10/18/05

Moving to the Mac, E-mail

I promised I'd describe moving to Mac e-mail in this installment. I'll cover what I tried, what I found, what I ended up using, and why. This is one in a series, the whole of which can be perused at blog.avolio.com/search/label/pc2mac. (In preparation for this topic, I blogged about e-mail systems I have known over the years.)

What I Used on the PC.
I have used Eudora for many years. I've liked its look and feel. I like the filtering and labeling. I like that the mailboxes are stored in ASCII format. This allows me to get at my e-mail on my system, even when connected from my Linux server. So, the easy thing would have been to just use Eudora on the Mac. For some reason —I do not know why—I decided I might try a change.

Apple's Mail Application
I heard that Tiger's mail application (cleverly called "Mail") was slow. I played with it a bit, but then decided I'd try Thunderbird.

Thunderbird
I'd tried Thunderbird, the Mozilla client, few times before. I liked it and recommended it, so I figured, why not try it on the Mac?

I'd used it before to remotely access my e-mail from other day job. I'd migrated my wife and daughter at a Maryland university to it. But, I had never migrated from Eudora. That proved to be a problem. Although, Eudora mailboxes are easily readable, Eudora does non-standard things. I've written about problems with Eudora storing attachments differently, etc. before, as I mentioned. I found a terrific tool called Eudora Rescue, which did as it said and it allowed me to migrate.

I used Thunderbird for a few weeks. In this move, I made a a major change. My goal with e-mail has always been for availability. I want my email available on my mobile computer (my PowerBook, now), and on a server. In the past, I did the following:
  • Read email to my computer using POP3
  • Synchronize my notebook PC files with my desktop PC
  • Remotely SAMBA-mount my desktop PC's folder on my in-house Linux server
So, the e-mail was saved in two places, and I could access the mailboxes from any remote system if I had to, with an SSH connection to my Linux server.

As the Wikipedia entry says, "POP3 and its predecessors are designed to allow end users with intermittent connections such as dial-up connections to retrieve email when connected, and then to view and manipulate the retrieved messages without needing to stay connected." This fit my needs very well, with the above-mentioned steps. This is known as "disconnected" mode. (Most POP3 clients have a "leave mail on server" option.)

The change I made was to move to using IMAP.
  • Good—worked; flexible; fast; worked fine "disconnected;" though not as many "labels" as Eudora, good enough.
  • Bad—Could not figure out how to just use the keyboard, though it may be my being new to the Mac (I like the mouse—but, really, why not have a 2 or 3 button mouse? —but, not all the time).
Mulberry
A friend, and former DEC colleague, Dr. Brian K. Reid, put me on to Mulberry. He cares as much about e-mail as I do, so, I figured I'd try it. In fact, it was this move that took me to using IMAP. See, I had a devil of a time importing from Thunderbird to Mulberry. Its "Import" function was greyed out. I used a conversion tool, but it did not work. A group of learned friends all basically told me the same thing: "Use Thunderbird to copy your mailboxes to an IMAP server. Then use Mulberry to copy them back from that IMAP server to your local computer." So, I did, and started using Mulberry and IMAP. I set things up to work in "disconnected" mode, meaning that all the mailboxes stay on my email server (I put them in a hierarchy in my home directory on my Linux server, under a directory "Mail/"), and copies of all mailboxes get synchronized with/onto my Powerbook.

This meets me requirements mentioned earlier. I can always, if needed, SSH into my email server and read any of my email messages; they are stored in mailboxes in mbox format (so, I can use UCB Mail to read them if needed).

Mulberry had everything I wanted, including great filtering and labeling, but it was way too complex with way too little documentation. My friend who recommended it, had said, "Mulberry is not simple to configure. In fact, it has so damn many options and modes that it can be a big pain to learn." He was right, and I gave up on it.

Mail.app
I've settled on the native email client, Mail. (One benefit of an IMAP client is there is no conversion step; the email on the server just reads in to the file locations of the new client.) I like it. Searchlight is integrated into Mail. Things just work. Rules for filtering are pretty good, although there are no labels to speak of. (I was used to labeling emails as, for example, "list," for mailing lists, "save," "read," "action," etc.) I miss that, but can live without it. I benefited from an article called Tweaking Tiger Mail, by Giles Turnbull. Right now, the only negative feelings I have towards the native Mail.app, is that I would like to do complex searches. Mail.app uses the ubiquitous Searchlight, and it allows Boolean expressions in a search, but you are limited to Booleans in one field. For example, I want to look for all messages containing "Joe" or "Mary" (easy to do) that are from my wife or from me and that contain one or more attachments. (Don't ask me why, it's just an example.) There is no way I can see to make such complex query.

Nevertheless, for now I happy with the native Mail application, and am sticking with it.

Other discovered coolness.
I keep finding more cool and useful things on the Mac. First, Mac OS allows one to remap or modify some of the keys. In "System preferences," in "Keyboard & Mouse," select "Modifier Keys..." I selected "No action" for the "Caps Lock." This is the first time I had a computer that allowed me to do this.

It's been a few month's since I ditched my Windows PC for a PowerBook. I've no regrets. In fact, I am happy for the change. I do still sometimes use a Windows machine when I must (running my copy of QuickBooks for my business account or at my other day job). When I do that, my left hand usually hits the wrong keys for a while, but I do not consider this a problem.

Next time: calendars and address books.

Also, check out Interview with Tony Bove, Author of Just Say No to Microsoft.

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