Mike's general stuff ~ Random

In my search for software that meets my stubborn requirements, I've been trying out different web browsers, email clients, irc and ftp clients. Not that I don't appreciate a good piece of software, like say Eudora, which I've been using for three years without a significant (read: decided change in mail client) break. The (my) problem is, a piece of software may be very good and nice in a number of respects, just that its little problems become 'bigger' problems each time I run into them.

Two (little) problems come to mind with Eudora - one is that you can't authenticate with a different set of details to the SMTP (outgoing mail) server to the ones you use to retrieve your mail. This is a small problem in terms of likeliness that someone will notice it, but it becomes a bigger problem when you need to use it. The second problem is a [seemingly] randomly-occurring problem that happens sometimes when I check for mail. I'll try to get a screenshot to better explain what happens next time it does :-)

On the mail client side of things, I've tried a couple of mail clients recently, and many in the past before I found Eudora. Outlook and Outlook Express I count out of the running immediately, because of their swiss cheese-style security, Netscape 4 Mail can't handle multiple POP accounts in the same profile, and so I come to Netscape 6. Netscape 6 gets counted out of the running because I use Mozilla for web browsing (the development version of the latest versions of Netscape, I'll get back to that). NS6 also gets counted out because it is based on an old version of Mozilla which is fairly buggy and slow.

I would have thought Netscape 7.0 would be a pretty good version, considering that it's based on Mozilla 1.0.1, which was a pretty good build, so I tried it out. The first thing I noticed (apart from AOL's irritating "screen name" crap) was its totally unpredictable memory usage. Sometimes it would be fairly sensible, at around 11MB, but then it would randomly balloon to 40MB or more. At least Mozilla, while higher than 11MB, (24 - 30MB on average in my experience) doesn't do that. There's also a million annoying branding jobs done on NS7, in the email client with links to AOL/Netscape online mail, which quite frankly I don't want to see unless I ask for it, and it conflicts with a Mozilla installations really badly.

NS6/7 & Mozilla woes

Which leaves me with just Mozilla, currently (at the time of writing this) at version 1.2.1. I know that most of the testing effort by Mozilla testers (including myself) goes into the browser, and not Mozilla Mail. I think this is for a number of reasons, but the most significant reason is that technical people are willing to trust a piece of software (buggy or not) as their web browser, but their email is a very different thing altogether. The only thing worthy of note that a web browser stores are the bookmarks specified by the user. While some people value them extremely highly, they are still not half as valuable as the user's mail. If your email archives were to get blown away irretrievably by a mail client bug, you wouldn't be a happy person at all. At least I wouldn't be. If my bookmarks got erased, I could rebuild them fairly easily. Even if you have your mail backed up, that is still a lot of effort expended because of a problem that, in your perspective, was caused by a programmer not paying attention (this isn't fair on the programmers, I know, but I would bet it's the thought going through the infuriated user's mind if it happens, fair or not :-)).

That aside, I tried out Mozilla Mail 1.2b (two revisions previous to 1.2.1, one of those revisions had no bugfixes to do with Mail) for a short while, taking precautions in backing up my treasured mail archives in Eudora first (:-)). I think the last time I tried out Mozilla Mail was at rev 1.1. The most noticeable problems I found are as follows:

NS6/7 & Mozilla: Plain SMTP auth problems

This would be better described as auth problems that Netscape has had for a long time and still does, despite a complete re-write of the code. For some bizarre reason, Netscape 4x and earlier had a habit of appending the mail server name onto the end of the username when authenticating with the server. While this would work with many mailserver configurations, it wouldn't with a mailserver configuration that requires the username to be the user's email address. Netscape would end up parsing something like "mike@pop.legolas.com@legolas.com", at which point the mailserver would stick two fingers up at it because that isn't a valid user on that server.

Netscape 6/7 (and Mozilla currently) 'got rid' of that problem by switching the domain name and mail server name around, so now parsing something like "mike@legolas.com@pop.legolas.com". Except, what happens if a mailserver doesn't ignore the information after the @ signs if it doesn't need it? Well, what a surprise, that also tells the email client no.

Wouldn't it be a lot easier if Netscape/Mozilla would just give exactly the user name that the user types into its account manager?

NS6/7 & Mozilla: Moving folders around the mail structure

Problem one - if you want to move a folder from 'Local Folders' (where imported mail goes) to a particular mail account's folder structure, you can't. Not directly. You have to copy then delete the original.

Problem two - Copying mail folders can take an age. Strange, considering that the mail folders are just files in the filesystem, so a request to move the actual mail file itself to the filesystem, then a request to refresh the display the display must surely be faster? Asking the filesystem to do your work for you (like I did in the end, I quit Mozilla Mail and moved the mail folder files around myself to how I wanted things and cut the amount of potential time spent by probably an hour), is always going to be faster, and likely to house a lot less potential bugs than a system you're just designing.

NS6/7 & Mozilla: Mail importing is bloody slow

I think I need to admit a few things upfront here. One of which is that I know mail importing from one app to another is going to be slow. Flags and such have to be set per email imported, sometimes bizarre forms of attachment/message storing can add to the time taken by a huge amount, and also the fact that companies designing competing products aren't going to be good sports about helping each other design decent importers. The next thing I should admit here is that my Eudora mail archive is nearly 90MB in size, not due to large file attachments, because I hate large file attachments, but just the amount of messages I keep. However, on my home PC, 90MBs of data, with an Athlon 1.5GHz CPU, and a 7200RPM ATA/100 IDE disk involved, it shouldn't take over an hour. That equals 40KB/sec throughput. CPU usage wasn't very high (it didn't go over 50% at any time IIRC), the processor queue was on average at 3 requests/sec (I was playing mp3s all the time as well). Even without this information, it is fairly obvious there are some serious performance bottlenecks going on.

NS6/7 & Mozilla: Text-wrapping bugs

Easily the most noticeable problem to anyone using Mozilla Mail for a reasonable length of time. I'm surprised there aren't at least a hundred more than the thirty bugs currently submitted in Mozilla's bug database. Maybe down to especial efforts by the bug trackers of the system to weed out duplicate bug submissions?

Nice things I have to say about Mozilla

Mozilla, I feel are at a disadvantage in attempting to start developing a mail client now (well, the last few years). The thing is, say for example, Qualcomm (the makers of Eudora) started much earlier, when email wasn't considered by the masses as that important. People were more willing to try/test out mail software because it wasn't so risky. Netscape 4.x Mail was based on all previous versions of Netscape, so that has had the same benefit as I described with Eudora, whereas NS6/7 are based on the current Mozilla code, which was written from scratch. While this was necessary, due to a new (infinitely better, IMHO) web page rendering engine being used. Microsoft kind of had the same advantage as I described with Eudora, except to a lesser degree, but as they pushed out all the competition by bundling IE (etc etc etc), they acquired an extremely large user testing base in one foul swoop :-)

Something interesting I've observed with studying the statistics from www.legolas.com and www.copsys.co.uk is that Mozilla's share of the browser statistics is growing. There are a few obvious initial explanations for potential inaccuracies in the statistics, the main one being that I am likely to be one of the main regular visitors to my own website :-) However, if this trend is being noticed on a wider scale, it could spur AOL to stop making stupid additions to the Netscape product that is derived from the Mozilla project effort. People like just getting just what they asked for, and not a load of other branding crap. People also happen to like their web browser being able to block browser pop-up requests, but if this occurred on a large scale it could potentially have a very serious negative impact on funding for various websites on the Internet, as advertising does pay for a great many things. However, if the advertising people engage their brains, they'll come up with a new method for effective advertising on the Internet, and hopefully a method that doesn't annoy people as much as pop-up browser windows do.

I use Mozilla for web browsing as the only other decent competitor, IE, is far less secure, Microsoft have some 'interesting' ideas as to what user privacy and 'fair competition' means, and I like the bookmarking system in Mozilla for its greater flexibility. I'll continue to use Mozilla as a web browser for the forseeable future :-)

People may ask why I'm not submitting what I believe are problems with Mozilla to their bug database. I do - some of the problems. I am fairly sure Mozilla developers are already aware of the problems I've gone over here already, even though I can't find matches for some of the problems I find in their bug database. I'm not a particularly good beta tester as I mess around with the software and my general system configuration too much, so I keep my bug submissions to a minimum, only filing ones I think haven't been covered and are quite important to fix.

People may ask why I use Windows if I feel strongly enough about MS's bad points not to use IE. Windows is good for many things. The UNIX variants haven't managed to come up with a decent locally-running GUI system yet, which is probably the main reason. I haven't seen anything as good as Eudora for X/UNIX variants either :-)... this is Mike, waiting for the 'second coming' of Amiga, signing off :)