I’m a software whore. I love to play with new programs and experiment with new features. I think it’s exciting and interesting to try new stuff.
However, there is also a side-effect of my little liaisons. Because I’m not faithful to any one program, I have very little loyalty to either operating systems or applications. If there is something new and shiny, I’m going to play with it.
It also means that I get frustrated with limitations. Because I move between different programs so frequently, there’s little incentive for me to stay with one over another; unless, that is, it works really well.
This is the reason that, about a year ago, I decided to move from Thunderbird (my email client at the time) to Evolution (an alternative that comes with the Gnome desktop). At the time, I was frustrated with how Thunderbird handled schedules and calendars.
Local calendaring was more or less acceptable, but it was really hard to work with remote services such as Microsoft Exchange or Google Calendar. The support could (at best) be called “experimental”. Task and appointments didn’t update reliably, and it would only worked when you had a connection to the internet. The net effect was that your calendar in Thunderbird wasn’t really able to talk to your cell phone.
Now, for some people, this might not be a big deal. For me, however, it was an enormous problem and I simply could not find a workaround. So, I left Thunderbird behind and decided to use Evolution instead.
For the past year, I’ve been very happy with Evolution. After it’s been configured to have a unified inbox, Evolution is imminently useable. It handles calendars, tasks, contacts and email; all the things that a collaboration program is supposed to do. It might not have all of the bells and whistles of other clients like Thunderbird, Mail.app (Mac OS X) or Microsoft Outlook, but it works well and I’ve had few complaints.
Until the past few weeks, that is.
Needs and Annoyances
It’s strange how our needs evolve over time and how that can lead to new annoyances.
You might have noticed that this website has been updated more frequently of late. A lot more frequently, actually. I’ve gone from posting an article every few days (or months) to posting nearly every day.
The reason for this is simple, I’ve found that an informal article here helps me to organize my thoughts for a more formal piece of writing elsewhere and I happen to be working on several formal projects at the moment. (To say nothing of the therapeutic benefit of offloading mental baggage and annoyances.)
Because I’m updating the website more frequently, I’ve found it necessary to become somewhat organized about the whole thing. I’ve even been keeping an editorial calendar.
It isn’t anything impressive, just a list of posts and the days that I would like to publish them, but it helps me to visualize my writing and spot trends. More than that, though, seeing five days worth of posts provides incentive to write a post on the sixth day and on the seventh. It also helps to plan what posts I would like to publish in the near future.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed an extensive collection of “drafts” that I would like to get finished and published. A good way to do this is to schedule a date and work toward it. You might not completely reach the goal, but it definitely pushes you toward completion.
But you still need to do something about those instances where you don’t quite reach the goal. In the case of unfinished blog posts, this means rearranging the entries on the calendar. Maybe I decide to publish an article on a different day, for example, or to remove it completely.
Most calendar programs will allow you to select the entry and then drag it to another location, or to delete it. Outlook does this, iCal on Mac does it, even Google Calendar can handle it. But Evolution does not. To change the details of a particular event, you have to select it, modify the date and then save it. (At least in the week and month views, it does allow you to rearrange entries in the work week and daily views.) If you want to delete an entry, you also have to open it and press the delete button. It’s an unnecessary step which is absolutely maddening!
Worse , I hadn’t even noticed this particular paper-cut until I wanted to rearrange calendar postings. Now that I’ve spotted it, though, it’s become a major grievance. Every time I use Evolution Calendar, I can’t help but think, “Silly developers, why didn’t they enable drag and drop everywhere.” (Except instead of calling them “silly”, I use much stronger language.)
On Sunday, it finally got to the point that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I’d reached the point where Evolution was giving me little satisfaction or pleasure. The novelty of the relationship had worn off and I was eager to move to new conquests, or maybe back to old ones. So, I decided to check out what Thunderbird had been doing over the course of the last year.
What a Difference a Year Makes
So I went to the homepage, downloaded and installed the most recent version: Thunderbird 3.1. And after doing so, I can only say one thing.
Wow! What a difference a year makes! Thunderbird has grown up. A lot.
For starters, all of the annoyances that originally drove me from the program appear have been resolved. Calendar Sync has been flawless and I haven’t suffered any of the duplicated events, problems with notifications, or other issues.
The improvements don’t merely extend to bug fixes, however. Mozilla has greatly improved how the program works. They’ve cleaned up the user interface and improved the design. I think, for the first time ever, that I am going to stick with the default theme!
They’ve also made it easier to do a number of minor maintenance tasks. For example, like Evolution, Thunderbird didn’t have a good drag and drop method to rearrange your calendar. The feature has not only been added, but it works very well.
Everything about the calendar extension for Thunderbird 3.1 is simply marvelous.
But that is hardly the most impressive improvement to Thunderbird. Not by far. That particular honor, I think, is reserved for the significantly improved unified communications system and integration with GMail.
Other email programs do an admirable job of combining your inbox and sent-messages into a single view, but Thunderbird does it even better. It’s got all of the basics covered and then adds another folder to the unified club: the archive folder.
Now, again, this might not seem like a big deal. Most email programs don’t have a dedicated “Archive”. It isn’t part of their design philosophy. Instead, you create a hierarchy of folders and store your email in those. For users of GMail, though, it is.
GMail significantly changed the way that people tend to think about email. Instead of deleting messages, Google encourages you to “Archive” them. You can then find a particular message by searching for it. Thunderbird takes that same philosophy and applies it to the desktop. It’s absolutely awesome, especially in cases like mine where the email system is a little complicated.
I have email accounts for work, private correspondence, and various projects. Because of all these different emails, I need a system which can bring them together and organize them. Over time, I’ve evolved a series of scripts and other hacks that let me do this easily. Thunderbird single-handedly made all of those scripts unnecessary.
For example, I have one account that I use as an email archive. Any important message that I receive eventually ends up there. In my old system, I could flag a message and a script would automatically copy it to the correct folder in my archive account. In Thunderbird, I can do the same thing simply by setting the “Archive” folder in my account settings. Now, instead of maintaining a custom script, I simply press the “Archive” button and the folder gets removed from my Inbox and automatically copied to its permanent home.
I could go on, but I don’t think I will. This article isn’t really a review, after all.
When it comes to software, I’m promiscuous. I’ve used just about everything, on every operating system, more than once. I’ve got a critical eye and I don’t have ties to any one program or platform. Which is why it is so unique that I can’t really find faults with this newest version of Thunderbird. I’m sure that there are problems – no program is perfect, after all – but I can’t really find anything to complain about. So … yeah.
Well done Mozilla and Thunderbird community! Thunderbird 3.1 is simply awesome!