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September 18, 2007

Top 9 Things Thunderbird Will Need to ‘Make It’

by @ 12:39 pm. Filed under sweet tools, Thunderbird

Thunderbird

When it comes to communication, my preferred method is either email or IM. The telephone thing really doesn’t do it for me too much. While I do spend a great amount of time typing into a Gaim/Pidgin chat window each day, it’s my email application that takes the cake. Am I an email addict? Not really. It’s actually the additional functionality provided by my email client that makes it so absolutely useful.

Let me borrow a quote from my upcoming ebook on the topic:

“If you are like me, having a great personal information management system ranks right up there in necessity with Oxygen itself. Tens of thousands of email messages find their way into my inbox each week. Then there is all of the tech news which is required reading each day. Don’t forget that there are eleven full address books on my system that need to be maintained very carefully. Also, what about the appointments? We need some kind of scheduling system. How am I going to remember to pick up some milk on the way home from work? Need those task lists. By the way, reminder pop-ups would be nice, too. And please make sure that we can access all of this from different computers, and share it all with other users.”

“Truth be told, myriads of information management systems are available these days. Especially if you count all the commercial solutions. A common solution is to pay $15,000 to license Microsoft Exchange, and then another $400 per computer for Microsoft Office, which includes Outlook. Because lots of folks don’t have that kind of money, and even less tolerance for all the security risks involved with this solution, we have to find something else.”

I do all my scheduling in my email client of choice. I can even collaborate and sync calendars with other users. The address book is also synchronized with other people. Every one of my tasks has its home there. It manages each one of my 150+ RSS feeds with rules and filters.

So what is this overly amazing email client? It’s Thunderbird, of course.

Before I get flooded with comments to the effect, no one knows better than I do that Thunderbird supports almost none of this by default. It does email, address book and RSS. The scheduling, synchronizing of the schedule, synchronizing of the calendar, and task management are all provided by extensions.

How to get all this set up and working is the subject of my forthcoming ebook.

Apparently, I’m not completely up in the night with my desire to have Thunderbird as the solution for all my organizational needs. Mozilla has announced its desire for Thunderbird to enjoy the same success as Firefox. They will set up a subsidiary, tentatively called MailCo, with about $3 Million, placing David Ascher as the CEO and go from there. One of their primary concerns is having to compete with Outlook. In other words, calendar collaboration, a unified address book directory, tasks, todos, appointments, and so forth. I have spent the past 2 months learning ways to set this stuff up in Thunderbird.

With that, what will Mozilla need to put into Thunderbird to make it even more appealing in the eyes of potential users?

Calendar Collaboration – Thunderbird will need to have the ability to share calendars with other people. I’m certain that I’m not the only one who will also want to view others’ calendars, as well. We will want to be able to manage those calendars very easily. Let’s have abundant support for things like repeating events. Make it nice and easy to manage. Give us the ability to invite other people, and also allow us to notify other people of impending events. Also, it would be spectacular if I could give read-only rights to some people for my calendar, and full read-write permissions to other people. When an event is coming up, it would be nice to have a customizable notification. Oh, I will also likely want to have notifications via pop-up, email, and likely SMS (if I’m away from the desk).

Address Book Directory – How about the ability to share address books with people? I have a couple of business ventures that I am involved with. I also have quite an extended family. It would be nice to maintain different address books for the different groups. Again, read-only and read-write access would be nice to grant as necessary. How about the ability to import and export contacts from many different formats?

Mailing List Support – For years, I used a mailing list software on Windows called “Arrow Mailing List Server“. It would be really nice to have a large part of this type of mailing list functionality built into Thunderbird. There are thousands of mailing lists that exist out on the Internet. People use them quite a bit. Email clients like Foxmail have this built in. Why not Thunderbird? Personally, this has a very big appeal to me to create mailing lists for my family and friends.

Task Management – This would have the ability to classify tasks into different categories. Also, we’ll need to assign different importance to different tasks. No, I don’t mean, “low,” “medium,” and “high.” Let’s have the ability to select a number from a drop-down, say from 1 to 25. The task management system needs to have a percentage done for each task. Oh, I’d also like to sort my task list by the category, the priority, and the percent done. As well as assign tasks to other people. Along with the usual read-only and read-write privileges for me to grant other people for my task list. Of course this means that we’d also need to be able to share task lists with other people. Hey, maybe we could even put Gantt chart functionality in here?!

Real Spam Filters – Surely you could build better spam detection tools. Collaborate with the Spamato folks and they’ll hook you right up. For now, one can use their extension. But wouldn’t it be absolutely spectacular if Thunderbird shipped with that functionality right out of the box? I’m absolutely sick to death of spam. Fix this please.

Extension List – Wouldn’t it just be swell to have a list right in Thunderbird of all the extensions that are compatible with it? And whether or not they are installed. Also, let’s have as much detail on each one as possible. That way, the MailCo folks won’t have to work so hard so fast, especially when incredible functionality already exists as an extension. Such is the case with Spamato. They could focus on other areas first.

Text Chat – This could be something as simple as working with the Gaim/Pidgin (or Kopete) project to provide some amount of interactivity with that software. There is no point in reinventing the wheel, here. Simply providing information as to whether the sender of the current email message is online or offline would be nice. Maybe providing some kind of button on the Thunderbird interface to initiate a chat with that person. It then pops up your IM client and opens the chat window for you to start typing your message. It would be nice to quickly glance at a contact list to see who on that list is currently online or offline, as well.

Voice Chat – Could initially start as a collaboration with something like Skype. Again, why re-create everything? We don’t need to have the NIH attitude involved here. Plug into something that already works well. A simple API would do nicely to accomplish this. Just to let me know whether I can initiate a voice chat with them, and a small button to do just that.

Faster UI – One of the things that makes me homicidal is waiting. Do not make me wait for a button rollover to appear when I move the mouse cursor over it. The number of RSS feeds it is pulling and processing is irrelevant. I don’t care if it is in the middle of indexing 200,000 messages. Do not make me wait. When a button is clicked, let’s see it do its function.

Ok, so I threw the last one in as a personal preference. I would bet my house that, if Thunderbird does end up a huge success, you will find the majority of this functionality in it in one form or another.

Thunderbird also has some spectacular themes. Take a look at “The Top 10 Best Themes for Thunderbird 2.0.”

Reason 54,872 to use Linux : Log Detail

by @ 7:03 am. Filed under General Linux, My Opinion, War

Let’s face it, Linux is better than Windows.

Actually, rather than open that can of worms, I would like to supply just one of the tons of reasons that I believe many system administrators would prefer Linux.

When you are trying to troubleshoot a problem, information about that problem is invaluable. Take, for example, the logging capabilities of the proprietary alternative.

I was called in (I still marvel over why) to work one day to figure out what happened to our Exchange server. What on earth possesses anyone to think I know or care anything about that… ? Anyway, they called me in, and I went. First thing I did when I got there was to go hunting for the system log. The extent of the information I found can be summarized in this screenshot:

Hmm… “The previous system shutdown at 4:49:45 AM on 8/11/2007 was unexpected.” Congratulations, thank you for that insightful bit of noteworthy and informative enlightenment. I had no idea that the shutdown was unexpected, even though that is PRECISELY why I am sitting in front of the computer to begin with.

In other words, the “Event Log” on Win32 platforms is technically correct, but absolutely useless.

In Linux, I can go to any one or more of several different logs, and I can even create my own should I so choose. We have /var/log/messages as the main system log. There are also others, like the mail log, the apache log, the php log, and the database log. Should I write a script that has custom output messages, I can send them to any other output file I wish by using the “>” symbol and redirecting the output to that file.

Without helpful and informative logs, I would likely not have been able to solve issues such as this that cropped up last September.

Helpful, detailed, descriptive, informative debugging and error logs: yet another reason to use Linux.

Heh, did you hear about how Vista was attacked by a 13-year-old virus?!

That would have to qualify as another spectacular reason to choose Linux over proprietary systems. You’re less likely to get viruses.

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