Replacing Mail.app with Gmail on OSX

Off late the Mail.app email client on OSX has been acting up on me. It often stalls or displays the spinning beach ball of death till a forced quit is required. Also, it seems to have display rendering issues when a mail classified incorrectly as junk is moved back to the inbox.

I tend to use the Mail.app as a local email client for three main purposes:

  1. Offline mode for reading my emails when there is no Internet connection available
  2. Easy desktop search for the mails via Spotlight, and
  3. Easy archival of important mail in my project workspaces (either in Devonthink or plain text export)

The other features (TODO and Notes) are nice, but not really useful for me as I use other tools for these items. The mail itself is served out via gmail accounts and IMAP synchronization.

However, Mail.app is one of the few (only?) Apple provided applications that I have a love-hate relationship with. I love the fact that it integrates seamlessly with iCal and Address Book, and the other features such as support for multiple signatures, digital signing and encryption via the GPG plugin and the smart quote while responding are quite good. the threading is also functional.

But the incessant crashes and freeze ups are getting to be more than annoying. I have tried the various cures such as re-synching the entire mailbox, rebuilding the mailbox, trashing preferences, changing the cache setting and a ton of other voodoo. These seem to be temporary solutions however, and the problems come back pretty fast. Apparently I am not alone in my suffering though – Apple’s discussion and support forums are full of unhappy Mail.app users.

So I am now on the hunt for an alternative offline/local client solution. I have already tried Mozilla Thunderbird, and it looks too ugly for my tastes (though an excellent client on the Windows platform). In addition, two more deal-breakers exist right now:

  1. Getting Spotlight to work with Thunderbird requires a third party indexer which seems to be a hack. It looks like an experimental mdimporter plugin does come with version 2.0 but is flacky
  2. Missing integration with the system provided AddressBook.app application (I need to sync the addresses with my Blackberry, and AddressBook.app is a core part of the synchronization workflow)

Another promising solution seems to be using Gmail directly as the primary email client. This requires a few additional steps to enable a seamless offline operation:

  1. Installation of the Google Gears extension for the browser (no support yet for the latest Safari 4.x version) – this enables a copy of the emails to be stored on the local disk and allows access and usage of the gmail interface when offline – note that the first-time sync takes a long time as last 6 months worth of emails are downloaded to your computer – it is pretty peppy from then on
  2. Installation of the Gmail Notifier application which provides notifications on receipt of new emailgooglenotifiersignin.png
  3. Setting up Gmail as the default mail handler from URLs by using an option on the Gmail notifiergooglenotifierpreferences1.png
  4. Using a Site Specific Browser such as Fluid.app or Mozilla Prism and creation of a Gmail SSB application (remember to set a nice icon)fluid1.png
  5. Setting up the Gmail SSB as the default mail application by setting the “Default Mail Reader” option from Mail.app’s general preferencesmail-appgeneralpreferences1.png
  6. Synchronizing the addresses between Addressbook.app and Gmail using iSyncaddressbookpreferences.png
  7. Using Google Desktop for searching the mails on Gmail

Whew! Quite a bit of setup here to do – and it is still not perfect. Lets look at the pros and cons:

Pros:

  1. Can use the excellent Gmail UI everywhere, online or offline – on all platforms. Hurray for Web apps!
  2. Great keyboard shortcuts – much better than Mail.app
  3. Using the SSB allows a smooth integration of the mail experience with rest of the desktop
  4. No more waiting for the local client to download the mails before accessing – it is near instantaneous after the first offline synchronization
  5. No more crashes!

Cons:

  1. It is a hack right now – definitely not a “download and start using” solution
  2. Google Desktop is duplicating search functionality that already exists via Spotlight
  3. Synchronization of the addresses between Gmail and AddressBook is not reliable
  4. No support for multiple signatures (can get around with a auto-typing solution such as Typinator or TextExpander)
  5. Cannot export the emails (not the contacts) from Gmail to the local computer

I intend to use this setup for the next couple of weeks to get a better feel of the system. Will follow up with a post on the findings. Do let me know what you think.


Moving away from NetNewsWire RSS Reader

So today morning I got an email from http://www.newsgator.com, makers of the excellent NetNewsWire RSS Reader for OS X. NetNewsWire was originally a paid for application and a best of the breed at that. It was made a free download last year and has been my primary RSS Reader till date.

The main USP I found in NetNewsWire was the companion http://www.newsgator.com/ngs/subscriber/WebEd2.aspx online RSS feed aggregator site, and the excellent synchronization between the local client and the web edition. This basically meant that I could read RSS feeds where I wanted to – even when away from the OSX laptop, and my reading history would be in sync when I fired up the OSX client. Heck, there was even a iPhone client to do the same sync up.

However, the email communication now states that the online version of the aggregator will no longer be available from 31st August, and the new client version (currently a beta at 3.2b6) will sync with Google Reader. This should be business as usual – right? And Google’s RSS reader is also a very strong web based client, with lots of AJAX goodies to make the browsing experience pleasant.

BUT – the new local client now displays advertisement on the lower left corner – which is very intrusive and annoying. I do understand the need to monetize a free client using occasional and unobtrusive advertisements – but the current implementation seems to be more of “in your face”.

The google sync does work fine and the initial setup is pretty seamless and fast. But the deal breaking advertisements still remain.

Sigh … time to start looking for a replacement client now … Vienna seems to a good candidate.


ASCII Art – Converting JPEG images to ASCII

Found an interesting ASCII Art conversion site at http://www.typorganism.com/asciiomatic

The site takes 60×50 pixel JPEG images (size has to be exactly that) and converts them to a ASCII glyph based image.


Do you Twitter?

Twitter is one of those Web 2.0 applications that at first 
glance seems to beg the question: why? But first, a description of the service 
from its home page:
Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and 
stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple 
question: What are you doing?
In short, it allows you to post a short description of what you are doing right 
now (or in fact, any short phrase at all – the trend seems to be for posting 
witty or funny comments).
The next obvious thing is to track what others are doing – which can be a 
limited set of your friends, or for anyone who has chosen to make their status 
public.
Another interesting use is to use it as a virtual SMS mechanism on the 
web – you can choose to only track your friends, and use the service to keep in 
virtual touch with each other.
Twitter offers tracking and update via the web, IM as well as SMS via a 
cell-phone.
The service has already gained a large following, and many web celebrities such 
as Marlin Mann of 43Folders fame or Cali Lewis from 
GeekBrief TV are on board.
Yours truly is also testing the waters right now, and has the handle evolve75 
on the service.
There are also quite a few tools already available to make the usage easier. A 
Firefox extension called twitbin enables live tracking via 
a side-bar on your browser, and OS X dashboard widget called 
Twadget is available for updating Twitter from your Mac desktop (for 
Vista users, an alternate version for the sidebar is available 
here).
Whether Twitter is just another Web 2.0 meme – or here to stay – remains to be 
seen. The service is useful, but carries the risk of the novelty fading away 
to becoming a chore :-(
~ Anupam


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