Friday, March 28, 2008

Switching to Kmail

I've used Gnome Evolution for many years. I've looked at various email clients over the years (sylpheed, kmail, thunderbird, and very long ago, pine, mutt, elm and mail) and Evolution had the right mix of features that I needed.

Mainly, I stuck with Evolution because it has realtime-updated search folders. That is, it's possible to create a virtual "Folder" that is actually a search into other real folders, with logical criteria. It's like a view in SQL.

I used that for having an "Everything" folder, which was a view into all emails in all real folders (because I cut my email apart into many folders, for easier management, and so that I don't have a single large Inbox with 50,000+ emails in it). I also used it for showing unread email for some very voluminous mailing lists. In evolution, it's not convenient to find the next unread message (well, I never spent the time to find the keyboard shortcut for that, although there probably is one). So I just created search folders that showed only unread messages.

An upgrade to ubuntu gutsy's Evolution has left evolution slightly unstable though. Evolution would crash for no reason, or it would crash because, just after starting it, while it was fetching mail, I would click on the fetch mail icon and it would get confused. Evolution also feels like it's not being maintained. That's no big deal since it's already pretty complete, but I've been seeing it get unstable as crash bugs aren't fixed while some new features get in. So I decided I needed to switch to some other mailer.

I looked at Kmail and Thunderbird. Sylpheed-claws doesn't install cleanly as a package in Gutsy (or in my config, anyway), so I just ignored that.

Kmail has pretty much all the features I needed (and some I wanted):

1. Choice of maildir or mbox (I tested maildir last night on reiserfs and xfs,
I expected reiserfs to be much faster than xfs. Was very surprised to see
xfs (1.5 minutes) beat reiserfs (2.5 minutes) in a simple little "read many
little files and search for a string" benchmark). Fortunately, my /home is
already a luks encrypted xfs.

2. Strong mail filtering functionality. A nice surprise is the automatic
anti-spam support. It supports both bogofilter and spamassassin, and
it creates filters which will register an email as either spam or ham
using the bayesian classifier in either of those. The filters just
classify the email as spam or ham and then either move the email to the
spam directory or keep it in the current directory. I had scripts to
do that in Evolution. Didn't think to do it with Evolution's built-in
filters though.

3. Search/Virtual folders.

It's slow though. Slower than evolution at most things, and I can make it pause with some large tasks (evolution seems to be much more multi-threaded or multi-process or whatever, in any case, it's harder to make the UI pause). And the Search/Virtual folders have a stupid bug (or maybe it's a feature, I don't understand how that could be though). When the preview pane is displayed, clicking on a virtual folder makes all unread email in that folder automatically change their status to read. This is bogus. It might make sense if the email that is selected in that folder is marked read, but not ALL of them. There's a bug report on it. I don't know why it's a wishlist. I think I saw this bug already the last time I looked at Kmail and I backed off from switching then.

This time I switched anyway because Kmail has keyboard shortcuts to go to the first, next, prev,last unread emails. That's enough of a workaround that I can deal with switching. I'll be able to work with my large mailing list email folders. I won't be using Saved/Virtual folders for much else and I can wait for this bogosity to be resolved.

I looked at Thunderbird, but there are too many things missing. For one thing, I can't run a filter on a set of selected emails. As far as I can tell, one has to run a filter on a whole folder. Sometimes though, I need to do subset filtering (particularly when developing a new filter incrementally, on a very large folder, so that whole folder filtering is very slow). I can't run external commands in a filter (can't do that in the filter definition either in Kmail, but you *can* do it in the filter action. Thunderbird can't do it in the filter action either). And there's no maildir support. maildir support is important because if the mailer gets unstable, you lose just one or a very few (depending on number of working threads) messages. An unstable mailer that uses mbox can lose the entire mbox if it really loses its mind. In fact, the reason I decided to switch away from Evolution is because after a security upgrade (pilot error, I had it run the upgrade while evolution was still running, I should have stopped the client) it deleted all email in my inbox with dates after Dec 7, 2008 (approximately, I forget the exact last date).

I may look at Thunderbird again in a few months, particularly if Kmail doesn't fix that bogosity.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Loyalty is short-lived

While Telecom's customer service is outstanding, the actual internet service isn't that great. In particular, the bandwidth cap (in my case 3GB/month) is the sum of downloads and uploads. This isn't what I was told at the telecom sales office we subscribed at. I'm sure the telecom sales guy was just confused. He wasn't trying to lie to us, he just didn't know that the cap is the sum. He thought uploads weren't counted at all and that only downloads contributed to the cap.

As it is, this is going to put a cramp into my posting Timmy Videos to youtube. Or pushing pictures up to photobucket. With me, objective measures win over soft, touchy-feelie values. All things being equal, I'd stick with Telecom because their customer service has been great. But if some broadband provider were to suddenly provide internet access without caps, or with higher caps or no upload limit, then I'd switch immediately. Or maybe wait two to three months for telecom to catch up, and if they didn't come up with a competitive offering, then switch. Touchy-feelie good feelings are great. But bandwidth trumps touchy-feelie :-).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Lost" some email

In a glitch that I don't quite understand, I "lost" some email. It's not really lost. I keep a copy of everything on gmail. So it's still there. But it's very inconvenient to try to restore what was lost because gmail doesn't have a flexible way of saying, "reset the end of my already-downloaded list of emails to this particular email". Instead, I can either download everything again, give up on the "lost" email, or workaround somehow.

I'll probably give up. The email is on gmail, so I can always get back to it. I could workaround by forwarding all those emails to myself and then, on the receiving side, editing the From: and date sent of each email. But that's no fun. I certainly don't want to download everything again because I'm in New Zealand, and broadband here has a bandwidth cap. Mine is 3GB/month. When I go over, download speeds will drop to 64kbps or so. That's not too bad, but this isn't important enough for that.

I think that evolution got confused because evolution was running, and then I ran Ubuntu's automatic updater and evolution got updated. Possibly there was some confusion regarding evolution-data-server or similar. That'll teach me to keep programs running which are being updated. I think, though, that this is the first time I've been caught by updates updating running programs. Ah well, live and learn. Or maybe not. I'll probably forget and this'll happen to me again.

I've been putting off running postfix, fetchmail and an imapd daemon locally. I've done that in the past, it helps with reliability, automatic backup and spam classification with .procmailrc, etc.

I think I'll put it off some more though. Gmail has a copy of all my mail, and I can get a relatively recent copy of my Inbox (the only file affected) from my rdiff-backup backups. That'll bring my Inbox forward to sometime early this month. Then I'll just have about a week and a half of personal mail left on gmail. I would probably then forward those to myself since there'd be few enough of them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Quality Service from Telecom

I've been busy with moving to New Zealand with my family. This process has been going on for close on two years now. We arrived a 5 weeks ago, my wife is now working at the foremost open source oriented software development company in New Zealand, we've moved into a new rental home, things are moving forward quickly.

As part of moving into our new home (it's not an apartment, although it is a rental, since it's a standalone house with a little garden and garage) we had the utilities registered in our name, and we subscribed to Telecom for our home phone. We also went ahead and subscribed to telecom's broadband plans. This was mainly for convenience. New Zealand has naked DSL, it's possible to get DSL without a landline phone service. We thought we'd just go the convenient way and get both, and then switch later as necessary.

We probably won't now though, because I've been very happy with Telecom's call center service. I rang the call center and ordered the broadband service. All of this was done over the phone. I then rang again because I wanted to get some dialup service for the week or so that it would take to receive the ADSL modem/router. First of all, on the broadband, I was told that they had a promotion for online subscriptions. Online subscribers would get free 2 months of service. But the call center operator said that we'd get the free 2 months of service anyway even though we weren't subscribing online, because she'd just enter the order and we'd get the promotional 2 months free. She also said that Telecom had a promo on the broadband hardware package. There was an NZ$100 discount on the package (ADSL modem/wifi router and a few ADSL filters) so it would only cost NZ$100. Good deal.

I later called Telecom because I wanted to subscribe to their dialup service for a month, just til the DSL was up and running. I was told that normally broadband subscribers were given free dialup accounts to use until DSL was up. Good deal.

The Telecom call center support person later called me because he said he'd reviewed my broadband application and there was something wrogn with the order for the broadband router. That's pretty good service, good initiative.

So finally I called the call center again, spoke with someone who sounded Filipino (I guess they don't hire just Kiwi accents) and she investigated the error, and fixed it by removing the old order and re-creating it. I had to do the third call since the second support center person (the one who discovered the problem) was in the dialup support section and couldn't help me with broadband.

Altogether, it was very good to see really good, pro-active, genuinely customer satisfaction oriented service in action. I may still jump ship to some other broadband suppliers, but the barrier to jumping ship is now higher than it used to be.