Tag Archives: E-mail

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A new e-mail etiquette?

I’ve just got off a late night train home from London where I spotted someone’s discarded Evening Standard, featuring an interesting article by Philip Delves Broughton, examining how the way in which we deal with e-mail reveals our professional characters. The full article makes for interesting reading but I thought I’d quote from the side-panel on the new e-mail etiquette here:

  • After the initial sales pitch, follow up by e-mail and phone.
  • Beyond that, pestering will make you seem needy.
  • Should you be looking for a job and get no response, reframe the pitch with something that will entice your potential employer – a fact about their competitor, an article of interest. Banging on about yourself is bad form.
  • A voicemail not answered is better than an e-mail ignored.
  • If you are swamped with e-mails, and don’t want to appear rude, consider an e-mail template that says no nicely.
  • However, do not resort to the standard, unhelpful Out Of Office Reply. It effectively says, I’m not here so your problems can go to hell.
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Archive Google Mail to a Mac using getmail

Late last year I questioned the wisdom of trusting critical data to the cloud and cited Google Mail as an example. Whilst the Google Mail service is generally reliable, there have been some well-publicised instances of failure (including data loss). I shouldn’t be too alarmed by that – for many things in life you get what you pay for and I pay Google precisely nothing (although they do get to build up a pretty good profile of my interests against which to target advertising…). So, dusting off the motto from my Scouting days (“Be Prepared”), I set about creating a regular backup of my Google Apps mail – just in case it ever ceased to exist!

I already use the Apple Mail application (mail.app) for IMAP access but I have some concerns about mail.app – it’s failed to send messages (and not stored a draft either) on at least two occasions and basically I don’t trust it! But using Mac OS X (derived from BSD Unix) means that I also have access to various Unix tools (e.g. getmail) and that means I can take a copy of my Google Mail and store it in maildir or mbox format for later retrieval, on a schedule that I set.

The first step is to install some Unix tools on the Mac. I chose DarwinPorts (also known as MacPorts). After running the 1.7.0 installer, I fired up a terminal and entered the following commands:

su - Administrator
cd /opt/local/bin
sudo ./port -d selfupdate

This told me that my installation of MacPorts was already current, so set about installing the getmail port:

sudo ./port install getmail

The beauty of this process is that it also installed all the prerequisite packages (expat, gperf, libiconv, ncursesw, ncurses, gettext and python25). Having installed getmail, I followed George Donnelly’s advice to create a hidden folder for getmail scripts and a maildir folder for my GmailArchive – both inside my home directory:

mkdir ~/.getmail
mkdir ~/GmailArchive/ ~/GmailArchive/new ~/GmailArchive/tmp ~/GmailArchive/cur

I then created and edited a getmail configuration file at ~/.getmail/getmailrc.mygmailaccount) and entering the following settings:

[retriever]
type = SimpleIMAPSSLRetriever
server = imap.gmail.com
username = <em>googleaccountname</em>
password = <em>googleaccountpassword</em>

[destination]
type = Maildir
path = ~/GmailArchive/

[options]
verbose = 2
received = false
delivered_to = false
message_log = ~/.getmail/gmail.log

I tested this by running:

/opt/local/bin/getmail -ln --rcfile getmailrc.gmailarchive

but was presented with an error message:

Configuration error: SSL not supported by this installation of Python

That was solved by running:

sudo ./port install py25-socket-ssl

(which installed zlib, openssl and py25-socket-ssl), after which I could re-run the getmail command and watch as my terminal session was filled with messages being downloaded (and the folder at ~/GmailArchive/new started to fill up). Then I saw a problem – even though I have a few thousand messages, I noticed that getmail was only ever downloading the contents of my Inbox.

Eventually, I solved this by adding the following line to the [retriever] section of the getmail configuration file:

mailboxes = ("[Google Mail]/All Mail",)

This took a while to work out because many blog posts on the subject suggest that the mailbox name will include [GMail] but I found I needed to use [Google Mail] (I guess that could be the difference between GMail and the Google Mail service provided as part of Google Apps). After making the change I was able to download a few thousand messages, although it took a few tries (the good news is that getmail will skip messages it has already retrieved). Strangely, although the Google Mail web interface says that there are 3268 items in my All Mail folder, getmail finds 5320 (and, thankfully, doesn’t seem to include the spam, which would only account for 1012 of the difference anyway).

In addition, the getmail help text explains that multiple mailboxes may be selected by adding to the tuple of quoted strings but, if there is just a single value, a trailing comma is required.

Having tested manual mail retrieval, I set up a cron job to retrieve mail on a schedule. Daily would have been fine for backup purposes but I could also schedule a more frequent job to pull updates every few minutes:

crontab -e

launched vim to edit the cron table and I added the following line:

4,14,24,34,44,54 * * * * /opt/local/bin/getmail -ln --rcfile getmailrc.gmailarchive

I then opened up a terminal window and (because running lots of terminal windows makes me feel like a real geek) ran:

tail -f ~/.getmail/gmail.log

to watch as messages were automatically downloaded every 10 minutes at 4, 14, 24, 34, 44, and 54 minutes past the hour.

This also means that I get 6 messages an hour in my the local system mailbox (/var/mail/username) to tell me how the cron job ran so I chose to disable e-mail alerting for the cron job by appending &gt;/dev/null 2&gt;&amp;1 to the crontab entry.

Many of the posts on this subject suggest using POP to download the mail, but Google limits POP transfers so it will require multiple downloads. Peng.u.i.n writes that IMAP should help to alleviate this (although that wasn’t my experience). He also suggests using several mbox files (instead of a single mbox file or a maildir) to backup mail (e.g. one file per calendar quarter) and Matt Cutts suggests backing up to mbox and maildir formats simultaneously:

[destination]
type = MultiDestination
destinations = (’[mboxrd-destination]‘, ‘[maildir-destination]‘)

[mboxrd-destination]
type = Mboxrd
path = ~/GmailArchive.mbox

[maildir-destination]
type = Maildir
path = ~/GmailArchive/

If you do decide to use a mbox file, then it will need to be created first using:

touch ~/GmailArchive.mbox

In Chris Latko’s post on pulling mail out of Gmail and retaining the labels, he describes some extra steps, noteably that the timestamps on mail are replaced with the time it was archived, so he has a PHP script to read each message and restore the original modification time.

Aside from the MacPorts installation, the process is the same on a Unix/Linux machine and, for Windows users, Gina Trapani has written about backing up GMail using fetchmail with Cygwin as the platform.

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Configuring Windows Mail for Tiscali’s IMAP servers

Last weekend, I set up my father-in-law’s new PC and needed to get Windows Mail (the built-in client in Windows Vista that replaces Outlook Express) working with his ISP’s mail server.  The ISP in question is Tiscali, but I still wanted the messages to be available on the server for webmail access, so I wanted to use IMAP and not POP to collect e-mail.

Tiscali’s instructions seem to be for Outlook Express and POP3 (at least the ones I found were) but I decided to see if they offered an IMAP service and it seems they do – all I needed to provide to Windows was some basic account information (name, username and password), the incoming server name (imap.tiscali.co.uk) and outgoing server (smtp.tiscali.co.uk).  At first sight, some of the mail folders were missing but they were easily made visible by selecting IMAP Folders… from the Tools menu.

Show/hide IMAP folders in Windows Mail

Finally, to tidy up the experience I remapped some of the special folders Trash/Spam/Sent instead of the Microsoft defaults of Deleted Items/Junk E-mail/Sent Items in the account properties and hid the unused ones from view.

Remapping IMAP folders in Windows Mail

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Using Google Apps for e-mail and contact management

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about how I’d switched a big chunk of my home/small business IT to Google Apps and was using it as part of a solution to keep my work and personal calendars separate, but in sync.

Calendar is all very well, but e-mail is still my main communications tool. So how have I found the switch to Google Mail and how do I keep my contacts in sync between devices? Actually, it’s been remarkably straightforward but I have learnt a few things along the way and this post describes the way I have things working.

Switching to GMail was as simple as updating the MX records for my domain but having done so, I needed to get my various devices working together – that means home and work computers as well as my iPhone.

My home computer is a Mac, so I simply enabled IMAP access on my Google Apps mail account and made sure I followed Google’s recommended client settings for setting up Apple Mail. There’s not more to say really – Google provides an IMAP Service and Apple provides an IMAP client.

Apple Mail

On a Windows PC I would have used Windows Mail/Outlook Express (depending on the version of Windows) or Outlook to achieve the same thing. Even so, on the Windows PC that I use for work, I have Google Chrome installed, so I set myself up with a Chrome application shortcut for my Google Apps e-mail account. It’s only webmail, but GMail is dripping with AJAX and so highly functional and very usable.

Google Mail as a Chrome application

With my PCs set up, that left the iPhone. Again, Google publishes advice for configuring IMAP with the iPhone (as well as recommended client settings) and I followed it. Folder list in Mail on the iPhone
I’m still a little confused about what is being saved where – my iPhone mail application has a Sent folder with some items in, but there’s another one called Sent Mail underneath [Google Mail] – similarly, I have two Drafts folders – as well as both Trash and Deleted Messages. None of that really matters though as all my mail seems to be in the Google Mail account (automagically… I’m not going to get too hung up on the details). Push e-mail would be nice (at the moment I have to tell the phone to periodically check for e-mail) but I’m sure Google will add that feature in time – the important thing is that it seems to work.

I tend to use the iPhone’s built-in mail application most of the time but the iPhone interface to GMail is pretty good too and has the advantage that it groups messages by conversation, rather than using the traditional approach of showing individual messages.

Mail on the iPhoneGoogle Mail on the iPhone

With e-mail working, I turned my attention to my contacts. Google Mail was doing a good job of identifying the people I’d sent e-mail to and creating associated contacts but I wanted to make that I had the same contact list available natively on the Mac and the iPhone. No problem – the Mac OS X Address Book application includes Google Contact syncing although I’m a little confused why I have it enabled in both the Address Book application and in iTunes (Contact Sync uses iTunes for synchronisation). Then, Address Book and iTunes worked together to make the contacts available on the iPhone (regardless of the Google part of the solution).

It’s worth noting that I didn’t think the address book synchronisation was working, but signing out of Google Mail (and then back in again) seemed to force a refresh of the contact information inside Google Mail.

Importantly, Google Mail’s contact functionality does not destroy information stored for contacts that it doesn’t know what to do with. For example, I’ve followed Jaka Jančar’s advice for adding Skype usernames to the OS X Address Book and Google Mail just ignores the extra information.

That just left bringing all of my legacy e-mail into my Google Apps mailbox. I haven’t been brave enough to do that yet (actually, it needs a lot of consolidation first) but I will do it eventually – and, when I do, I’ll be sure to blog about how it went…

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Xobni

Xobni logoEven though Inbox Zero has helped me gain some control over my e-mail, I still need all the help I can get. Last week, Simon Coles sent me an invitation for Xobni – a plugin for Microsoft Outlook that offers fast search, conversation threading, a social networking platform, and many other features designed to make email better – or as Xobni (inbox spelt backwards) like to put it:

“Xobni is the Outlook plug-in that helps you organize your flooded inbox.”

It’s already becoming very useful – earlier today I couldn’t find a document that I was sure I’d been sent (and the Outlook 2007 search functionality didn’t seem to find it either). I used Xobni to highlight another e-mail from the same correspondent and there was the missing document – one of the listed files that we had exchanged – from where I could open the original e-mail, or the attachment that I was after. Xobni will pull contact information out of e-mail messages (even if I don’t have an address book entry for a particular contact) and tells me who my contacts correspond with that I do too. There’s also an analytics feature that lets me track the volume of e-mail I receive (and how long it takes me to process), ranking my correspondents and telling me what time of day they tend to send me e-mail. It can also read my calendar and automatically highlight the times that I am available over the next few days, placing the details in an message, all ready to send. There’s VOIP integration too – although clicking on the Skype logo launched Office Communicator on my system (I don’t have Skype installed but I do have OCS). Finally, Xobni has its own built in search capabilities, which I’ve used a few times this evening to track down long lost e-mails based on the snippets of information that I could recall from the recesses of my mind. In fact, the only niggle I found was in my work e-mail, where it struggles to differentiate between first and last names (our display names are formatted with the lastname in front – e.g. “Wilson Mark” – and, even though the e-mail address is something like mark.wilson@country.companyname.com, Xobni thinks my name is “Wilson” but has no such problem for contacts with sensible display names – like “Mark Wilson” – or with punctuation in the display name – such as “Wilson, Mark”).

Xobni’s invitation-only period is over (although they are still banding around the beta tag in true web 2.0 style) and the product is available for all to download. I’ve only been using it for a few days but I’m very impressed with the information that it gives me – even so, I’ll leave the product review to those who know it best – check out the video below:

What I can say is that I reckon Xobni is pretty cool. It seems I’m not alone as Bill Gates demoed the product in his keynote at the 2008 Office Developers Conference and Xobni was selected for Microsoft’s Startup Accelerator Program but the founders are reported to have walked away from an outright takeover. If you use Microsoft Outlook for your mail, then Xobni is worth checking out and could save you a lot of time.

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Regaining control of e-mail with Inbox Zero

In my day job (the one that pays the bills… not this website), my boss is a guy called Garry Martin. At the risk of sounding sycophantic, I can learn a lot from Garry – not only because he somehow manages to walk the fine line between technical knowledge and effective management, but because he seems to do it with effortless efficiency. Modestly, he tells me that its all a façade and that I should see his office at home but there is a saying that perception is reality – and my perception is that he is highly productive – so I’m trying to learn some of the life hacking techniques that he uses.

The first on his list of techniques is Getting Things Done (GTD). I haven’t read David Allen’s book on GTD and my attempt to listen to the audio version on a transatlantic flight last November resulted in my falling asleep – so that didn’t get much done. Even so, I do listen to a lot of podcasts featuring Merlin Mann, who is something of a GTD evangelist, and have been meaning for some time now to watch the Google Tech Talk video on the method of e-mail management that Merlin refers to as Inbox Zero. It’s no co-incidence that Garry uses this method, and after he helped me to convert to the system last week, I’m hooked.

You see, I have long since been a slave to my e-mail – and as for RSS feeds, I rarely find the time to look at them (ironic for a prolific blogger). I also find instant messaging and SMS very inefficient methods of communication. So, I decided to start 2008 with a new system for managing mail – less frequent e-mail checks, fewer hierarchical folders, and more efficiency. It didn’t work. I still found that every month I needed a day to sort out e-mail. That is not the idea of productivity that I had in mind. I had the right ideas but was failing to process to zero.

Enter Inbox Zero.

“One of the most important soft skills you can have is figuring out how to deal with a high volume of e-mail.”

[Merlin Mann]

Inbox Zero is based on GTD – also known as advanced common sense. That is to say that the principles are obvious, but that we don’t always do obvious things. In his Google Tech Talk, Mann outlined four principles for e-mail management:

  1. E-mail is just a medium.
  2. There is one place for anything (no need for hierarchy).
  3. Process to zero (every time that you check e-mail – just checking is not enough).
  4. Convert to actions (even if that action is just to delete the message).

“One of the most important soft skills you can have is figuring out how to deal with a high volume of e-mail”

Mann suggest that just 5 verbs are enough to process all e-mail (delete, delegate, respond, defer and do) – I’m using a slightly different set of folders but the principle is the same – sorting messages (both Inbox and Sent Items) into a limited number of categories:

  • Action – I need to do something with this.
  • Archive – one folder, no hierarchy, searchable.
  • Review – have a look at this later.
  • Someday – this might be interesting, but not now.
  • Waiting – waiting for a response from someone else.

So that’s the structure, but how does it actually help to Get Things Done? Firstly, stop leaving e-mail open all day – get into the habit of regular processing – Merlin Mann suggests these tips:

  1. Do e-mail less (go and work!). Do you really need to look at your messages more than hourly? I try to only look at my mail only three to five times a day but that is practically impossible with the mail client open and notifications appearing every few minutes. So close Outlook/ Entourage/Evolution/Thunderbird/Mail, or whatever you use. And only open it for as long as it takes to process the Inbox to zero, a few times a day. It may feel a bit like going cold turkey but believe me, it’s worth it.
  2. Cheat. Filter e-mail and check daily, weekly, or whatever. So, for example, I receive a bunch of corporate communications that rarely require action. I can filter them straight to my review folder and check them daily.
  3. No fiddling. Forget the “where did I put stuff” mentality that comes with hierarchical storage systems. Inbox Zero is about creating and managing actions – anything more than that is just playing with e-mail.

Finally, when you set up your Inbox Zero structure, what about the pile of e-mail that is already waiting to be processed? Mann suggests two possibilities for this:

  1. E-mail bankruptcy – BCC everyone in your address book and tell them you are starting afresh and to resend anything that is important.
  2. That may not go down too well in a work environment so try an e-mail DMZ – copy everything to a folder, set up the Inbox Zero folders and process the DMZ in batches, as and when time permits. It still needs to be processed to zero but starting off with a mountain of e-mail will not help to get you organised.

The Inbox Zero video embedded above (or the audio version) should be mandatory reading for everyone in my organisation. The first 30 minutes are Merlin Mann’s talk and the second half consists of audience questions. Having managed to regain some control over my work communications (and it’s early days but I have a good feeling about this), I’m going to attack my home e-mail – all 3612 Inbox items (2504 unread), 1634 sent items, and hundreds of folders worth of messages.

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Using an iPhone for e-mail with Exchange Server

Whilst I’m not trying to suggest that the Apple iPhone is intended for business users (I’d suggest that it’s more of a consumer device and that businesses are wedded to their Blackberries or, more sensibly in my opinion, Windows Mobile devices) it does seem to me that there’s been a lot of talk about how it can’t work with Microsoft Exchange Server – either blaming Apple for not supporting the defacto standard server for corporate e-mail or Microsoft for not being open enough. Well, I’d like to set the record straight – the iPhone does work with Exchange Server (and doesn’t even need the latest version).

My mail server is running Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 SP2 and has nothing unusual about it’s configuration. I have a relatively small number of users on the server, so have a single server for secure Outlook Web Access (OWA, via HTTPS) and Outlook Mobile Access (OMA, via HTTP) and mailbox access (MAPI-RPC for Outlook, IMAP for Apple Mail, WebDAV via OWA for Entourage). I have also enabled HTTP-RPC access (as described by Daniel Petri and Justin Fielding) so that I can use a full Outlook client from outside the firewall.

It’s the IMAP access that’s the critical component of the connection as, whichever configuration is employed, the iPhone uses IMAP for communication with Exchange Server and so two configuration items must be in place:

  • The server must have the IMAP service started.
  • The user’s mailbox must be enabled for IMAP access.

Many organisations will not allow IMAP access to servers, either due to the load that POP/IMAP access places on the server or for reasons of security (IMAP can be secured using SSL, as I have done – Eriq Neale has written a step by step guide on how to do this for Windows Small Business Server 2003 and the process is identical for Exchange Server 2003).

In addition, firewalls must allow access to the Exchange server on the appropriate TCP ports – IMAP defaults to port 143; however secure IMAP uses TCP port 993. SMTP access will also be required (typically on TCP port 25 or 587). Using telnet to test port access for IMAP and SMTPYou can confirm that the ports are open using telnet <em>servername</em> <em>portnumber</em>.

Note that even if the connection between the iPhone and Exchange Server is secure, there are no real device access controls (or remote wipe capabilities) for an iPhone. Eriq Neale also makes the point that e-mail is generally transmitted across the Internet in the clear and so is not a secure method of communication; however it is worth protecting login credentials (if nothing else) by securing the IMAP connection with SSL.

Interestingly, the iPhone has two mail account setup options that could work with Exchange Server and experiences on the ‘net seem to be varied. IMAP should work for any IMAP server; however there is also an Exchange option, which didn’t seem to work for me until I had HTTP-RPC access properly configured on the server. That fits with the iPhone Topic article on connecting the iPhone to Exchange, which indicates that both OWA (WebDAV) and HTTP-RPC are required (these would not be necessary for pure IMAP access).

The final settings on my iPhone are:

Settings – Mail – Accounts – accountname
Exchange Account Information Name displayname
Address username@domainname.tld
Description e.g. Work e-mail
Incoming Mail Server Host Name servername.domainname.tld
User Name username
Password password
Outgoing Mail Server Host Name servername.domainname.tld
User Name username
Password password
Advanced – Mailbox Behaviors Drafts Mailbox Drafts
Sent Mailbox Sent Items
Deleted Mailbox Deleted Items
Advanced – Deleted Messages Remove Never
Advanced – Incoming Settings Use SSL On
Authentication NTLM
IMAP Path Prefix
Server Port 993
Advanced – Outgoing Settings Use SSL On
Authentication NTLM
Server Port 25

(Advanced settings were auto-configured.)

A few more points worth noting:

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Unconditionally contactable – no thanks.

This last week has been manic – hence the lack of blog posts… taking a day’s annual leave on Monday and then spending half of it catching up on my administration didn’t bode well, then there were two nights when I was up until 1am trying to write an infrastructure design document and the usual mix of travel, conflicting meeting requirements and trying to get some “real work” done.

“But Mark”, I hear you ask,”surely you use some of the technologies that I see you write about to improve productivity?”

The answer is that I do – I’m using Microsoft Office Communication Server 2007, the Office Communicator client 2007 and Live Meeting 2007 a fair bit – as well as our corporate conferencing service. Soon I’ll be linking all of that in to my voice mail to make use of Exchange Server 2007′s unified messaging capabilities. It’s a really good solution (especially when Communicator reads my calendar or Live Meeting status and sets my presence accordingly). But the technology is no panacea: sometimes something doesn’t work – I spent quite a bit of time this week waiting on a Live Meeting call as Microsoft struggled to get the audio working (they later postponed that particular meeting as even they couldn’t fix it); and other times there is no substitute for getting together in a room – like my main meeting on Friday which necessitated 4 hours travel (which could have been better spent doing something else) but resulted in the production of a migration strategy for a key customer’s messaging infrastructure – something which we had failed to do several times over the phone (and which I doubt even advances in video conferencing would have helped with).

As someone who struggles at times with information overload, and who was described by a friend and ex-colleague as “[sometimes] exhibiting workaholic tendencies”, I need to help myself to become more productive. As I already have a pile of books by the bedside, it’s probably time for an audiobook or two on Getting Things Done (or at least to check out 43 Folders from time to time).

As for unified communications (UC), Dave Bailey wrote an interesting comment for IT Week on the difficulties of getting away from it all – it was only a few days previously that, as I was busily IMing one contact, another team member started e-mailing me on the same subject and I had Outlook “toast” popping up as fast as I could type. Then I spent half of Friday afternoon this week reducing the size of my mailbox so that I could get below the system limits and send mail again (there is one simple answer – the delete key… but that’s not exactly productive either). As my colleague pointed out, it seems that UC really stands for “unconditionally contactable”. No thanks.

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Trying to work out why BlackBerries are so popular (I still don’t get it)

Whilst the United States is going iPhone crazy, over on this side of the pond we can’t get one yet… so life goes on.

BlackBerry 7100vA couple of weeks back, I was given a BlackBerry to use at work (until I can get my hands on a Windows-powered phone – one of my colleagues had a greater need than I for the Palm Treo 750v we snagged but there are some new models coming soon on Vodafone
that I can’t talk about but which look pretty cool).

So, if I want a Windows Mobile device (for work) why am I even looking at the BlackBerry? Firstly, I was given it to try (my Nokia 6021 is a bit beaten up these days) and secondly, I’m intrigued as to why these things are held in almost universal acclaim by senior executives, causing chaos in IT departments up and down the country who don’t want to support a (proprietary) messaging platform in addition to their corporate e-mail on Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino (and even leading to the nicknaming of London’s Jubilee line between the West End and Canary Wharf as the Blackberry line).

I’ve re-written this post a few times over the last couple of weeks because as I’ve used it, I’ve warmed to the BlackBerry:

  • At first I hated the interface (what is it about mobile phones that, almost without exception, they have such appalling user interfaces?) but that was improved by a software upgrade.
  • I didn’t like that I had to buy a USB 2.0 A to mini 5pin cable to charge the device – and battery life is poor – I get about day’s worth of (light) use for voice only (I know that smartphones are battery-hungry but I don’t have a data plan to use it properly… all I do was make and receive calls). As it happens, the fact that I can use a standard cable to charge the device via USB is pretty useful.
  • I’ve discovered features like the auto on/off capabilities which could have a real use for me (I have a personal phone which friends and family can use to contact me 24×7 – and even though one of my friends recent described me as having workaholic tendencies the work phone is not normally answered in the evening or at weekends).
  • Once you get used the the scroll-click wheel and the button next to it, the user interface becomes a lot easier to navigate – and the 240×260 screen is excellent for viewing photos, although there is no card slot for additional memory (and getting pictures onto the device without a data plan is cumbersome). It looks quite good and feels comfortable in my hand (size and weight). Unfortunately though, I found the keyboard difficult to use – a pretty major failing on a device like this (I think the problem is that it has a qwerty layout but it feels like a mobile phone, so my fingers and thumbs want it to be arranged alphabetically).

I’m not trying to write a product review (for that, refer to Lord Percy or The Register and anyway this particular device is a bit old now so I’m not sure how useful any review that I wrote would be)… this is more of a “this is what I found when I tried to use it” post – I’m hoping that my experience may be useful for others too:

  • After inserting my SIM card, all of my calls went to voicemail – it seems that before you can use the device as a phone you have to turn the wireless on. Not realising that this model doesn’t have WiFi capabilities I thought that “wireless” was referring to IEEE802.11b/g but no – the wireless in question is the GSM radio that is required in order to connect to a mobile carrier.
  • Not having any manuals, etc., I had to find out what the device was first so that I could Google for some help. IMEI number analysis didn’t help (probably because this was originally an evaluation unit), but I eventually discovered that there is an option/setting labelled about, which tells me I have a Blackberry 7100 Wireless Handheld and a bit more searching confirms that its the Blackberry 7100v.
  • I noticed that I still had the previous user’s contacts loaded, so I wanted to wipe the phone – there doesn’t appear to be a delete all option for contacts, so the resolution I used (found on BlackBerry Forums) was:
    • Install Blackberry Desktop Manager (4.2), followed by the BlackBerry Handheld Software v4.1.0.314 for Vodafone (UK) – both of these were downloaded from RIM after searching Google. Following the software update, the device had a totally different (much improved) look and feel. The installation also worked on Windows Vista, despite not being listed as compatible (I ran the installer as an Administrator)
    • Open the BlackBerry Desktop Manager application and create a connection to the device (Connection Settings… from the Options menu).
    • To delete the old data from within Desktop Manager, select Backup and Restore and click the Advanced… button. Select the appropriate device databases (multiples can be selected by Control or Shift clicking) then click Clear.
  • I don’t have a connection to a BlackBerry e-mail service – effectively I’m using the device as a PDA and a phone, but it ought to be possible to set up the BlackBerry as a GPRS modem (not by Bluetooth, but using a USB connection). Unfortunately that’s not working (it should – using the same SIM in my Nokia 6021 allows me to browse the web using GPRS) but I’m unlikely to get anywhere with Vodafone unless I sign up for a BlackBerry service. My BlackBerry alternates between GSM and gprs (depending on signal strength/cell coverage) but never shows GPRS because:
    • GSM – GRPS is not enabled (contact your mobile carrier to sign up to a GPRS plan.
    • gprs (in lower case) – GRPS is enabled, but not been set up for use with a BlackBerry device.
    • GPRS (in upper case) – both GRPS and BlackBerry are enabled, (the service should be enabled for BlackBerry Enterprise Server if Exchange Server connectivity is required, rather than BlackBerry Internet Server).

Even though I’ve warmed to the BlackBerry (and newer models like the curve and the pearl are attractive), I’m still not a convert. Exchange Server 2003 SP2 offers push e-mail too (as does Exchange Server 2007), without requiring another layer of complexity in the organisational IT infrastructure. The dependency on a data plan for even basic things like transferring pictures to/from the device is also a hassle. The jury’s still out on my choice of handset for a personal phone (an iPhone would be nice… but do I really need something that expensive… or on a carrier other than Vodafone? It would be nice to have a decent camera in the device I choose… like the one in the Nokia N95… but last time I had a Symbian smartphone I didn’t get on with the interface. Then again, there are devices like the HTC touch… arghhh, brain overload… too much choice) – in any case, if I have any influence over the selection of my next handset for business it will be running Windows Mobile 6.

Uncategorized

Entourage is eating my e-mail

Well, “eating my e-mail” is a bit of an overstatement, but I had a problem earlier whereby all of my e-mail was being removed from the Exchange Server and copied to Entourage’s local folders (thereby making it inaccessible from other mail clients – e.g. Outlook Web Access). I found a fix to the problem – deleting my mailing list rules from the Mailing List Manager. Not ideal, but something to watch out for.

Incidentally, whilst I was trying to find an answer to my issue (I didn’t find anything online, only an old newsgroup post from someone with a similar, unresolved, problem – in the end it was just process of elimination) I stumbled across a very useful MacTech article about Entourage and Mail with an Exchange Server.

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