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RSSOwl and Thunderbird

I am having some bitter-sweet feelings as I make a certain change. And this change is an easy one to make. Apart from taking my Web-based mail back to the desktop, I have also begun migrating my RSS feeds from RSSOwl to Thunderbird 1.5.x. It saddens me. I have been with RSSOwl for almost two and a half years. I contributed a little bit to the project, wrote about it, and recommended it to people. Having just tested some things in Thunderbird I came to realise that, as a feeds reader, it boasts several features that would greatly help my reading routine.

While I still have RSSOwl (and I might occasionally use it), the move to Thunderbird seems inevitable. But I am only having second thoughts because of export/import issues. Kudos to Benjamin Pasero for a wonderful tool which I may still regularly use. RSSOwl Development has been slow in the past year and I have remained loyal nonetheless. Now I’m just too tempted to ‘change teams’.

Update (the ‘morning after’): After a while of careful consideration, weighing the pros and cons, I decided to use the best of both worlds, at least for now. RSSOwl is good for quick opening of many pages in new tabs, whereas Thunderbird offers nice HTML previews. It also sports retention of old items which otherwise ‘leak’ out of sight. By mixing and relying on the traits of both applications I will probably get the best overall experience. Unless of course they mature to the point where one becomes obsolete and replaceable… let’s just wait and see.

Yet Another Microsoft Death Knell?

As Shane has just pointed out, to Novell, Hula is no more. Allow me to elaborate. The Hula project, one of the most promising among Novell’s Open Source initiatives, has been axed for a reason. This probably didn’t require much persuasion from Microsoft, either.

The quick synopsis is, Novell no longer has anyone working full-time on Hula. As a team we have spent some time looking at where the Hula project is and the opportunities in the market and in the end we had to conclude that we couldn’t justify investing at the same level in Hula going forward. So those of us who have been developing Hula full-time will be moving on to other roles and to other parts of the company.

This particular death knell reminds me of Microsoft’s recent deal with A9. It brought down services from A9 that competed with Microsoft directly or indirectly. This is not based solely on word of mouth. Reporters have cited competition with Microsoft services as the reason why A9 services had to be halted and their operation/maintenance retracted entirely. That happened just a couple of months ago. The aggressive new strategy appears to involved acquisition of/partnership with competitors, which in turn takes down competing projects (services and products).

Novell has turned its back on commitments to Open Source projects. I advice the OpenOffice team to find a new home because the only projects that I see surviving or flourishing is Mono (.Net). It does not affect the cash cows and it gives Microsoft control over developers in both worlds.

X-Face – Your Face Compacted in Binary Form

OVER the weekend I expored the possiblity of adding an X-header to my outgoing messages. This particular one, known as X-Face, is a 48×48 pixel binary representation of one’s face. Here is mine:


To view this short sequence as an actual image, use this Web-based tool. You may also create your own X-Face, which can be bound to your E-mail as a succinct header. I wonder if a fetch key can be created for X-Faces in the same way that PGP keys can be replaced by a shorter identifier. I suppose a URL can be specified in the header instead.

Identifying Personal E-mails and ‘Botmails’


STUDIES which analyse large volumes of communication have always been interesting. For instance, most of the E-mail traffic nowadays is identified as SPAM; and over 80% of it is said to come from compromised Windows PC‘s. However, for a change, this is not what I wish to discuss today. I don’t want to have yet another bite at the effects Windows has on the WWW. It leaves me bitter.

Earlier today I read that only 37% of all E-mail at the ‘average’ office are personal E-mails. The rest are not. Some E-mails these days are invoked from a system rather than a human. Typically these are less interesting, less urgent, or can be altogether ignored. Some of that is mass mail, automated and despatched using address databases.

It is sometimes hard to discern between a personal message–one to which a response would be polite–and one which is targetted at a wide audience and whose content is carefully doctored to appear personal. I would like to recommend and promote a personal tip of mine. It is a little method I thought about for detecting and telling apart computer-generated from human-generated mail. When entering your name (e.g. at registration stage), for example, always append extra spaces that serve no purpose but preserve the integrity of the name. Having done so, you challenged the wisdom of the bot. Before punctuation, for example, you can see if a human inserted the name properly. A naive algorithm will not bother to crunch spaces, so the automation deems self-evident.

In other circumstances, having the recipient’s addresses within sight may help. Full headers can be very informative and various Thunderbird extensions even simplify text with representative figures (e.g. routing information as a series of flags, mail client name as an icon, signature as an icon, etc.). It makes the information easier to digest and it adds a wealth of knowledge that is often missed. Lastly, never discount the BCC tricks. A seemingly personal message can reach anyone ‘on the same wagon’.

The Thunderbird Ideaology – Start Small, Grow Huge

A screenshot of Thunderbird with the CrossOver theme

MOZILLA Thunderbird is, in my humble opinion, a very user-friendly mail client (as well as feeds reader or news reader) ‘out ot the box’.Like Firefox, it was built to suit merely anyone, even those who describe themselves as computing mediocres. Shall you wish to entend it, possibly making it more complex and harder to master, all you need to do is go to the official extensions page, click on the install button and make your application far more versatile. I have a dozen extensions installed at the moment and jointly they make Thunderbird more powerful than any other mail client I have come across.

Proprietary File Formats Penetrate Through E-mail

Season of the playful penguins
Season of the playful penguins from Oyonale

A nice old writeup from Tristan Miller (someone whom I first met on UseNet) explains why it is a poor idea to send Word files. I explored his site at deeper levels in the past as his opinions broadly intersected with mine. I also happened to find this funny ‘scientific paper’ with an hilarious followup.

Returning to the subject at hand, the true nuisance is mail that contains Word attachments. It is a plague that appears to be reaching its end. Funnier (or coversely — more annoying) experiences include the embedment of nothing but plain text (or even a single image) in a Word files which is attached to a blank-body message. Some people just never learn. Here are some effective E-mail signatures that I have come across in the LyX mailing list.

I do not have a copy of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.
I have no plans to buy one.
Please avoid sending me Word or PowerPoint attachments.
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint use proprietary data formats,
encouraging consumerism by forcing us to purchase new licenses
every time they “upgrade” their secret formats.
Send plain text, rich text format, html, or pdf instead.

Or a shorter version thereof (one which honours the 4-line signature limit)

Please avoid sending me Word or PowerPoint attachments.
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are unreliable, unmaintainable, and unsafe.
Send plain text, rtf, pdf, or W3C html instead.

There is now the ODF argument as well. ODF has recently become an ISO-approved standard.

Outlook Discourages E-mail Correspondence

Upgrade to Thunderbird. It’s Open Source and it honours standards/netiquette.

MICROSOFT Outlook is a terrible mail application, despite some common beliefs (and expectations due to cost, or bloat). I cannot comment on its abilities as a calendaring software as I have only seen others using these peripherals features. However, at least one Outlook user whom I exchange E-mails with is breaking every rule in the book regularly (if not always). Outlook does not prevent him from doing this. As a matter of fact, it encourages this and a dissatisfied recipient is of course less likely to reply.

Here is a short description of the problems inherent in these messages that I receive from Outlook (and sometimes Outlook Express too):

  • HTML-formatted
  • Non-standard ‘HTML’ (Microsoft Office inclination, MSIE-centric)
  • Roughly 38 kilobyte even for a one-liner (an enormous non-standards compliant ‘style sheet’ is prepended)
  • 10-line signature (Outlook does not warn or deter)
  • No signature delimiter (breaking all RFC standards)
  • Always top-posted, not trimmed and lacking context (Outlook is definitely not helping by creating new lines and putting the cursor at the top)
  • In quotes, re-wrapping is broken and irregular symbols get inserted sporadically

There is no gentle way to approach the issue, but one such person learned to at least stick to plain-text (owing to a kind request). The top posting habits remain though. Outlook Express requires QuoteFix, which is addon software/hack, just to stop this default behaviour and make bottom posting practical. So there is no subtle way to suggesting others to improve their posting habits, unfortunately. To them, the Windows/Microsoft way is the right way. Acceptable standards lose their value when a desktop monopoly simply ignores them.

Some time ago I wrote some notes on how to begin loving E-mail again , which reminds me of an old favourite that is titled the UseNet improvement project.

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