I Actually Miss Outlook

I never thought it would come to this but I actually miss Microsoft Outlook since converting to a Linux-based desktop at my new role. I’m using Evolution but it just falls short in several ways and none of the alternatives do anything to reduce my frustration in dealing with email.

Evolution Hangs

Evolution hangs for 20-30 seconds when attempting to view large HTML emails (specifically long back and forth threads from Service Now). Every. Damn. Time.

Evolution Doesn’t Word Wrap Properly

Evolution doesn’t word wrap properly… unless you’re using an ancient ~80 characters wide terminal. I’m sure there’s an RFC out there somewhere that contradicts my assertions regarding email and word wrap but show me another email client that implements word wrapping in the same way that Evolution does. I’ll be waiting.

Evolution hard word wraps outgoing messages at 72 characters by default with no way to change the default. You can select all the text on a reply and change the paragraph type from “Normal” to “Preformatted” to un-wrap the text but there is no way to make this the default behavior. Additionally, the “word wrap” menu option doesn’t do anything in Preformatted mode (or any other mode?), which makes me wonder why the email client even offers such an option. I want behavior where there is no hard wrapping but allow window-width based word wrapping like every other modern mail client (including web mail). And configurable defaults for these options.

Evolution Lacks “Quick Steps”

Evolution lacks the “Quick Steps” feature of Outlook where I can click one button (or use the corresponding keyboard shortcut) and have multiple actions occurs on the currently select email(s). My most common use case is to forward an email to my Trello board and then move it into a folder for archive. Quick Steps offers a very efficient way of working with email. Evolution lacks any of this efficiency.

Thunderbird and Co. are a Mess

Thunderbird/Lightning/ExQuilla/DavMail, etc. feel loosely integrated. Failure of any one component means the whole experience breaks down. ExQuilla is subscription-based add-on to Thunderbird that provides Exchange support and to be fair, I haven’t even given ExQuilla a fair chance using the 60 day trial. I might go back down this path to see where things are at today but without any specific hope of success. It’s very unlikely I’ll ever pay for Exchange support in Thunderbird.

Outlook Web Access

Outlook Web Access is workable but lacks anything that makes working in Outlook efficient. I also hate webmail because I’m locked in a browser and the number of web applications or browser upgrades that require regular restarts of my browser to refresh a session or install a plugin/add-on/update make having a consistently open email client somewhat frustrating.

Outlook in a Virtual Machine

Outlook in a VM is almost tolerable but is still painful when working with attachments.

Sticking with Evolution

Despite all my complaining, I’ll likely stick with Evolution… and be bitter about it.

I’m in z-push Limbo

Sparked by the purchase of a new phone with Internet connectivity and native support for push email (ableit with ActiveSync), I decided to see what I could do about pushifying the IMAP server at work.

We run Dovecot 1.1 with a MySQL backend and Postfix for MTA duties. Everything requires both TLS and SSL for authentication and everything requires authentication except for sending mail from the local subnet. It works pretty well. I never touch the thing anymore, it just runs. However, it doesn’t support push email and it certainly doesn’t support ActiveSync. So I went looking for something that could do push email to my spankin’ new phone.

I was surprisingly happy to discover z-push, an open source, standalone ActiveSync implementation in PHP. Well hot damn!

I initially installed the latest stable release, but then quickly tried the SVN trunk for any potential fixes that have yet to make it out to the stable release because I wasn’t having much success. After a few simple problems got resolved and I was updated to the SVN trunk things started to work… kind of. The initial sync takes forever! I didn’t have the patience to wait for all my mail to download because it appeared to be taking several minutes per email. The folder list loaded right up and my nearly empty inbox too but any folder with more than a few messages was taking forever to sync. Not to mention the apache server started to churn CPU pretty hard on the server. Also, it seemed the sync would only even start to work if I had “No Limit” selected on the iPhone for history of emails to sync. Maybe the large volume initial sync by using “No Limit” is just too taxing and that’s why it’s brutally slow but I kept getting “Cannot Get Mail – The connection to the server failed.” on my iPhone if I selected any option besides “No Limit”.

On top of that, push didn’t work!

I’ll keep plugging away at it next week, maybe post on the z-push forums to see if I can get this figured out. Cheers for now.