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Mon, 24 Feb 2003
IM, Email, Extensibility and Compound Documents
Hold on folks, this is going to be a long one.

Over the weekend, I finally downloaded a copy of Trillian. I've seen a few friends using it, and Nelson Minar's report on the RSS plugin provided the final kick in the rear to make me go visit the site and have a look. I'm using AOL IM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo. I like Yahoo's feature set the best, but I use the others because there people that I want to talk to there. So for me, the network is more important than the software -- this is a binary thing -- if you can't talk to the people that you need to, it doesn't matter how good the client feature set is.

Trillian will probably help with this. Now I can get rid of the 3 clients (and the accompanying resource wastage). Trillian allows me to timestamp and log all message windows (key features of Yahoo). I'm also going to see if it works as a passable IRC client.

The most interesting piece of Trillian is the plugin architecture, which is only available as part of Trillian 1.0. I am happy to see them providing a mechanism for adding functionality to Trillian. I'd be even happier if there was a way to script the behavior. Trillian does expose a set of events that you can use to invoke programs, and this is the start down the road to scripting, if the Trillian developers decide to do so. If they added scripting of the application and support for Jabber, I'd be very happy indeed.

The other piece of instant messaging related news is that Microsoft's threedegrees beta is now available. My summary of three degrees is that it allows you to setup a group of IM users and do group actions -- you can send stuff, share a music playlist, etc. It also provides a nice interface for sharing by making groups things that you can drag and drop onto. However, I question whether they really need a separate product to do this. Why not just extend the existing IM system to do this? I've read the articles on how threedegrees resulted from research into the net generation, and I can sort of see the rationale for a different branding, but really, under the hood, we're talking about basic generalizations of the IM concept. The only reason that we haven't seen this is because the vendor's tight control over IM servers and clients has held back these sorts of innovations. The Jabber folks must be kicking themselves. They could have done all of this stuff a long time ago.

Today there was a big set of posts on e-mail.

Before I go over those, let me just whine. My current e-mail setup is pretty unsatisfactory. I'm using Outlook to handle my primary e-mail account, and it also handles my calendar and addressbook. Because I'm using a PocketPC, I'm locked into Outlook. But Outlook is horribly underpowerd for my needs. I get an enormous amount of e-mail. I get so much that I actually created a second e-mail address which I use for all mailing lists. Otherwise I would never get any work done. Unfortunately, Outlook is horribly slow at retreiving IMAP messages (at least on my setup), so I would love to get off. I'm using Outlook Express to read the mailing list account, because it seems to be able to deal with large amounts of e-mail in a performant manner. I'm using IMAP because there is no way I'm going to allow my e-mail to get locked up in Microsoft proprieary PST file format jail.

Okay, so back to today's email posts. Brad Choate told us that e-mail needs a kick to the head. He then goes on to describe virtual folders and using queries to manage e-mail (by generating virtual folders). This stuff has been around for a while -- The Evolution developers, if no one else, have been talking about virtual folders and creating them from queries on e-mail. I was using Evolution for a while, and I liked vfolders. The problem with vfolders is that there's a large set of vfolders that you'd like generated automatically -- like mailing lists, and vfolders for all e-mail addresses in your address book (actually 2, one for messages from the address and a second for message sent to the address). Where Evolution is falling down on vfolders right now is that it doesn't generate these folders automatically, so there's a lot of manual setting up which should be done automatically. Due to this problem, and the fact that I was VNC'ing to a linux box to do my Evolution reading, I gave up and switched back Outlook Express. Having to do a bunch of travelling with my Windows laptop also played a factor in this.

One of the comments on Brad's post was by Virtuelvis who recommended Opera's new M2 mail reader which is based on access points (kind of like virtual folders), and can generate them automatically for e-mail addresses in the address book. This sounds good and I'm going to have a look, but the thought of one more e-mail client is just giving me a rash.

None of these clients (save Outlook) has the ability to script any part of the client. If Evolution had been scriptable, I probably would have put in the effort to write scripts to generate and maintain the vfolders. But I didn't get that choice.

So basically, e-mail sucks.

By the time I finished with this morning's posts the theme for me was: there's still a lot of work to do on client apps in the networking / communication space. We're facing problems related to scale -- Spam aside, I'm still getting lots of e-mail, and I seem to be adding more an more people to my IM list. Having the basic functionality isn't enough, we need functionality that will help us to manage all this information effectively. One way to do that is to build systems that can be extended and user programmed. For a long time, I read my e-mail using Emacs' VM mode. That stopped when I left grad school and before personal linux boxes were commonplace. Unfortunately, VM is not sufficiently performant for my large email volume today. But it's supremely programmable, due to Emacs' archtectural culture of allowing for hook functions that can provide user defined functionality. This is where all the AOP people's ears should perk up and say "Ooh, interception, we know how to do that.....";.

Another thing that I'd like to see is for contact and calendar (at least) information to be broken out as service that other applications could use. That way there could be competition in e-mail without problems in address books. Of course, lock in by bunding is a popular strategy, so this is unlikely to happen, but it would be the right thing to do.

Let me leave this with some more of today's posts. James Snell referred to one of his old wishes:

Essentially, I want a Web Aggregator, not a Web Browser. I would want that aggregator to combine email content, instant messaging content, news, blogs, updated product information, etc all in a unified interface that I control. Responding to blog entries (e.g. comments, posts on my blog, etc) is done the same way I respond to email. Reading news alerts is done the same way I read blog entries.
James wants customizability in how his information is presented. I was reminded of CyberDog and the promise of systems like OpenDoc, now slaughtered by the web age. But now the overflow of web data is taking us back to a situation where we need significant improvements is client applications and the infrastructure for client applications. Compound document architectures are a good idea for rendering internet data.
[18:01] | [computers/internet] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Floating Area Networks
Ok, so it may not be of that much interest to people in other parts of the world, but today's Seattle Times article about WiFi includes a section on an effort to put WiFi access points on the Washington State Ferries. I'm not commuting on the ferry as much as I once did, but this would be great for the many folks who still are.
[14:55] | [places/us/wa/bainbridge_island] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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Ted Leung FOAF Explorer

I work at the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF).
The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, not those of my employer.

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