Internet Message Access Protocol
Not too long ago I got on a plane with Thunderbird, having transitioned to IMAP, woke my laptop in flight and found my imap mail cache had gotten borked. Five useful work hours wasted. So in my searches for “Thunderbird Disconnected Problems” I found mention of this program called “Mulberry” that didn’t have these problems. I had looked at Mulberry years ago and it was cool, but fee and Eudora was then current and free so I didn’t try it out. I am so glad I found it again. Mulberry handles disconnected IMAP perfectly, has a fast powerful search, and is well-organized. I’ve had no problems and I’m using it to write this now on an 11 hour flight.
At the outset, it is clear this is the vision of a single programmer not the work of committee and as such it is quirky and has some unique solutions. I wouldn’t say it is more quirky than Eudora but at first one will definitely spend time searching for functions and consulting the somewhat thin documentation. The basics are easy enough, but some advanced features are non-obvious.
Further, Mulberry is Correct. That is it is a fairly precise implementation of just about every mail standard, including some that are still emerging. Not surprising as the author, Cyrus Daboo, has also written some of the key server-side programs that run the web, including some of the really hard bits like the SASL authentication engine I use on my server and one of the most popular IMAP servers. If something doesn’t connect it is because the other program (the server or whatnot) is making a mistake. This is great as far as it goes, but some non-RFC compliant usages have become commonplace and sticking to the RFC can cause problems. An example I found quickly was that the Message-ID: header Mulberry generates is constructed as unique-message-string@[client.dotted.quad] (something like firstname.lastname@example.org). This is correct, but the standard is to use @my.smtpserver.com, and using a non-fully qualified extension (the dotted quad, not a valid domain name). The dotted quad looks spammy to spam filters, and in particular when the client is on NATed DHCP, the private IP (192.168.etc) it looks bad. So Mulberry sourced mail might get a slightly higher SpamAssassin score (it is not a fatal test, but it can’t help) and my procmail spam filter looks for disagreement as a test so I can’t email myself notes to my own account – I have to send them to my MIT account.
Cyrus says he is going to fix this.
Which brings me to another wonderful feature of Mulberry: it has great support from the mailing list and author. You won’t go more than 24 hours without an answer to the most technical questions. And as it is in active development, any bugs are going to be fixed. Compare this to a MS product where that is not going to happen.
Mulberry’s mail interface took me a little getting used to. For example the mailbox list is organized a little differently and single clicks open new mailboxes in the next pane and the message in the pane below it, but this behavior can all be customized in the Window->Options… menu including, critically for me: do not mark previewed message as read.
Another good trick is automatically moving read messages out of the inbox. I haven’t been entirely satisfied with the sort options: the unread messages always seem to sort in the reverse order of what I want, putting the messages I need at the interface between the read and unread messages, rather than at the top or bottom. But the auto move mechanism works well for my inbox and lets me sort the inbox by date, it being all unread mail, the read mail automatically being moved to an archive.
I spent some time figuring out two wonderful features: Mulberry (along with GCalDaemon) supports off-line calendar sync with Google Calendar (YAY! I can answer email about my calendar while I’m on a plane and even schedule a meeting!) and I can sync to ScheduleWorld’s LDAP server (which syncs to my phone address book and my work Outlook address book). And since I use ScheduleWorld to sync my work Outlook calendar to Google calendar, I’ve got all my important information at hand, even in the air. I wrote up the steps to make these tricks work on the Mulberry Wiki.
Even the search function is fast – entirely tolerable though perhaps not quite real-time like Google Desktop, but then again you don’t need to open inane stupid brain dead IE to perform the search like Google Desktop forces you to.
Mulberry is great. It works really well, it is stable, it works offline (disconnected), it syncs right, it has a very good offline calendar client, IMAP support seems flawless, it has great keyboard shortcuts, and fast advanced search. It does everything I need and it is now free, open source, and available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX.
So once, long ago, I moved to IMAP on my server. I wanted to move there with my trusty Eudora client that I’ve been using since about 1993. Sure, I flirted with other mail systems, but they screwed me and what I care about most was:
- Never Lose Data (early versions of Thunderbird were not so good about this for me)
- Search my several gigabyte database of mail fast enough to be useful.
Now outlook is absolutely intolerable about this last point. Search in all Microsoft products, indexed or not, is so painfully slow one might as well go on vacation. It is incomprehensible to me how it can suck so bad. I remember in 1990 using OnLocation and searching my entire computer (all 20MB of it) in a fraction of a second. Sure it was less data, but it was also doing it on a 33Mhz 68030.
Eudora lets me find my mail. Eudora lets me get my job done. Unfortunately Eudora can’t search an IMAP mailbox unless it is connected. WTF?
OK, time for Thunderbird. But Thunderbird is so not ready for prime time. There’s the massive delays to open any of my larger mailboxes, even to show titles (14,000 messages in a mailbox is NOT too many, who uses this? Kids?) Second it gets confused easily communicating with the IMAP server which tends to lock it up indefinitely. Still, it does cache locally and the built-in search, while interminably slow is faster than Microsoft Search (but doesn’t search across accounts! Hello!). I’m hoping Google Desktop Search will help. Initial results are promising. And Penelope could be very cool. Especially if they add indexed search.
One little change I had to make for Thunderbird was given at this fine site:
perl -p -i -e 's/^MAXDAEMONS=40/MAXDAEMONS=80/g' /usr/local/etc/courier-imap/imapd perl -p -i -e 's/^MAXPERIP=4/MAXPERIP=40/g' /usr/local/etc/courier-imap/imapd Update - 9/9/2010
I’m now using Thunderbird (3.1). It hasn’t lost data yet. It has a nice fast search. I still don’t like it as much as Mulberry for basic mail functions, but it shows pictures in line and I can quickly toggle between HTML mail (to insert inline pictures and screen grabs) and text mail.
These are useful basic features and I wish Mulberry had them.
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