Monday, October 29, 2007

software: e-mail enhancements

I use Thunderbird for e-mail, a mere 700MB of e-mail from Eudora, Netscape, Mac Mail, and corporate Exchange. I took a survey. Here are my suggestions in more detail. They're keyed around several hassles:
  • the hassle of subscribing to mailing lists and getting duplicates of messages, and messages that are on web archives
  • the hassle of threaded discussions and all those chunks of >>> quoted message
  • the hassle of attachments, that again exist on the web

integrate Find Duplicate message functionality

There's extension that finds duplicates, but I want e-mail to detect them as they come in. If I get the same message several times (e.g. a personal reply and the message from mailing list), show me threaded with the one I prefer first, with an option for the rest to be flagged as less desirable. For example, if someone sends an e-mail to me and cc's to some mail lists I subscribe, I prefer keeping the original and deleting the ones that have the Yahoo Groups ad or Sourceforge.net promo line.

in threaded mode, detect and collapse previous quotations

The inconsiderate bozos who quote the entire message only to add "I agree" or "Thanks" need to be schooled (and bozos, don't top-post!). Meanwhile the mail program can help. It could inline the followup comments. Or, for each followup message, add thin colored bars corresponding to quoted sections, and you can click on the colored bar to pop up the comment, or display it inlined with the current message. And, if I go on to read a follow-up, the e-mail could collapse the original bits of text in the follow-up, sort of what Google Groups does

calendaring/address book/things smarts (e.g. turn e-mail into invitation)

This would detect "lunch tomorrow with Bob at Monk's and create a calendar appointment linking to Bob in Address Book, "Monk's coffee shop" as a Place (and its Web page), and back to the original e-mail. BUT, these linkages would also work in the current message. If I just have the text "Anna says we can install Minefield" in a folder called Beta, if I right-click on Anna or Minefield, the context menu can have a Related... submenu that should find the Anna Jones in recipients in the current folder, and find Minefield in subjects in the current folder.

Pensoft's Perspective PIM for PenPoint could do this, it was addictive and it felt that the software learned about your life.

Better control over attachment handling

It's still a hassle. Often Thunderbird's HTML window or View Source window could do an acceptable job of showing the attachment (like a .eml or patch file), but I have to save and open from the O.S. and then clean up. I want options for thumbnail preview in attachment pane, quick view in new window, a submenu for Open with > Paint / Firefox / jpegcrop / Thunderbird's own HTML viewer / Thunderbird as plain text.

use the Operating Systems's file system attributes to associate files with the attachment

Thunderbird's "Detach attachment" option is nice, but the file in the file system has no idea where it came from and doesn't get the same tags that the mail message had.

option to replace a local messages with a link to the same message in an HTML archive

I subscribe to mailing lists, but they're also available in mail archives. I should be able to tell my e-mail program about the connection, then allow me to follow/copy the archive URL, and to replace my local message with a link (but still keep track of my tagging, my read status, my reply status, etc.). When I reply or forward, I should be easily able to replace the quoted text with "John Doe wrote in http://mailarchive.net/list/x/msg1043.html". And I should be able to bookmark the link to the archive and share/push it to Firefox.

option to replace an attachment with a link to the file on the Web

People keep sending me huge attachments of files that are commonly available on the Web, even though YouTube, Flickr, and Google Docs make it unnecessary. So my e-mail program should proactively go out and find the same file on the Web and, much like mailing list archives above, I should be able to associate the attachment with the URL, or replace it with the URL.
The point is, my e-mail archives should be an added-value local repository that needs tight associations with the same information that's on the Web, and should propagate these associations to the file system.

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Monday, November 7, 2005

computers: 55,000 Mac mail messages moved

I organized many of my e-mail on a Microsoft Exchange IMAP server at work, access to which I lost at the same time The Man pried my Mac Powerbook from my cold, dead fingers.

I transferred my mail files to this Windows machine and installed the fine free Thunderbird mail program, but it has no Tools > Import > Mac Mail option.

For a month I tried just leaving the Mac mail files on-disk. They're text and I can view them fine. But Google Desktop search wouldn't find words in them. So I decided to move the mail into Thunderbird's folders.

Many of the Mac Mail folders contained mbox files that I could simply move into the Thunderbird directory in C:\Documents and Settings\S Page\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\blahblah.default\Mail\Local Folders and T'bird would spot them upon restart. I discovered the hard way that this only works for top-level files, not subdirectories.

I had a lot of duplicate e-mails, so I found a free mergebox.pl script. Installation of this on Cygwin and recent Perl was a bear. It uses the old Mail::Folder module, and when I reported bugs and fixes in this I found its maintainer "kjj" has vanished. I did get it to concatenate and remove duplicates from some mbox files.

None of this worked for the IMAP server messages. The Mac Mail in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther keeps a local copy of each message as Library/Mail/IMAP-spage@bigco.com/INBOX.imapmbox/CachedMessages/100154 . So each CachedMessages folder is sort of like a maildir folder, but mergebox.pl wouldn't process them. I could probably glue them together myself, but the hard part would be finding the messages it couldn't read and dealing with issues like attachments and multi-part messages.

Googling found "Sven" who had the same problem, and he recommended Emailchemy; it knows about Mac Mail and Thunderbird, and it converted 44,000 (!!) cached Mac Mail IMAP messages into Thunderbird format, even preserving the folder hierarchy. It hung on a few folders that were already corrupted, but the author seems willing to help even before I paid for it.

If you have a lot of messages and special needs, the $25 for Emailchemy is money well spent.

(I posted about this here and here on the Thunderbird support forum.)

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