the infrastructure to create a fitting one).

Then came office applications like Google’s offering. And of course games. Many games.

Of course there were webbased chats in the earlier days. But they either required a plugin like java or flash or they worked by constantly reloading the page where the chat is appearing on. Neither of the solution provided what I’d call a full IRC-client. And many of the better solutions required a plugin to work.

mibbit is though. It provides many of the features a not-too-advanced IRC user would want to have. Sure. Scripting is (currently) absent, but everything else is here. In a pleasant interface.

What’s interesting is the fact that so many applications can nowadays be perfectly represented on the web. In fact, XHTML/CSS is perfectly fitted to present a whole lot of data to the user. For IRC for example, there is among the desktop clients to use HTML for their chat rendering aswell.

So in case of IRC clients, both types of applications sooner or later reach the same state: Representing chat messages in good-looking HTML while providing a myriad of features to put off everyone but the most interested and tech-savy user :-)

Still. The trend is an interesting thing to note. As more and more applications hop over to the web, we get more and more independant of infrastructure and OSes. Sometime in the future, maybe we’ll have the paradise of just having a browser to access all our data and applications from wherever we are.

No more software installations. No more viruses and spyware. No more software inexplicably stopping to work. And for the developer: Easy deployment of fixes, shorter turnaround times.

Interesting times ahead indeed.

Ubuntu 8.04

I’m sure that you have heard the news: Ubuntu 8.04 is out.

Congratulations to Canonical and their community for another fine release of a really nice Linux distribution.

What prompted me to write this entry though is the fact that I have updated shion from 7.10 to 8.04 this afternoon. Over a SSH connection.

The whole process took about 10 minutes (including the download time) and was completely flawless. Everything kept working as it was before. After the reboot (which also went flawlessly), even OpenVPN came back up and connected to the office so I could have a look at how the update went.

This is very, very impressive. Updates are tricky. Especially considering that it’s not one application that’s updated, not even one OS. It’s a seemingly random collection of various applications with their interdependencies, making it virtually impossible to test each and every configuration.

This shows that with a good foundation, everything is possible – even when you don’t have the opportunity to test for each and every case.

Congratulations agin, Ubuntu team!