Email frustration

Since my office workstation is dead, I have to use a terminal for the time being. While I have all the functionality available, things don’t feel the same, as I have to configure and reconfigure things to my likings. One of my biggest frustrations was with email.

Email is an important part of my job. I get a few thousand emails daily. These include alarms and notifications, mailing lists, reports, log analyzers, tickets and requests, and correspondence with colleuges and customers. I have a very fine tuned system that helps me to process all of these messages in a reasonable amount of time. By reasonable I mean less than two hours per day.

With my workstation going down, my excellent email system became unavailable. I had to switch to an emergency set of tools. And that wasn’t as easy as I thouhgt it would be. In fact, I realized how complex my email setup was, but I thought that I could manage without it, albeit in a wider time span.

MS Outlook

The company default for email is MS Outlook. I’ve logged in to our Windows terminal server and started MS Outlook to see if I can use it at all. I needed about two minutes to figure out that it is as far from a useful tool for me as my singing abilities from something one would want to display publicly. Grouping, sorting, and marking are non-trivial and slow. No anti-spam built-in. No thread support. Quoting is very limited. Keyboard navigation is almost non-existing.

Mozilla Thunderbird

So, three minutes later I was logged in to our Linux terminal server. Two choices were in my mind – Evolution and Thunderbird. I didn’t want to start with Evolution since I tried it few times before and was very disappointed with the stability of it. It used to crash on every other action of mine. Thus Thunderbird.

Thunderbird promted me with an easy and standard-looking wizard for account setup. I went through it and had my Inbox displayed to me very shortly. So far so good. I started going through a pile of email that I already had to process from the weekend. Thunderbird was much faster than MS Outlook that I tried earlier, but still way too slower than my usual Mutt setup. I quickly found how to rearrange and sort the messages the way I wanted, but it still didn’t show any threads. Quoting was much better though. Oh, and it has the anti-spam built into it.

I decided that I’ll stick with Thunderbird until my machine will get back. But than I started to notice bugs. Lots of them.

At first, the anti-spam filter misbehaved. It did exactly the opposite of what I wanted it to do. It marked all legitimate messages as junk mail, and all junk mail as non-junk. I reset the adaptive filter, but it didn’t help. Screw that. I already spent enough time on configurations.

Since I had my Inbox full of SPAM messages, I was going very fast through it, pressing the Delete button. Every ten or so messages, Thunderbird would lose focus of the message list window part. Meaning that the cursor indicating the current mesage would totally disappear and Delete button would not work any longer. I had to click on one of the messages again to reactivate the whole thing. The only way to bypass this behavior was to press the Delete button slower, leaving intervals between pushes. That slowed me down a lot!

Than I noticed that the whole deletion thing works very strange. While I deleted about 600 messages, only 40 appeared in the Trash bin. Random ones. Not that I missed anything, but it looked strange.

When I went through all my emails, I closed Thunderbird and went for the break. When I came back 10 minutes later and fired it up again, it wouldn’t start. Actually, it started, but it keeps showing me the busy cursor and doesn’t want to do anything. It seems that something is wrong with my profile settings or something.

Evolution

Evolution was my next choice. I started it up and again got the wizzard for account configuration. While going through it I noticed that it supports MS Exchange natively, so I decided to go for this option, instead of the usual IMAP choice.

After I configured everything, I got a list of folders on the Exchange server and counters of new messages, but no message list. I cliked here and there, minimized and maximized it and finally, somehow, I managed to get it. At least it didn’t crash…

I went through my new messages, reading, replying and delete as usual. For some strange reason, the counters of new emails in the folder weren’t updating. I also was getting a whole bunch of “No such message” errors. This was happening when I accidentally clicked on a message that was marked deleted. I don’t know why Evolution was showing it to me, if the any action regarding the message would result in the error message. Yes, I tried the undelete operation too. Didn’t work. Strange logic.

Than I found out how to refresh the counters. I had to press the Send/Receive button. So much for the native Exchange support.

Conclusion

While my own email setup is very specific and fine tuned, I failed to use the common software for the simple things. Either bugs or lack of features stopped me from being productive. As I find myself in this situation, I am very curious if anybody at all uses these tools for managing moderately high amount of emails (say a couple of thousand messages per day or more).

Please use comments for the feedback.

7 thoughts on “Email frustration”


  1. “… MS Outlook” Grouping, sorting, and marking are non-trivial…” -- not true. Sorting -- one click, grouping -- two clicks or for multiple grouping one move, marking -- one click or for complicated marking two. Additionally there is feature -- Views.

    “… and slow.” -- I tried grouping and sorting with 793 items. Did not notice anything. May be problem exists with 2 000 items?

    “No anti-spam built-in.” -- not true.

    “No thread support.” -- AutoPreview and Reading Panel.

    “Quoting is very limited.” -- 1 Attach original message,2 Include original message text,3 Include and indent original message text,4 Prefix each line of original message with symbol you want. I thought it was enough.

    P.S. For thousand messages per day in Outlook there is Rules and Alerts tool.


  2. Thanks for the response. I probably overlooked (or should I say Outlooked :) ) some functionality or found it non-intuitive.

    It must have been slow due to MS Exchange server and not MS Outlook. I didn’t check. With my regular setup I work either on local mail folders or local IMAP server. Not remote as with Exchange.

    Are you sure that there is anti-spam built-in in MS Outlook? I know that there are a number of third-party utilities, but I never knew there is one internally. Please let me know how to activate it.

    Thread support? Are we talking about the same thing? Here is the screenshot of Mutt displaying a threaded discussion. This is a vital feature for long and multithreaded discussions, but I couldn’t find how to configure it in MS Outlook.

    Quoting is very simplistic in MS Outlook. It includes either the whole message or none at all. Removing useless stuff like signatures is left to the user. That’s time consuming. Also, the minor issue is that it does not use the name of the original message’s author anywhere. But that might be configurable, I don’t know.

    Also, as a side note -- my mailbox is much bigger than 2000 messages. 2000 messages is what I recieve (have to process) every day.

    Anyway, thanks for you feedback. I’ll go through MS Outlook configuration options with more care next time.

  3. It must have been slow due to MS Exchange server and not MS Outlook.

    Try The Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer and Microsoft Exchange Server User Monitor Pasted to analyze Exchange and increase performance. Also try to work in cached mode.

    With my regular setup I work either on local mail folders or local IMAP server. Not remote as with Exchange.

    Outlook can work in three modes -- local, cached and online.

    Are you sure that there is anti-spam built-in in MS Outlook? I know that there are a number of third-party utilities, but I never knew there is one internally. Please let me know how to activate it.

    Quote for Outlook 2003 help ” The Junk E-mail Filter is on by default, and the protection level is set to Low… Any message that is caught by the Junk E-mail Filter is moved to a special Junk E-mail folder…”. So, if you have older outlook try to update it and if you have outlook 2003 download service pack 1. Additionally install on your exchange server Intelligent Message Filter to filter most aggressive spam before it enters network.

    Thread support? Are we talking about the same thing?

    I am not sure, so can you explain thread for email, please? I mean, how it particular works in Mutt? (From screenshot it is not clear)

    Quoting … includes either the whole message or none at all. Removing useless stuff like signatures is left to the user. That’s time consuming.

    Agree, but how you configure rules to cut these thing without risk to cut something important?

    …the minor issue is that it does not use the name of the original message’s author anywhere

    Outlook resolves addresses to names based on contact information. If you do not have any contacts it will put just address otherwise it will put name first, then in square brackets address.

    Also, as a side note -- my mailbox is much bigger than 2000 messages. 2000 messages is what I recieve (have to process) every day..

    Yes, I understood. So with such amount of letters it’s better to put them in different folder like Logs, Reports, Discussions etc., it’s like in library. Each folder should have different Views like Today’s Letters, Yesterday’s Letters, Grouped by Person and etc. So you can easily navigate and see what you want. Finally there should be Rules and Alerts so Outlook can automatically put all of these 2000 letters to proper folder, mark as you need and alert you as you need.


  4. Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out and also share them with our MS Exchange administrator.

    To clarify a few issues:

    Quote for Outlook 2003 help

    Oh, that explains it. We’re still using MS Outlook 2000.

    On threads:

    I am not sure, so can you explain thread for email, please? I mean, how it particular works in Mutt? (From screenshot it is not clear)

    Check the screenshot once again. There are four messages with the subject “A long email”. The original message came from Tom Jones. There were two replies (two threads) to this original messages -- one by Marry Smith and another by Harry. Mr.Moo is than continued the thred of Marry Smith (replied to her message).

    Threads can be really helpful when a long discussion starts and there are several directions in which it goes, which is very common in company’s internal communication.

    Here is another example -- disscussion threads in the mailing list. Magenta arrows show which message is a reply to which message. It makes it very easy to follow the discussion, see who is envolved, etc.

    The information is actually in the message headers (In-Reply-To: Message-ID).

    MS Outlook does not use this header at all. That makes following a discussion harder, as well as participating in the discussion using MS Outlook makes it harder for others to read, as it does not add the In-Reply-To header.

    On quoting:

    Agree, but how you configure rules to cut these thing without risk to cut something important?

    There is a de facto standard of using “--\n” to separate a signature. Many email clients use it. Some allow to switch displaying/quoting of signatures on/off. Others just highlight signatures in different colors. MS Outlook does not handle them at all.

    Outlook resolves addresses to names based on contact information. If you do not have any contacts it will put just address otherwise it will put name first, then in square brackets address.

    I meant that I can’t seem to be able to use contact information in the message. For example, my Mutt is configured in such a way that when I reply to a message from “Lev Shuvalov”, my message has “Dear Lev,” at the beginning, than a quote of the original message, and than the cursor, which is followed by my signature.

    It is also possible to configure Mutt to prepend “LS> ” to the quoted text. When there is a long discussion with several people participating, it is nice to have initials or something like that near the quoted text to remind who said what.

    So with such amount of letters it’s better to put them in different folder like Logs, Reports, Discussions etc., it’s like in library. Each folder should have different Views like Today’s Letters, Yesterday’s Letters, Grouped by Person and etc.

    Yes, of course. I realize that. Its just that I had to use a different email setup for a day or two or three, until my workstation would get replaced. By default, all my email comes to Inbox on MS Exchage server. I than download it to my machine and separate into folders. i didn’t want to reconfigure MS Exchange for the three days and than reconfigure it back. In any way, even with Inbox separated into different folders, my Inbox is still a few thousand messages large. :)

    Once again, thank you for the URLs. I’ll check them out later today.


  5. On threads:
    Thanks, I understand. In Outlook it’s called Arrange by Conversation.

    If you receive many e-mail messages daily, you could benefit from a grouping option called Arrange By Conversation. Arrange By Conversation view shows your message list in a conversation-oriented or “threaded” view. To help you read your e-mail messages as quickly as possible, the Arrange By Conversation view displays only unread and Quick Flagged messages at first. Each conversation can be expanded further to show all messages in the conversation, including messages you have already read. To arrange your messages this way, click Arrange By Conversation on the View menu.

    On quoting
    On cutting signatures -- I agree outlook does not handle them, although I am not sure.
    Names -- it works in Microsoft way -- Outlook marks your comments with your name (you can customize it), so if all user use Outlook there is no problem:).
    For inserting names and other automating tasks Outlook work together with Word, so, many features are in Word.

    On letters problem
    With such large amount of mail you can do three things -- ask your boss to increase salary. Ask to hire assistant. Or link to database and work with quires.:)

    Thanks for talking about problems, it gave me good perspective from other side.


  6. I’ve tried using Evolution -- never stops crashing. Especially the Exchange components. Least stable piece of “production-quality” software I’ve ever seen. Thunderbird, on the other hand, is magnificent… it just can’t talk to an Exchange server, which is something I really need. Still looking for an answer.

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