Shared contacts, the cheap & cheerful way

I’ve been meaning to write more about groupware and collaboration, and hopefully will find the time for a longer post on the topic, but here’s a bit of timely news. Ludovic Marcotte and friends have just released a combination of some of their previous extensions to Thunderbird and Lightning as something they call the SOGo connector: it’s an extension to Thunderbird which, when combined with Lightning, provides features like remote address book through CardDAV (sending vCards through CalDAV, AFAICT), and an informal protocol called GroupDAV. While CardDAV is an extension to CalDAV which is an IETF spec, GroupDAV is currently an ad-hoc, simple protocol built to let clients interoperate with open source groupware servers, which probably explains both why it’s simple and why only a few servers (including SOGo, of course) support it.
I still need some education as to what relevant standards have to say (even in non-final form) about shared contact lists. More on this topic later I’m sure.

Gmail & Thunderbird IMAP Goodness

Is nicely explained by the Lifehacker crew. It’s not the exact setup I use, but the main point is the same.

Upon reflection, one of the fascinating consequences of GMail using IMAP (which, by the way, is a very significant technical achievement, as IMAP, while a very powerful protocol, is also very hard to implement in a scalable way) is that people can now get free email with an IMAP server. This is important not just for power-users like the Lifehackers, but also for people using smartphones (iPhone, Treos, etc.). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the other major webmail providers coming out with IMAP support as well. We may see yet see IMAP get its fair market share.

For many, IMAP support turns GMail into a high-performance mail server with spam filtering, which by the way can be used with a web front-end — as opposed to what it was last week: a webmail system with POP access.

This email world is a lot more fluid than people realize.

Miscellaneous Cool Things

  • The Mozilla Calendar project released version 0.7 of Sunbird and Lightning. Sunbird is a standalone calendar app kinda like Apple’s iCal, and Lightning is the same functionality as an extension for Thunderbird. This version is miles ahead of where the last (0.5) version was. It’s not finished yet, but it’s definitely usable, and I’ve had the privilege of hanging out in IRC channels and phone calls with some of the people involved, and every time I ask about a specific feature or point out an issue, they come back with a bug # and a place on their roadmap. That project is going really well.

    I believe that Lightning is going to be fundamentally important for Thunderbird’s future. There are at least millions, probably tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of people for whom calendaring support in an email client is a sine qua non, and by combining the capabilities of Thunderbird today, Lightning 1.0, and some additional special sauce, I think we’re going to rock.

    I’ll definitely write more about calendaring and collaboration software soon, as I’ve been learning a lot about calendaring, scheduling, and the like, and I’d like to encourage others to join the party.

    Important note to current users of Lightning 0.5: after an upgrade to 0.7 you may need to re-enable the calendars you want to see. Also, if you want access to Google Calendars, you need the 0.3 build of the “Google Provider”.

  • The Mozilla marketing team has come up with a messaging document for Firefox (that’s a standard marketing term, by the way), which identifies three major points: Security, Customization, and my favorite, 100% Organic Software. I’m curious to see how the public at large responds to the notion of organic software. I love creative, gutsy marketing like that. I haven’t thought much about what Thunderbird’s messaging should look like yet — we’ll get to that later.

  • Mozilla Labs launched Prism, which is the new name for the cool “take a web app and make a web app” work Mark Finkle’s been doing. It’s going to be fascinating to see that evolve. I’m keen to see if MailCo can push from the desktop “out” just like Prism is pushing from the webapp “in”. In some ways, that’s what IMAP, CalDAV, CardDAV, LDAP etc. are all about.

Timezone helper?

Dear Lazyweb,

I’m recruiting globally, and that means that I spend a fair bit of time trying to coordinate phone call times involving several timezones. Is there a good website or OS X dashboard widget or … that people have found handy for that? The sites I’ve tried so far have been reasonable at asking the question “when is time X in timezone Y”, but then leave delta computations to me, and those end up error-prone.

Upcoming trip to Paris

I’ll be in Paris, France, from Nov 12 to the 19th. I’ve got a few things scheduled already, but I’d be happy to organize an informal “pot” about Mozilla, MailCo, Thunderbird, or whatever interests.

Oh, and for those of you who don’t know, I’m French (and American (but not Canadian)) and speak French (and English (and am even slowly learning some about the fascinating topic of Quebec profane words)). I don’t think I’m likely to blog in French anytime soon (although I admire people like Loic who manage to blog bilingually) and am only slightly apprehensive at the thought of business negotiations or deep technical talk in my native tongue, given that I’m way behind on the lingo. (In grad school, the idea of giving a scientific talk in French was fairly terrifying). Still, I’ve had a few conversations in French these last few weeks and I think they went ok.

Gmail enables IMAP

It’s nice to see that Gmail now supports (at least for some accounts) IMAP access. It will make talking to it from the iPhone much nicer — as I mentioned last week, IMAP is just a much better protocol.

It seems that they’re mapping labels to IMAP folders, which is an natural but non-trivial idea, as multiple labels can be assigned to a single email, but AFAIK IMAP doesn’t have the concept of a single email message in multiple folders. Also, the labels are per-conversation, not per-email, so the metaphors don’t line up perfectly. I wonder what happens to conversational labels if one uses IMAP to move a single email across folders…

New forums are ready!

Good news! Thanks to cbeard and the folks at Mozilla Labs, I now have placeholder forums where discussion can ensue in a public place, without requiring every post to be approved by me.

For starters, I created three fora: one for Thunderbird Planning, one for discussion of Internet Communications Innovations, and one for random MailCo topics if they come up. We’ll see if those are the right ones as things move along.

I look forward to reading everyone’s contributions there! Feel free to add comments on my blog posts or email me if appropriate, of course.

For people who are new to Thunderbird, you should also check out MozillaZine’s forums, several of which are about Thunderbird — they’re a good place to find day-to-day support and discussions.

Meta comments:

  • The labs forums site was chosen for three simple reasons: 1) it provides RSS feeds, which I see as a requirement, 2) it could be done very quickly with minimal coordination, 3) there’s something experimental about all of this! I’m happy to consider alternatives in the future.
  • I should explain as well why I’m using web-based forums rather than a mailing list or newsgroup. Basically, I believe that newsgroups are too obscure outside of the fairly insular “insider” community, and that mailing lists require too much commitment on the part of participants, whether that’s adding to their email load or requiring them to customize their mail flow to triage mailing list traffic. The market has spoken, and web forums seem to have won when it comes to “level” public discussion spaces (as opposed to blogs). RSS feeds are there for those of us who can’t take yet another destination and need integration.

    (If someone knows how to do a two-way integration between the SMF forums and a mailing list so that everyone can interact with the forums in their favorite way, I’m happy to see how hard that would be to add.)

PS: I have a hard time writing “forums” instead of “fora”, but I’m being good and fitting with the flow!

Recent email tweaks

Not too surprisingly, my email traffic has grown since I took this job, in volume, diversity, and importance. I’ve had to do a few adjustments to my email handling, and I figured I’d share.

First, to deal with the volume changes, I unsubscribed from a lot of mailing lists that I was subscribed to for less than ideal reasons. I’ll miss some community news, but that’s the lesser of N evils.

Second, after struggling with leaving stuff on gmail, I’ve given up on gmail as my primary email storge. Instead, it serves as an additional spam filter, a front-end for when I’m on the road without a laptop, and a good search engine. A lot of my email goes through gmail, but it gets forwarded to an IMAP account, which is my primary mail server. (Side question: does anyone know if gmail cheerfully does loop-detection, so that it’s safe to forward bidirectionally between a non-gmail server and gmail, in hopes of redundancy with two entry points?)

It’s easy to forget how much better IMAP is than POP. Folders that are stable across clients. IDLE push (although Merlin Mann would object). And with Lemonade, it’ll get even better. In particular, the iPhone’s mail app works wonders with IMAP, meaning that I can do some email processing (and I do mean processing, such as deleting, triaging, etc.) on my phone in interstitial times, and not have to re-process emails. I wonder if MailCo shouldn’t do a public advocacy campaign for IMAP over POP…

Finally, after watching Merlin Mann talk about Inbox Zero again, I looked around for Thunderbird extensions to help with my email workflow and settled on Nostalgy. It takes some personalization and isn’t quite ready for the mass market as is, but for old email hands, it’s just what the doctor ordered. What I use most so far: custom shortcuts to file emails into Archive, RespondTo, DoAction, and Personal with single keystrokes, and the very handy


key to do automatic subject/sender filtering toggles. I suspect there are a few more features that I’ll really love.

One of the beauties of the Mozilla extension infrastructure is that extensions like Nostalgy can be born, and grow up as extensions, and then the best ideas can be rolled into the main product. I don’t know that I can point to any specific feature of Nostalgy that I think qualifies right now (after all, I’ve only played with it for a few minutes), but some of its features like the


key toggle helps me think more broadly about how the product could evolve.


Here’s something interesting — Florian Queze and Quentin Castier just released Instantbird, which is a XUL application wrapped around libpurple, the library behind Pidgin (once GAIM), Adium, Meebo, and others. There are some licensing issues around doing the same in Thunderbird right now, but it’s nice to see that some people are connecting these various technologies in interesting ways.