An unwanted weekend of Web-mail

I’ve written before how I’m not too fond of Web-mail versus desktop clients, but last weekend didn’t give me a choice in the matter.

Gmail offline UI detailAbout an hour after my flight took off, my MacBook Air coughed up an error message from the Mail program that its index had gotten scrambled (not the exact phrasing; I inexplicably forgot to take a screengrab) and needed to be rebuilt. Fine, I said, and clicked the appropriate button.

Less than an hour later, my aging laptop complained that it was out of space. After a couple of fruitless attempts to weed out larger files, I gave up on mail for the rest of the way to LAX, then resigned myself to using the Webmail interface to the Google Apps account I use for work.

In the two years since Apple’s Mail app last couldn’t connect me to my work account, Gmail hasn’t changed much but Apple’s Mail app has. It’s become a clumsy, clanky, sluggish part of my workflow that usually has me grumbling in complaint before I’m halfway through the first cup of coffee.

Sadly enough, I still missed Mail. Gmail’s regular view only shows 15 messages on my MacBook’s screen, and its in-browser offline mode–a non-negotiable item given the horrible state of the ONA conference WiFi–only showed eight at a time.

Mail unsuccessful setupMy usual method of policing my inbox, block-selecting non-essential messages and moving them to folders like “PR” or “Administrivia,” broke down when Gmail Offline showed that few messages and required me to select each one individually before any moves to sub-folders.

Gmail’s automatic classification of messages under tabs like “Promotions” and “Social” didn’t help aside from correctly shunting most of the PR correspondence to the former tab.

At no point over that weekend did I get WiFi fast enough to let me even think about re-syncing over a dozen gigabytes of mail back down to my laptop–at one point, Mail couldn’t even crawl through its first setup screen. So I limped along in Web-mail, steadily fell behind, and have since caught up slowly in my iMac’s copy of Mail.

As I type this, Apple’s OS X El Capitan just finished installing on that MacBook. Will Mail behave a little better in that new release? I can only hope…

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Why Web-mail alone doesn’t work for me

I installed OS X Mavericks on my MacBook Air Wednesday, and now I can no longer use my Google-hosted work e-mail account in my laptop’s copy of Apple’s Mail–an undocumented change in how that client treats Google IMAP accounts has made them borderline unusable, at least if you want to move a message out of your inbox.

Gmail Offline app(Thanks, Apple! Really, you shouldn’t have.)

My complaint about this issue yielded the responses I should have expected: Why not just use only Web-mail? That’s a fair question. Here are a few reasons why I’d rather not:

Offline access. Google does provide a capable offline app for Gmail, and I use it all the time–but its Chrome-only Gmail Offline can only download the last month’s worth of mail. To find anything older, I need to get back online. It’s also easier to take my e-mail to another host if all my old messages are already synced to my hard drive.

A separate tool for a separate task. Because a mail client has its own interactive Dock or taskbar button, it can show in real time how many messages have arrived–and can’t get overlooked among 20 other open browser tabs. And without ads or a browser toolbar that doesn’t help with mail management, I can see more of my mail.

Message management. It takes fewer clicks to select a batch of messages and move them to another folder–especially if they’re not contiguous–in a local mail client than in Gmail’s standard interface, much less the simpler Gmail Offline.

Quick Look. If somebody sends me a Word, PDF or some kind of complex document, I can get an instant preview of it by selecting the document and hitting the space bar, courtesy of OS X’s Quick Look feature. In Gmail, I have to wait for the file to download and preview in a separate window.

Better calendar integration. Both Gmail and Mail can create a new calendar event if they see a date or time in a message, but Gmail insists on adding that to your default Google calendar. Mail allows you to add it to the calendar of your choice.

Individually, these are little differences, but they add up. And while a better Web-mail system could address them all someday, I can have these things on my checklist today with a functioning client running on my Mac. It’s too bad Apple chose to break its own.

So do I now switch to something like Postbox or Airmail–or do I get around Google’s wonky implementation of IMAP entirely by switching to, say, Microsoft’s newly IMAP-comaptible Outlook.com? That’s a topic for another post. But I welcome your input in the comments.

Weekly output: Nokia 1020, BYOD, PR Summit, Chromecast (x2), patent trolls, CableCard (x2), Google Maps, Gmail

I had some 5,200 words appear under my byline this week. (I wrote one of those reviews last weekend, but I also filed one story this week that won’t show up in print for weeks.) Some of that is the result of products shipping and news breaking at about the same time, and some is what happens when you know you owe a client so many posts in a month and then tell yourself “I can finish that story tomorrow” too many days in a row.

7/29/2013: Nokia’s 1020: A Camera That Makes Phone Calls, Discovery News

Nokia’s latest smartphone includes a 41-megapixel camera that takes impressive photos, but its Windows Phone software has issues with driving directions and app selection. And its battery life may be worse than it seemed when I wrote this.

7/30/2013: BYOD Chat, IDG Enterprise

Another turn as a chat host, this time for a round of questions about bring-your-own-device policies and experiences. The link goes to a Twitter query for the #mobilebizchat hashtag, owing to the questions and answers not yet having been archived on the Enterprise Mobile Hub site. 9/29: Updated link.

7/30/2013: The Future of Technology & How to Speak Blogger Language 4.0, PR Summit

VentureBeat’s Christina Farr moderated a panel featuring yours truly, Fleishman-Hillard’s Layla Revis, Jon Oleaga of etceter and marketing maven Murray Newlands. I can’t say we got the audience past blogger language 3.0, but we did have a good chat on some basic issues of building influence and maintaining trust on the Web, whether you’re in PR or journalism or some intersection of the two.

Boing Boing Chromecast comparison7/31/2013: The real Web TV: Chromecast, Apple or Roku?, Boing Boing

I compared Google’s new $35 Web-media receiver to Apple and Roku’s models. Short answer: Apple’s best for sharing what’s already on your computer, Roku has the widest set of video and audio apps, Google has the easiest setup and the biggest potential upside. Don’t forget to check out the comments BBS, where I answered several questions about these devices and my review.

7/31/2013: Google’s Chromecast Puts the Web On TV For $35, Discovery News

For Discovery, I wrote a higher-level piece starting with what makes the Chromecast different from and better than running an HDMI cable from your laptop to your TV.

8/1/2013: Past And Future Patent Pain: When Does The Law Recognize Abuse For What It Is?, Disruptive Competition Project

I’d been meaning to write this 1,100-word essay for while; fortunately, the EFF’s launch of its Trolling Effects database of “demand letters” from patent trolls gave me a decent news peg for the piece.

8/2/2013: TiVo, media center PC makers alarmed by CableCard-cutting bill, Ars Technica

I got a nice little scoop about an upcoming bill that would end a key regulatory protection for the CableCard standard that allows TiVos and a few other devices to tune in cable TV. Check page three of the comments for a few from me answering reader queries.

8/2/2013: The Endless Re-Runs Of The Cable-Compatibility Debate, Disruptive Competition Project

This counterpart to the Ars piece summarizes the 15 years and counting of regulatory, technological and market failures at establishing a standard way to get cable without leasing a box from the cable company.

8/4/2013: Google removes multiple stops feature from Maps, USA Today

It’s never a good idea to let users discover on their own that you removed a feature many of them like to use. This column also has a tip about using Gmail’s offline and ad-free mode in Chrome.

On Sulia, I recounted an amusing HDMI failure in Apple’s flagship San Francisco store, reported an apparently painless installation of Android 4.3 on my Nexus 4 phone, shared a fix for a broadband breakdown I encountered later that day,  critiqued Google’s announcement of an overdue find-my-phone service for Android phones, suggested replacement brand names for Microsoft’s trademark-conflicted SkyDrive and complimented Dulles Airport for its real-time security wait estimates.