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Communicator Mail: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by PAUL KENNETH EGELL-JOHNSEN | What follows is an extended critique of the current Communicator mailing subsystem on Irix 6.2 and 6.5 by Paul Kenneth Egell-Johnsen. Some of his critique is specific to Irix, but there are some good suggestions for the mailreader tucked in there as well, so read on!

When I was attending engineering school, one of the things we (I) watched out for was new versions of Navigator. We referred to it as Netscape back then. The first browser I used was Mosaic; I can't exactly place this in time, but I started engineering the autumn of 1994, so some time that autumn.

Since there was little of interest on the web back then, I stuck to FTP and news. One year later everyone had heard about the Web, and being 'on the net' was synonymous with surfing the Web. Navigator had gotten better, with internal news support and everything. When 3.0 came with mail support which was worth the while, I was sold.

I haven't kept every piece of mail I got back then, but most of it is collected on various CDs and HDs, and I sometimes speculate about getting it all into my latest mail hierachy. Unfortunately I have several e-mails which live in several places, and from experience I know that I will get several copies which I have to manually delete later.

Furthermore I also know that sorting the mail with Navigator is only done on the mbox in /usr/mbox. I could use the external movemail program and direct it to each and every backup in order, but I haven't bothered yet.

It would be nice if I could have my Communicator Mailreader import from different sources (including MS Outlook format, another story about company policies), sort the incoming mail, along with an option to delete duplicate mails if it encounters that.

The message center of Communicator is so-so. I was thrilled the first time I could use folders in Navigator; that was the reason I switched from another mail client to Navigator - it was in fact better than other Unix stuff with a GUI. My main gripe with it is that it isn't always folders with new mail that get marked, and sometimes Navigator loses track of how many mails there are in one file, and a long process of indexing and counting is started.

The mailreader of Communicator isn't especially stable. Old mail often pops-up even though I have deleted it earlier, and parts of mails are popping up as single e-mails. When I read through the mail files I find that deleting doesn't seem to have any effect.

Another problem of Communicator is that it is impossible for me to create a new mail folder from inside Communicator. It works for that one session, but after exiting and restarting Communicator the folders are gone. Fortunately they reside in the mail folder as something.sbd, and no data has been lost. I resort to manually creating subdirectories and touching files to get what I want.

Most unforgiveable is the fact that the logging of filter triggers are useless! Why? Because I get about 100 e-mails from one of the mailing lists I'm on. That shouldn't be a problem you say, just turn logging off. But then I don't get notified about mail I would like to know I have received.

There is much more I would like the filters to do, apart from notifying me on some special cases. For example I would like them to tell those asking about the FAQ I manage that I have received their e-mail and will get back to them. Copying it [the e-mail] (rather than making an alias) to a folder would be nice, as opposed to only moving it.

I often write an e-mail over several hours, and people reading my e-mails might have noticed that there are some extra S's around. They are there for one reason only. Ctrl+S doesn't save a draft of my e-mail. I could probably do something with my x-defaults file to fix that, but it's just sloppiness from the programmer(s). Saving is done often - why isn't there a default short cut? Aside from that the save drafts feature of Communicator 4.x has been a real life saver. Earlier I had to search through core files to find what I had written, now I just have to double click in my drafts folder.

The lack of signature management has gotten to me lately; there is a difference between me sending an e-mail to my ex-class mates, me sending e-mail to a mailing list, and me doing support. There should be a provision for selecting manually from a list of signature files, automatically based on e-mail recipients (fallback to manual when conflicts arise), and based on which e-mail template I use.

Yes, I would like to have some template options when writing an e-mail. For example when I have to write a bug report, I need to remember that the e-mail should go to REQ, when replying to a bug report a CC should go to REQ, etc. Communicator can recognize the incoming bug reports; there is no magic in recognizing that I'm responding to one and would like to have a CC to req, a "To:" to the sender of the bug report, a "Reply-to" to me, etc. When sending off the bug report I want a copy, not in the default copy folder but in the bug report folder.

And text completion should be better when filling in the address fields in an e-mail. I mean, I have to press return or wait several seconds for completion - or a crash, which it most often leads to. Also, when I write John and press return, why can't I click and get a list of all 'John's and select one from them? Sometimes it is actually faster writing some and then selecting from the remainder.

Finally, cut, copy, and paste have never worked from short cuts when composing and e-mail. Fortunately someone made it work from the menus recently. Many kudos to that person.

The mail interface of the current Communicator is a great leap from earlier incarnations. Several Unix people I know prefer it to other more mature Unix mail readers. I prefer it because I've gotten used to it, but it doesn't do all I need it to do.

Worse is that some have complained about mail disappearing in Communicator. Fortunately (for me) that hasn't happened yet, but then again how would I know?

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