Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SOFTWARE: Take A Letter Eudora ... For The Last Time


We all depend waaaaay too much on email for communications these days (well except for Angela and the rest of the tweet/SMS/IM-obsessed teens). I don't tweet (too limiting, since I'm the Verbiage King ... never send a 140 characters when a full page of ruminations will do) and I don't have a cell phone, so none of the thumbing type of messages for me. Nope, it's email as my way of escaping making a phone call.

And, for most of the last 20 years, I used Eudora to handle my email. I'm trying to remember when I didn't use Eudora and what I used before that, but I've come up empty. In my Eudora data folder, I do have emails dating back to mid-summer 1990. My main problem is that Qualcomm gave up on Eudora the better part of ten years ago and stopped developing the product with version 7. Hammered by the free Outlook in Windows and built-in email clients in just about every browser suite at the time, Qualcomm did a cost versus profits analysis and shut down the application named after famed letter hack Eudora Welty. (Actually, hack is probably inappropriate when refering to the Victoria era letter writer. But boy, she sure wrote lots of them)

Despite Eudora becoming obsolete, I stuck with the program. I KNEW the ins and outs of the program. Loved it's transportability as I moved from machine to machine. I promoted its use at businesses, especially ones with personnel turnover. Just run the program installer from the new account created for the new person, tell it the data was in the same C:\data\Eudora folder and the new person had instant access to the settings AND the emails of his or her predecessor. Try doing THAT today with Outlook variants or Thunderbird.

Getting Eudora up and running, even in its ad-supported free version, was a bit of a chore if I tried to do it remotely. The ISP's were always ZERO help. Getting the settings for the various incoming and outgoing servers was necessary and frequently, the person on the ISP help desk was a lot less than helpful because Eudora was never on their list of canned help scripts. I just needed the server addresses and they couldn't separate out those little pieces of information. Eventually, I did figure out that if the ISP twit could get Outlook installed, I could have my friend re-install Eudora afterwards and have the install program import the Outlook settings. But Eudora was getting more and more outdated and most people couldn't be convinced of its charms.

Not me. I had everything down pat. And, while I didn't change users on my computer, I did change computers. By my count, I'm up to 17 computers over those two decades plus that I've been using Eudora. Not serially, of course. There have been five laptops during that time frame. And having two machines and one message code-base was always fun. I had to remember to set the laptops to LEAVE the messages on the email server and to send myself a CC'd copy of any email I sent OUT from the laptop, so that I would have a record on the main desktop of the emailing. But like I said, this all became second nature.

The end of Eudora came slowly for me over the last couple of months. The new machine, Quincy, has been slowly taking over more and more of the main tasks here at The Castle of Confusion. Quincy is a Windows 7 machine. It's faster than fast, with copious memory and solid-state hard drives. I want to use it exclusively, but getting it running has been a slow affair because I need to be productive, and that means still using Popeye, a Windows XP machine. I hate Windows 7 a lot, because, amongst other things, it seems to hate Eudora.

Starting Eudora always resulted in a security warning that Eudora was prevented from becoming my default email program. It was easier to just click through the message than find out how to get rid of the message. But otherwise, Eudora worked. Until just before Easter. On a night I had to send out messages to two clients, Eudora wouldn't send the emails through. And the less than helpful error messages were less helpful than usual. And Eudora insisted on trying to send the darn messages when I exited, a process I went through two or three times before clicking the Just Quit button. I eventually sent the messages out through GMail.

And that was the rub. POP email, located on my computer, was yesterday's news. There was ALWAYS some issue with POP email and IMAP (the other local computer based email protocol) wasn't a whole lote better. The world, even Microsoft, was moving to web-based email. I tried to overcome my momentary Eudora issues by installing Thunderbird on Quincy, but it too had some issues that were obviously ISP mail-server based. So, I decided to throw in my lot with GMail and be done with this weird email setup I've had for ever so long.

Actually, I'd been moving towards GMail in slow steps ever since I got an invite to use the service, back when GMail invites were something special. You had to know someone who knew someone to get access to a GMail account. I got mine from a training seminar teacher who looked askance when I told him I DIDN'T have an account. How could I call myself a programmer and computer consultant and NOT have an account. It was almost like a badge of being a professional. So I got MY account, and a hundred invites to hand out of my own. At last count, I'd handed out 14 invites in all. I guess I'm not that inclusionary, now am I.

Moving from Aztec-Net run by my friend Rick up in Georgetown, I eventually settled in with Rogers as my ISP. With my Rogers account came up to nine email accounts. I set up eight in all. My main account, two almost main accounts and five very specific accounts devoted to a single aspect of my on-line life. I had ones for just March Madness emails, one for books, one for programming communications, etc. Eudora handled the main account and Thunderbird handled the rest. I could have used one or the other program to handle them all, but doing all of it in Eudora was a pain and doing the main one in Thunderbird was wrong, because Thunderbird was, after all, not Eudora. Now, I added a third email program, GMail. They say variety is the spice of life.

And, just to prove I was a little crazy, I had a system tray applet called PopTray, that checked all eight of the Rogers accounts so that I didn't have to be running Eudora and/or Thunderbird all of the time. After all, it wasn't like I wanted the email programs running and taking up memory and resources unless there was a reason to have them up. I didn't get THAT much email.

About two years ago, I discovered a neat trick. I could actually route my email THROUGH Gmail and then back to my regular email program. This, I found to be beneficial. GMail benefited from the best programmers in the world writing top-line filters to get most of the spam out, before sending it back to me to let Rogers (and Yahoo) do their worst with my email. Bluntly, Rogers/Yahoo stinks in that regard. Most spam comes through and virtually ALL email comes with a bulk stamp in the header. It's almost comical. I had to write after-the-fact filters in Eudora to handle the spam. And bluntly, even Eudora failed too much. I stopped writing filters in Thunderbird for the other accounts, because GMail was doing the job for me. If I had a spam a week in ALL the other accounts I looped through GMail, I was surprised. My main account, supposedly handled by Rogers/Yahoo, was letting spam get through at the rate of a half-dozen a day. And I couldn't increase the level of filtering, because then I found I'd miss emails that Rogers/Yahoo either never passed along to me or sent it directly to a spam folder I was supposed to check on line once in a while (like daily). Ahhh, no.

My main problem was I couldn't loop my main account through GMail. I wanted to. I tried to. But it kept saying it couldn't import my email right now and to try later. And I did. For months. And it kept failing. And GMail help is ... well not a feature in Google's favour. Google writes software any idiot can run and problems are almost always local (i.e. in the brain of the user), NOT in IT'S software. As a result, for all the resources Google has, the help desk isn't where they spend much more than a couple of pennies. It's worse than useless. It's time consuming useless and ultimately futile. So, I continued with my setup as is.

Until that night. I then spent too much of the following day figuring out just what the heck was going on with GMail and why it wouldn't import my main account. I went through ALL the settings and removed all traces of my previous attempts to import it. I worried that my GMail account was based on registering with my main account. So, I set up a second gmail account, with the first account as its registering account. And THAT way, I found I could import my main account. And frankly, I could have stopped there. But I went another step off the route to success. I went back to my regular GMail account and set up it's confirming email to be that second GMail account. Then I tried un-importing my main account from the secondary GMail account (Have I lost you yet?) and then importing it back into my main GMail account. And that failed. ARRRRGGHHHH!

Welll, it turns out there's a limit of how many POP accounts you can loop through any GMail account. Any guess on how high that limit is? One less than I needed, of course. I decided to cut down my overall looped accounts to just five, my main account at Rogers, the two seconday accounts and two tertiary accounts. I got so little email through the other three, that I sent out New Address emails to the few correspondents (some of which would be astonished to hear from me after all these years) and closed the accounts on Rogers. I then added one new account that no one has the address to serve as a fall-back catchall. Be interesting when, and if, I get spam at that account.

I could have stopped at this point. I now had the advantage of GMail's filtering with my main account. I COULD send emails from GMail AS IF I was answering from my main account. I wouldn't see those replies in my Eudora outbox, but it was there for an emergency situation. But I weighed the Pros and Cons of a wholescale move to the cloud and GMail came out the winner.

The Pros? The biggest advantage cloud-based email AKA web-mail has is that you can use it from any computer. All it takes is a username and a password. And frankly, using LastPass to handle all of my web passwords automatically means not having to enter even those two pieces of information all the time, which would be a little irritating, if true. Gmail has advanced spam filtering that goes wrong in either direction about once a month, if that. It stores all of the email, attachments included, which can add up to a lot of space over time. I currently don't have much of my 7.2G allotment used, but I will slowly fill that up. And Google keeps upping the limit, which means I probably won't ever reach the actual limit. Google's superior search tools means searching for emails is as easy as using Google Search. And as fast. It automatically threads email conversations where I reply to your reply to the original email I sent you. Spell-checking and formatting is easy. I can, but don't, use emoticons, those little graphic replacements for [G] or even ;)

The Cons? Well, it isn't Eudora. The Contacts Manager is a pain in the posterior to use. Especially for making lists or even accommodating people who have two addresses I send out to simultaneously. Like my brother Rick or my boss at my main client. I hate that I can't middle click on a message and have that email open up in a new tab in Firefox. I have to click on an email, do my business with it and then click the Return to InBox link. And not having a traditional expandable folder approach takes a LOT of getting used to. A lot. The label system is interesting and even productive. But a string of labels preceding headers can make for a very small portion of the header showing. Google also happens to run a Lab that has all kinds of helpful features that can be added to GMail. And some that are not. Unfortunately, some of these Lab features graduate to GMail itself and some of those are anything but helpful. The current Contacts Manager is one, replacing a more helpful version as of last September. And Priority Box and the newer Bulk/Announcements/Etc. auto filtering is another that I've tried and hate the thought that that feature might become standard. Plus, in-line graphics are a pain in the posterior to get in-line.

Then, there's access, security and privacy issues and those aren't going away any time soon. The Amazon Services outage during the same Pre-Easter time period and last week's Blog-out for Google's Blogger re-inforced the fact that sometimes the net's down or your web-mail provider of choice MIGHT be inaccessible. It could be that Google suffers some sort of issue and goes off-line. Or, Rogers gets the right from it's nabobs in Ottawa and decides filtering software from competing vendors is a good idea. Yeah, I know it would be stupid to filter Google, but this is Rogers we are talking about, just one step out of the pit of putridness that envelopes Bell Canada.

Answer? Automatic forwarding to a new Hotmail account I set up. AND downloading the text of Gmail emails through a little program called GMail Backup. Not a perfect solution, but one I can live with. As for security, it's not like the Chinese HAVEN'T hacked GMail before. But I DO use a decent password, one that's more than 15 characters long and is not used anywhere else I am on the internet. It's got numbers, spaces, upper and lower case letters and punctuation. It's a sentence after all, albeit with no words found in any dictionary. Backwards spelling is SOOOO much fun. And since I'm unlikely to be the target of the Chinese or law and enforcement officials, I tend to think I'm virtually invisible for being part of the herd. A random drive-by cracking of my GMail account is highly unlikely. And yes, I put in a nonsense answer to that security question, which is the point of attack of most GMail security breaches.

e.g. If you choose What is your favourite colour? Fer gawdsakes don't say blue, pink, purple or whatever it actually is. Type in some regularly-used word you think of when asked security questions, like noneofyourbusinessblue. Or noneofyourbusinesspurple if you're like half the teenage girls out there.

Which now brings up privacy. Frankly, I don't trust Google, but I HAVE to trust somebody a little bit. And Google's earned top spot on the "I Don't Trust Anybody, But Here's A List of The LEAST untrustworthy Companies" List. I know I'm being data mined. And I do mind, to the point where I run AdBlock to get rid of a lot of the targetted ads sent my way. In fact, I fear the day when GMail requires I turn off such services to use their 'Free' email. I've discarded bookmarks to sites that make that demand because they are free to make the demand and I'm not willing to put up with the kind of eye-gouging ads that demand attention that they would then foist upon me. But it's possible Google might one day make me make a choice. Not right now and I might be dead by the time they get around to closing the loophole. I take all kinds of measures to protect my privacy, including turning off google analytics and using NoScript to limit a lot of what I see on my GMail page to just stuff being doled out by Google. Occasionally, Google screws up and does a Buzz on users. But being watchful and making sure you disable these added 'features' when they come along, is important.
So, GMailing I would go.

Having actually used GMail for a long time, I knew most of the ins and outs of normal useage. I had set up a LOT of filters that would handle labeling, archiving and plain old ignoring of incoming emails. I wish Google could compound the filters. For example, I get nightly updates on backups from my main client. I want THOSE updates to be marked as read and labeled Backups, but I don't want the Biz label applied to them. On the other hand, every OTHER communications from the same client has to have Biz AND their client label attached. I can't seem to get a labeling system that accomplishes both goals. The backups get three labels, BACKUP, BIZ and CLIENTNAME. Oh well. I use the Little Ninja skin, the only place in all of my programs where I used something other than the standard basic look on any program. But the little ninjas are so darn cute.

Which brings me to the mess known as the Contact Manager. Grumble, grumble, grumble. My first issue was the fact that I couldn't directly import the address book from Eudora. And my first attempts to import the addresses failed. This time, Google help was just enough help for me to figure out how to make things work. Eudora exports the address book in CSV format. Without a header saying which fields are which, in order. I had to edit the CSV file to include the header line. Then the import worked. Sort of. It imported about 200 of the 300 addresses. It got the ones I needed and lost some duplicates, slight variations and some no-longer used addresses. The actual emails it brought in were almost unuseable by GMail, but the bulk of the work of getting entries was done. Now, it was time to get to work editing the whole mess of some 217 My Contacts that were the result of the import process, when added to the few that were already there.

I set up some groups to assign the contacts too. This is necessary, because working with the full My Contacts is unwieldy. Since the delete buttons are located at the top and bottom, if you happened to be in the middle, the only way to delete an account is to check it, scroll to either end and choose Delete from the Other Actions list. In fact, doing a pass to JUST delete contacts is a good pass, doing ALL the checks that are necessary. Then create a group and doing a run, checking those, for each group. I had FnF (Friends and Family), Biz, XBiz, Pgm (Programming), HW (Hardware), Roto (Friends from various Roto sports operations), Mad (March Madness contacts) and Misc. When in doubt, I threw the contact into Misc. There are some people I no longer socialize with (yes, I have, on occasion, been what you might call sociable. Being a packrat means keeping the email address, even after the breakup), and those went into Misc too.

Now, I could use the groups on the left to minimize the set of contacts I was working with at any given point of time.

Cleaning up emails was next. Eudora kept a lot of emails in this format: "GaryMugford" . Getting rid of anything but the actual address was simply a click to open the editor, highlight and delete the before and after extraneous stuff. Save and then click Back to Contact Manager link. Did I mention how I hate how anal GMail is. Just clicking on save SHOULD send me back automatically.

My first blip was addresses with multiple emails. My roto lists and occasionally individuals with two addresses. This proved impossible without googling the net for solutions to the issue (and yeah, it IS ironic that I use Google to search the internet with the in-app GMail help being absolutely useless). And I eventually found the solution. I had to separate email addresses with, of all things '>,<' and even THAT didn't work the very first time I tried it. I dutifully created the double addresses I send to when emailing my brother Rick and tried to send him an email. It FAILED! Eventually I figured out I had somehow screwed up his second email address, which happened to be a GMAIL ADDRESS! Turns out, GMail knows when a putative GMail address is, in fact, NOT a GMail address. And thus, the sending fails. You can send to two bogus addresses all you want, but not to a bogus GMail address. Whewww!

Now, GMail accommodates multiple addresses without the >,< shenanigans and the programmers there will tell you that GMail does it right. When you start typing in a name, such as Gary, it will sift out addresses with Gary in them and offer you each address you've entered in for that name, as separate emails. So, you would see Gary:  at the gmail.com address and Gary: localmainaccount@rogers.com or more lines if there are more email addresses listed. PLUS, the GMail programmers allow you to click on the TO:, CC: or BCC: links and you will get a drop down version of the My Contacts list. Click on a group you want to send to and click CHECK ALL and Bob's your uncle. Or you can scroll and selectively check the list. Certainly that's better than my two decades old way of handling things.

Ahhh, not so much. I wanted lists MY way. That includes listing them as _Roto, or _Family in My Contacts. It's a lot easier to type _R or _F and hit enter, then it is to go through GMail's scroll and check routine. However, when I went to the editor in Contacts Manager, I could only see two of the list addresses at most. My solution? Ctrl-A to highlight the whole line of addresses, Ctrl-C for copy, switch to a notepad session, Ctrl-V for paste. I'd then edit in the >,< separators and reverse the process. Ctrl-A for select All, Ctrl-C, Back to Firefox and the GMail Contact Manager edit session, Ctrl-V to paste in the new line and Save. Later, I discovered using the Note section within Contact Manager, rather than using an external Notepad, was a better idea. I could do all the editing I needed. AND I was left with an easy to see list of what was actually in the email address line.

With all that, I was ready to announce to my 217 contacts that I was switching over to GMail as my main email address. Using the groups (leaving out the Misc and the XBiz groups), I sent out an email saying it was time to change their address books to use the gmail.com account. There was still the (ongoing) task of changing my address of record at various places I have registered at over the years that I don't normally exchange email with. The fact that the main Rogers account is still up and running and is operational (and looped into GMail) means I can take my time. And if I miss somebody, it's not like the potential emails (usually about upgrades and the such) will get lost in the ether.

But, as of today, despite my obstinance, I now have a new main email account. Hopefully it will be a couple more decades before I have to go through anything like this process again.

No comments: