Miscellaneous Ramblings

Test Driving Eudora 8 Beta 3: Better but Not Ready for Prime Time

Charles Moore - 2008.02.25 - Tip Jar

For those of us who are dedicated Eudora email client users, the announcement that Qualcomm would terminate development of our beloved email client and hand off the name to the Mozilla organization for the purpose of development of an Open Source Eudora email client was cause for both anticipation and apprehension.

In some respects, this was encouraging news. I'm a fan of Open Source software, and Steve Dorner, the original author of Eudora for the Mac, would be a core member of the Eudora development team which goes by the name of Penelope (the wife of Odysseus and daughter of Icarius of Sparta).

The more ominous part was that the new "Eudora" was to be based on Mozilla's Thunderbird email client, which I have never been favorably impressed by for a whole raft of reasons. I don't like so-called "three-box" email client user interfaces (ditto for OS X Mail and a raft of others), and Thunderbird's SMTP implementation is about the most clumsy and inconvenient I've encountered in any email client.

Eudora 8 is a 3-pane email client
Eudora 8.0 opens with a non-Eudora-like 3-pane window.

The first beta of Penelope (Eudora 8.0.0b1) was released last September, and I wasted no time bringing down a copy to check out. The first thing I noticed is that it was huge - nearly 20 MB for the compressed disk image and more than 50 MB when expanded. That compares with just 9.1 MB for the last Classic Eudora 6.2.4 disk image, and a svelte 11.3 MB for the expanded Eudora 6.2.4 application folder. Being a fan of small, compactly coded software, I was not impressed with that.

All doubt was removed upon opening Eudora 8.0 for the first time and being greeted with what is essentially a Mozilla Thunderbird user interface with Eudora icons grafted on.

Now, if you like the Thunderbird/OS X Mail/MS Outlook/Entourage type email client interface, this will not be a problem, but as I said above, I don't care for the three-pane motif.


The Penelope/Eudora 8.0 preference pane.

Eudora 8.0 also has an optional 2-pane interface mode, which allegedly causes mailboxes to open in a similar manner to the tradiitonal Mac Eudora client: 2-pane message list and message preview. The list of mailboxes will open in a separate window.

"Mac users might find this interface to be more like Mac Eudora," the developers venture hopefully. Uh . . . no, I don't. It's so clunky that it's just an annoyance.

The real Classic Eudora user interface, which some have declared "antiquated", is one of the things I like best about the original Eudora; it was instrumental to my choosing it over, say, Apple's Claris Emailer back when I came up the Information Highway on-ramp in the mid-90s.

The Penelope folks affirm: "We are committed to both preserving the Eudora user experience and to maintaining maximum compatibility, for both developers and users, with Thunderbird." The problem is, I'm not sure that objective is going to be achievable in a really coherent sense. The thing is, what I love about the classic Eudora user experience, along with its speed, kick-ass search engine, rock-solid reliability, and fabulous user-configurability and manual control, is that the Eudora interface is a "non-interface" - I couldn't care less about the toolbar, which I've always kept turned off. The Mailbox menu is the core central element of classic Eudora for me, and I manage virtually everything from mailbox and message document windows. No central application window at all.

Over the years I've checked out many different email clients, but none for very long, save for the quirky but dependable Nisus Email, which also has a minimalist non-interface, and I continue to keep it around for it's quick message-sending facility. I digress.

Back to our central topic: It's going to take a lot more than Thunderbird with Eudora icons and menu category names tacked on to make me a willing adopter of Eudora 8 and beyond. However, I tried not to be too negative, and there were a few good things about Eudora 8.0.0b1.

It worked (with some qualifications - see below), although not well enough that I was inclined to import my Eudora Classic mail archives and settings.

My Eudora Mail Folder, which contains the archived content of my entire email history back to 1997, is still an astonishingly svelte 339 MB, but I expect it would swell substantially in the conversion to Thunderbird-style file and interface conventions. I currently have 21 separate email accounts and 65 separate mailboxes configured in Eudora 6.2.4 (the whole works in a 544 MB Eudora folder). Classic Eudora handles all that gracefully and efficiently. I'm apprehensive that it's not going to transfer well to the way Eudora 8 handles account information and files.

Classic Eudora had worked great for me until I upgraded to Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" last November, at which point dialup email performance went south in a big way. I've determined that this is some sort of issue with how Leopard interfaces with the Internet, especially with SMTP servers, over my bog-slow rural dialup connection, and all POP3 clients I've tried - not just Eudora 6.2.4 - are affected, but I had hoped that Eudora 8, being a current development, might be an improvement at least in that department. Nope, it's worse.

I figured I could give the program a fairer trial by configuring incrementally and afresh rather than swamping it with my convoluted and complex Classic Eudora settings setup.

New Account Setup in Eudora 8Consequently, I proceeded by just configuring a couple of accounts for starters, and that went okay - sort of. I am especially impressed by the Gmail account setup wizard, which required me to just enter my account username in a text field, and then Eudora 8.0 did the rest of the account configuration quickly and automatically. I also set up one non-Gmail account.

The Gmail account works reasonably well, except when sending long messages (i.e.: more than 50 KB), upon which it stalls and the server times out.

I ran into a familiar Thunderbird Achilles' Heel with the other account, namely T-bird's clunky and obtuse support of different outgoing SMTP server configurations for separate email accounts. As noted, I have 21 accounts configured in Eudora 6.2.4 with a bunch of different SMTP server configurations respectively. This all works smoothly and unproblematically with classic Eudora, but I have been unsuccessful so far in getting it to work with just two different accounts configured in Eudora 8. I have the alternate server address for the second account entered and selected, but I just get a cryptic message dialog telling me that the server may be unavailable or is not accepting messages. Neither is true. I can send messages through it just fine with Eudora 6.2.4 (at least when running in Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger").

Eudora's Task Progress indicatorI downloaded Eudora 8.0 beta 2 a couple months back and found it a bit better than beta 1, and Eudora 8.0b3, which was released last Friday, is better yet. For one thing, it has a decent Task Progress dialog now, although it's still not as good as the one in Classic Eudora. Mac OS X Address Book integration is now turned on by default, importing mailboxes from Classic Mac Eudora is greatly improved according to the developers (but I'll continue to take their word for it for the present). Filter imports are also reportedly improved, and there have been a variety of refinements and bugfixes.

Back on the downside, when I first started up Eudora 8.0b3 it insisted on checking and downloading mail from the configured accounts unbidden, which is behavior that I absolutely loathe. Perhaps that can be disabled in the preferences, but I intensely dislike software that decides to do things for me rather than waiting for me to tell it what to do.

On the plus side and in that vein, as an advocate of plain-text email, one thing I do like is that Eudora 8.0 disables downloading of embedded images in email messages by default, leaving it to the user's discretion to manually bring them down with a convenient button.

Then when the mail download was half-completed, the process stalled, accompanied by a loud and grating buzzing sound that I could only get rid of by force-quitting the program. Still plenty of room for bug-squashing, I guess. When I restarted the program, the download resumed and finished normally, but reliability is obviously not ready for prime time yet.

I'm also skeptical that Eudora 8's Search/Find function is ever going to hold a candle to classic Eudora's fast, slick, and powerful search engine, but I don't have enough content accumulated yet to give it a meaningful test.

Anyway, that's pretty much it so far. Eudora 8.0b3 represents some incremental progress, but it has a very, very long way to go yet if it's even going to come close to being a halfway-satisfactory replacement for classic Eudora. I remain skeptical that it will ever be. LEM

Mac system requirements:

Operating Systems:

  • Mac OS X 10.2.x and later

Minimum Hardware:

  • Macintosh computer with an Intel x86 or PowerPC G3, G4, or G5 processor
  • 128 MB RAM (Recommended: 256 MB RAM or greater)
  • 200 MB hard drive space

Eudora 8.0.b3 Release Notes

Includes Penelope version 0.1a22.

See <http://wiki.mozilla.org/Penelope_Extensions> for Penelope version notes.

Using Thunderbird 3.0a1pre trunk code as of 2007/10/19:

<http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?t=593971>

<ftp://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/thunderbird/nightly/2007-10-19-03-trunk/>

New Features

  • A Linux version of Eudora is now available
  • If you select a minimum amount of text before replying to a message, the reply will only quote the selected text. <https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id#394>
  • Mac OS X address book integration turned on by default. <https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id 3927>

Importing

  • Importing mailboxes from Classic Mac Eudora is greatly improved. <https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?idA4620>
  • When importing filters from Classic Eudora, filter actions which are not currently supported in Thunderbird are preserved so that when they are supported in future versions of Thunderbird they will be available to the user.
  • When importing Eudora settings, more settings are mapped to corresponding Mozilla settings. All Eudora settings are stored for future interpretation without re-importing.
  • Fixed bug where Windows Eudora importing would not prompt user for correct location of data when data is not found.
  • Fixed logic reversal bug that caused both Mac and Windows Eudora address book importing to fail.

Miscellaneous

  • Fixes for a variety of problems with unified who column. Local mailboxes now compare against all POP accounts. Cross-folder views (e.g., saved searches) now correctly determine the folder for the messages. The search dialog results panel now follows the useWhoColumn pref. <https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id59270>

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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