Tag Archives: Email

The Next Gmail Change: Pictures Shown Automatically Via Email

gmailFor anyone with a Gmail account, you know just how annoying it can be when, every time you log in, you’re asked which senders can and can’t show their pictures (whether attached or embedded). A feature since the mogul’s begging, this practice is still in effect years after ongoing overhauls. They’ve changed their look, opted for a new way to write emails (in the bottom of the page, so that one can still view previous messages), and created a labeling system to better point out spam and phishing schemes.

Not to mention the change from Google Talk to Hangouts, and Docs to Drive. And just as we get used to a new set of features, it’s as though they’re throwing over the next round of email accessories.

Next on their list? Automatically displaying pictures in every email – even without the user’s permission. With all the new security features put into place, Google is able to identify spam (for the most part) before it even hits the inbox. So to bank on these growing features, they thought they’d save us a few steps. No more picture approval, just email opening and a visual aspect that’s waiting to be seen.

Why the Change is Long Overdue

When was the last time you were given the option to display pictures from an email you didn’t want? (Or at least didn’t know the sender?) Half the time, it’s the display that lets us know whether or not the email is worthy in the first place. Yet, time and time again, we’re forced to click our link of approval, just to see whether or not the mail is legit.

Besides, even if there was spam sending us photos – how would it harm our computer? If anything, it’s acting as a “spam flag” alerting us all the quicker that questionable content is in the mix. With the added step taken out, we can more quickly identify crap emails and get them reported to the proper authorities.

Why there’s no telling why Google – the Internet king – waited so long to make this ancient change, it’s high time we take advantage of its new feature. Whether looking for spam, cleaning out an inbox, or searching for legitimate content, the upgrade offers a new realm of freedom.

Look to your inbox for this and more upcoming changes in your Gmail account.

A look at Gmail’s new inbox with automatic email sorting

Gmail LogoI recently enabled the New Gmail inbox, and I have to say that this new update has me scratching my head.

(To experience the new Gmail Inbox, you have to simply click on the gear icon in your top right window just above the chat and choose “Configure Inbox.” From here, you can choose from the variety of tabs that Google has given to you.)

I understand that Google is known for frequently updating its products, regardless of whether or not an update is really necessary. It has become something of a corporate culture, and perhaps serves to show people that they really are putting the work in to improve their products.

However, was this recent update just a minor adjustment or a useful update to how you use Gmail?

Introducing the new Gmail Inbox with categories

2013-06-06_11h15_26

The way that the new Inbox is laid out is that instead of one Inbox that has the priority tags, there are multiple tabs on the top of your window. They are similar to tabs in a browser, and by clicking each one you access a different view of your inbox. The default ones that are selected are Primary, Social, and Promotions. If you would like, you also have the options to add Updates and Forums to your tabs as well.

Here are how Google defines each option:

  • Primary – Person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs.
  • Social – Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, and other social websites.
  • Promotions – Deals, offers, and other marketing emails.
  • Updates – Personal, auto-generated emails including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements.
  • Forums – Messages from online groups, discussion boards, and mailing lists.

After you have chosen your tabs, you will notice that your email becomes all jumbled. Gmail automatically goes through all of your emails and places things where they “belong.” For example, anything that is an email generated from a forum comment will go into Forums, any recent email about a great deal will go in Promotions, etc. The idea here is that when you want to look for social emails, you go to social. When you want your updates such as bills and receipts then you go to Updates. I like the idea, and automatic sorting really makes using it literally effortless.

So what’s wrong with the new layout?

For me, I was immediately confused and a bit shocked to see that the “primary” option is exactly as it states. It is for emails that haven’t shown up in other tabs. What this meant took me a moment to process because I was so surprised and assumed it couldn’t be true. What this means is that there is no longer a unified inbox where you can go and just see ALL your email in one date sorted list. So if you don’t see it in primary, go to social. If it isn’t in there, try promotions, etc. This was immediately a deal breaker for me because this completely makes you rely on the automation process which would have to be flawless.

Is Google good enough to sort it out?

The answer to this is yes and no. Fortunately, Google is great at recognizing content in your emails (yes, that is creepy), but the built-in safety is that it will actually learn from you as you move your emails around. So for example, if you get an update in your Updates tab that you would prefer to be in your Social tab, you can simply drag them email onto the Social tab and Gmail will ask you if you would always like to do that for this sender. If you choose yes, then that senders email will go into the tab you chose.

The biggest problem I see with this is that it is essentially creating “rules” much like you would in Outlook or Apple mail. Yes they can be powerful, but not when they are the only choice across your whole email system. The fact is that a machine, although they have made incredible leaps and bounds, is not yet ready to determine exactly where I want my emails. Granted, the existence of one unified inbox that just shows you everything would be a great safety net that would make this whole experience much easier in my opinion.

Limited categorization options

I think the confusion and the difficulty now is that you can’t create your own tabs, and stuffing your email into these pre-created tabs is… well, hard. I immediately ran into questions that I just didn’t want to answer! Isn’t this forum response from a local club a social event? Is this marketing email also the address that sends me blog updates that I actually like to read? Is my second or third communication with a doctor, job, etc. considered an update or just in primary? They are technically updates to a situation right? All in all, it was just too confusing with too many questions that to be honest, I didn’t care to answer.

I don’t get seven thousand emails a day, a nice list of my emails with the occasional folder sorting would be fine for me. I know that for many people, that may not be the case.

New mobile apps

iOS appAnother huge problem I have with this system is the mobile Gmail app. Although I don’t have access to the Android version, the iOS version basically works so that you see each tab and have to tap into the side menu to switch between your tabs. That is two taps to switch between tabs, and I can see it being a huge pain to look through when you aren’t sure exactly where an email went. If the default was to see all your messages, then look at them in the tabs when you wanted, I would be ok with that. You would have a safe ground in some way.

Will it get better?

I have complete faith that Google will improve this system, and even just the added ability to create your own tabs will do wonders. Whether they put in one inbox that shows you everything, I’m not sure, but without it I won’t be using the new inbox. Google also has a reputation for quickly axing a change they made, and it just all of a sudden disappearing from your options. Perhaps this new tab system will go that way!

I think what it comes down to is: how complicated does your inbox need to be? For some people, simpler and straight forward is the way to go, and I think this new update pushes into complicated territory. For power users that love to organize, it may be a nice change, but for others it is a head scratching nuisance.

ISPs vs. the cloud: Which email provider should you use?

email_featThese days, the average internet user has two options for email service: an address through his or her internet service provider (ISP) or use one of the numerous email services available on the internet (Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, etc.). Which one should you chose? Well, there a benefits and negatives to both, and that is what this article is about.

Let’s start with reliability and service. I have used both types of email accounts, and reliability is a toss up. Companies are inevitably going to have technical issues and email will go down at some point.

What is more important is the service you get to restore your email. With an ISP account you should have access to tech support and through this support you should be able to determine if the problem is on your end or the provider’s end. If it is on your end the support tech should help resolve your issue – that is what you a paying for, after all.

However, if you are using email through a free service like Gmail, you are pretty much on your own for figuring out your problem. This is when you search the forums or call a knowledgeable friend or relative. Most of these free services do not have support. Apple’s iCloud does have support, however it is not immediate. There are email services you can pay for, if you wish, and that should give you similar, if not better, support than your ISP. If you are paying for your email provider and not getting support it might be time to move on.

The biggest reason, in my opinion, to go with an internet email service over your ISP is stability. People change internet providers all of the time. If you are using an email address from your provider, that address goes away when you cancel service. This means emailing all of your family and friends with your new address, changing login and contact information on sites that use that account, and losing any emails in that account that your do not have saved on your computer. If you use a service like Gmail or Yahoo and you change your ISP your email address does not change. It stays right where it is with your emails in tack.

Of course, if you are technically able to, you can set up your own personal email server. Then you are responsible for the reliability and you are your own tech support.

So what should you choose? That is really up to you, and the information in this guide should help you make a better decision. Just be aware that there are options out there and you can always change.

5 ways to fight spam in your iCloud email account

Apple iCloudI have been an iCloud email user for a while, even before “iCloud” existed (iCloud is Apple’s online email service and other online tools). I was originally a MobileMe and .mac user. Until recently, my iCloud email addresses were relatively free from spam. However, for the past few weeks I have been getting five to ten spam emails a day and I didn’t even sign up for anything.

A search of internet discussion boards shows that I am not the only one with a recent onslaught of junk in my iCloud account. So is there anything that can be done about it? Well, there are a few steps you can take to help reduce the junk in your iCloud inbox.

Don’t click ‘Unsubscribe’ links

First, and most importantly, do not click any unsubscribe links in any of these spam emails. This will, most likely, just open the door to more junk. These links basically tell the senders that your email address is real and is read by a human.

Help report spam to Apple

The second thing you can do is help Apple improve its server-side filters by emailing the emails to them. You do this by forwarding the email from your desktop app as an attachment to spam@me.com. This is Apple’s spam address. To do this from Mail on your Mac select the email and choose “Forward as attachment” from the Messages menu. Address the email and send it off.

Add spam filter rules to iCloud

A third part of the plan includes setting rules through the iCloud webmail settings. If you log into your email through iCloud.com, locate the gear icon in the top right of the screen. Clicking that will present you with a menu of options. “Rules” will be one of these options. Choose that and you will see a window where you can set up rules.

If your junk emails have similar words in the subject, you can set up a rule to send emails with that subject to the “Junk” folder or the “Trash” folder. If the emails seem to be coming from the same email address, as many of mine have been, you can set the parameter based on that email address. It is very easy to do and setting the rules online instead of your mail program will prevent many of these emails from even making it into your inbox of the program you use.

rules

Flag spam as ‘Junk’

For those spam emails that still manage to sneak through your filters, you can mark them as “Junk” in the Apple Mail program or the webmail interface . iCloud is supposed to learn what is junk and what is not based on how you mark emails. I don’t know how well it works, but it is better than doing nothing.

Buy spam filtering software

Finally, there is the pay option. There are several spam filter apps for the Mac and several online spam filtering services. SpamSieve is an app I have used in the past.

Conclusion

There have been small flurries of spam through Apple’s email services in the past and it eventually works itself out. Hopefully it will do so again. If not, you now have some weapons to help fight spam in your iCloud account.

Have any tips for fighting iCloud spam? Share them in the comments below!

Image courtesy: Bas Boerman

Gmvault: A quick way to fully backup and restore your Gmail account

I have always been reliant on my Gmail account for all of my personal electronic correspondence — it’s the primary link between me and my networked and integrated world. Over the years, it has accumulated a considerable amount of important (and equally unimportant) emails.

If I rely so heavily on my Gmail account, why has it taken me this long to realize that I have never backed it up? I mean, every other important digital file I own (pictures, music, etc.) is backed up in at least three places. Why shouldn’t my email inbox be as well? After coming to my wits, I decided to try a Gmail backup/restore program and remove any doubt, and of all the backup options available, I decided upon Gmvault.

Setting up Gmvault

The setup is fairly simple and takes no extra hassle to install.  After installation, proceed to the main menu to begin using Gmvault.

But wait, this is the main menu?  Why yes, this is not a joke — the main menu for Gmvault is indeed a command window. Before one gets nervous due to the “lack of a proper user interface,” let me demonstrate Gmvault’s simplicity. Start off by typing gmvault –h into the command window.

From here, one can see that this program has really only two functions: Sync and Restore.  Let’s start with Sync (a.k.a. backup).

Sync

From the Gmvault command prompt, type in gmvault sync –h to pull up the options and examples for the Sync function.

Again, this may look like a lot to understand, but the main portion you want to look at is the Examples. From this list, one can find their perfect backup situation. Considering that I had never backed up my Gmail emails before, Option A became the most logical choice. After typing in gmvault sync [my email address], the program asks for permission via your Gmail account to begin syncing and backing up your inbox. This is done through a browser pop-up that appears.

After allowing access to your account, hit Enter and watch Gmvault go to work.

Every once in a while, Gmvault will update you with its progress and how much time is left (so you don’t have to watch it constantly). Once completed, a success prompt will appear.

If you want to verify the backup process, the emails can be found in C:\Users\…\gmvault-db.

Restore

I won’t go into too much detail about the Restore function, but essentially it works in the reverse order that Sync did. Type gmvault restore -h to see the help options.

From the exact same folder used for backup, Gmvault begins the process of restoring your emails back to the account specified. Simple, quick, and effective.

Conclusion

Gmvault may not have a fancy user interface or a cool progress bar, but it makes up for that by successfully backing up and restoring your Gmail account with simple commands and quiet precision.

Gmvault is a free download for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

BrandMyMail mashes your email and social networks together

There are two types of email you can send: Text or HTML. Text is just the words. No colors. No photos. No layouts. HTML is basically a web page sent through email servers.

For most of us, it really doesn’t matter when we send email. We just type, and the resulting HTML-formatted email is a mash-up of our words and whatever template comes with the email client.

Now BrandMyMail will mash-up your Gmail account with your social media accounts. It also lets you create a nice template using drag-and-drop elements. The available design elements are basic, but the trade-off is ease of use. The selection of social networks you can inject into your emails is impressive – Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Picasa, Flickr, YouTube, Quora, Blogger, WordPress, RSS, etc.

Every email you send can have a banner, stylish signature with social media links and the latest tweets you sent. It can also include Facebook updates, photos or anything you shared on your favorite social networks.

It is important to evaluate the content you’re including in your emails though, because you want to make sure your social network activity is appropriate for anyone who receives your email. This can be a valuable tool for anyone who is disciplined in maintaining a professional, online reputation, especially if you curate a lot of content.

I also think the design makes for a great email newsletter – especially if you link brand accounts to the email. The samples look better than what I could design in MailChimp. I would love to run my BrandMyMail-designed email through MailChimp or Constant Contact.

The implementation is a little more complicated than the design, but most of us can make it happen without an IT consultant. It also works from iOS devices and Android phones.

If you’re a solopreneur who wants professional looking emails that expose people to your carefully curated social media feeds, try BrandMyMail.

U.S. Postal Service on the Brink of Bankruptcy Thanks to Email

It’s one of those situations where it only takes a matter of time, and that time is right around the corner for the United States Postal Service (USPS), which according to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, is on the verge of bankruptcy and will most likely default if Congress doesn’t step in and help out. It’s all mostly thanks to our migration to email and the Internet for sending things to our loved ones and peers. Anything to save 44 cents, right?

According to the New York Times, the USPS doesn’t have the funds to make a $5.5 billion payment that’s due at the end of this month. If they don’t get the funds, it’s very possible that the USPS could shut down in the coming winter months, a time when mailing gifts and holiday cards is always at an all-time high.

Thomas R. Carper, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the USPS, says that “the situation is dire. If we do nothing, if we don’t react in a smart, appropriate way, the postal service could literally close later this year. That’s not the kind of development we need to inject into a weak, uneven economic recovery.”

Around 167 billion pieces of snail mail will flow through the USPS this year, which sounds like an insanely large and healthy number, but that’s down 22 percent from five years ago. During that time, they have recorded around $20 billion in losses, mostly because they’re legally required to provide universal delivery to around 150 million homes and addresses.

Donahoe says that he wants to cut costs by closing around 300 sorting facilities, bringing the total down to 200, and reduce the workforce by 120,000 employees within four years. Donahoe is also pushing to eliminate Saturday mail delivery and closing up to 3,700 post offices.

Even though we send email and make online payments to various things, we still desperately need the USPS. We sadly can’t send goods and products over the Internet, and while there will still be UPS, FedEx and DHL, those services can’t match the USPS’s cheaper package rates.

How to maintain Inbox Zero and still read every email

Image credit Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli http://www.flickr.com/photos/exper/3116342820/My inbox is a sanctuary, a veritable digital zen garden. I have 0 unread messages, I’ve never declared email bankruptcy, and I do a fairly good job of replying to any email that needs my input. A series of small yellow stars decorate my inbox, denoting any messages that still require my action.

I’ve never really talked about my email practices with others before, so I was surprised when I found that others don’t always keep their inboxes as meticulously groomed as I do. Met with incredulity, I decided to take a look at the organizational mantras I had developed over many years of digital correspondence and see what methodologies allow me to maintain such an austere working environment.

I don’t receive a phenomenal amount of email – I’m sure that many of you deal with double or triple the messages I see – but between three email accounts (all managed through a single Gmail account, one of my favorite things about Google’s email service), I acquire anywhere between 30-100 legitimate, these-need-to-be-read messages per day. I greatly benefit from Gmail’s excellent spam detection, so nearly every message that reaches my inbox is something I was truly intended to receive.

The following guidelines have worked well for me, and have become increasingly important as my digital life continues to grow. A cluttered inbox is the sign of a cluttered mind, and I’m confident that by applying some basic organizational principles to your email can have a positive impact on your overall productivity.

Deal with important or unpleasant messages immediately

It has to start somewhere, It has to start sometime
What better place than here, what better time than now?

Rage Against the Machine, “Guerilla Radio”

Image credit Matthew C. Wright http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattwright/5814441346/My first recommendation is one of the basic foundations of dealing with any type of procrastination: take care of the nastiest jobs first, and get them done right away. Be a Now person. When you get an email that requires a response, even if it’s something you truly don’t want to deal with, attack it directly. You’ll have to do it eventually, and it will only get more unpleasant as it slowly descends through the abyss.

If you can’t deal with an important message right away, give it a star and come back to it as soon as you have some free time (more on this in Star emails, but make a clear distinction between “To Dos” and “Reference” emails below). If you ever find yourself descending into the “procrastination death spiral”, a term I lovingly coined for when you’ve put something off for so long you now feel too guilty to do it anymore, grit your teeth, apologize for the delay, and reply just as you would’ve in the first place.

This principle has an important caveat: you don’t want to be constantly dealing with emails all day and night. Real, genuine recreational time is incredibly important to your physical and mental well-being, so establish some ground rules for dealing with email. At work, maybe you can set aside 5 minutes out of every 30 where you focus exclusively on your inbox. At home, you could have two well-defined email sessions in an evening, and anything past 10pm can wait until morning.

Being a Now person will make you feel better, your “to do” list will shrink, and people will love that you’re the guy who responded to them promptly and will likely return the favor. Cue beams of golden sunlight, angels with heraldic trumpets, and rainbows shooting out of your well-maintained inbox.

Use Priority Inbox, but not because of the Priority feature

Action expresses priorities.

-Monahdas Gandhi

Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature is one of the single best tools in your organizational arsenal. This supercharged version of your standard inbox can automatically identify which emails require more attention than others, and through your careful instruction, it can learn to make better decisions over time. To enable Priority Inbox, go to your mail settings, click the Priority Inbox tab, then select Show Priority Inbox at the bottom.

While the automatic prioritization of emails might be useful for many of you, a secondary feature of Priority Inbox is what cements its usefulness for me: the ability to view starred messages in your main inbox, just below your priority messages. Starred messages are the focal points of my “getting things done” mentality, so looking at their yellow, five-pointed selves every time I open my inbox is the single best way to guarantee they’ll get dealt with.

Using Priority Inbox to view starred messages directly in your inbox.
Enable Priority Inbox? Check!

But, carelessly starring every email that requires your attention can also be a bad thing, so…

Star messages, but make a clear distinction between “To Dos” and “Reference” emails

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.

– Paul J. Meyer

Image credit Laura Fernanda Melo http://www.flickr.com/photos/44459555@N00/4144047837/Although I don’t recommend using your email inbox as your primary “to do” list (there are several other services that offer superior task management features and can integrate directly into your email), starring important messages is an excellent way to keep track of messages that require action on your part.

As mentioned in the Deal with important or unpleasant messages immediately principle, there will be times when you simply can’t reply to a message right away, or perhaps you need to take care of a few things before finishing the task. Messages like this should receive a star, and by using Priority Inbox you’ll see that message front-and-center each time you log into Gmail.

When using stars, it is very important to differentiate between “To Do” emails and “Reference” emails; failing to do so can cause you to be overwhelmed with starred messages that never seem to be resolved. Only star messages that have a clear task, objective, or require an action on your part. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if the task will be resolved by an action, it’s ok to star. If the task will be resolved on its own after a period of time, it should not be starred.

Rather than putting stars on reference emails, create a label in Gmail for them instead (these are essentially folders for those of you that are familiar with desktop email clients). Because Gmail now allows you to nest labels (create subfolders), you can easily divide up reference emails into multiple categories. I have three: Personal (schedules, important contact information, lists), Professional (work-related reference email), and Techerator (schedules, project plans, staffing information).

Nested Labels in Gmail for reference emails
Nested labels in Gmail for reference emails

If you’re really interested in taking your inbox organization to the next level, you can use Gmail’s superstars to visually distinguish between different types of important emails. This can help you prioritize tasks (for example: red stars for urgent priority, blue stars for low priority), but be careful not to go overboard with them. Adding a different star for every message could easy have an adverse affect on your organizational system, so use them with moderation.

Gmail superstars
Gmail superstars

Here’s a little practice for determining whether an email should be starred or labeled:

  • An RSVP for a friend’s upcoming wedding that you haven’t replied to – Star, it requires action
  • Directions for driving to the wedding – Label, this is reference material
  • A long but important email you didn’t have time to finish reading – Star, until you finish reading it
  • A long but important email that you’ve already read, but contains useful information – Label, you can come back to it later but there’s nothing to check off here
  • An invitation to a birthday party in three weeks – Calendar, this is neither reference nor something you can check off through immediate action
  • A list of presents you need to buy for the birthday party – Star, and maybe once finished you could add it to a reference label for future birthdays

Filter nothing, sort everything

For sure, the American people have access to more information now than any other people who have ever lived on earth. And I think we do a pretty good job of sorting out what’s important.

– Bob Schieffer

Melissa and Bryan Ripka http://www.flickr.com/photos/melissadion/3395829919/
I grew up admiring this type of organization used on the farm.

A lot of people maintain the illusion of a clean inbox by heavily filtering their messages. Filters allow you to pre-process messages before you even receive a new mail notification, but you should never create a filter that hides messages from your view.

For example, some people will create a “catch-all” rule that filters messages of a certain type and automatically marks them as read. This isn’t safe (and you’ll forget about it over time), which can easily result in a lot of legitimate messages going to the briny depths of your inbox without your knowledge.

Rather than hide messages, use Gmail’s great filtering system to automatically add labels to your email so you can quickly sort through them yourself. I’ve created sorting filters like “Social Networks” that automatically label messages from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. While I still see these messages in my inbox, now that they’re labeled I can quickly mark them all as read after I’ve had a chance to confirm their importance (using Priority Inbox’s priority feature is especially useful in this scenario).

Conclusion

Staying on top of a busy inbox is not easy, especially since our inboxes now house personal correspondence, bills, social network notifications, information requests, To Dos – the list can go on for days.

If you’re currently overwhelmed by email and the elusive “inbox zero” seems to constantly evade your grasp, try following some of the principles I’ve presented in this article and see if it works for you. Be a Now person. And if you don’t receive a lot of email and therefore don’t have a messy inbox – start using these tips now! They’ll be invaluable as your email intake inevitably grows.

Image credit: Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli, Matthew C. Wright, Laura Fernanda Melo, Melissa and Bryan Ripka

The Day I Left Firefox Behind

A Terrible Browser

In the early times of the Information Age, web junkies like myself did not have many browsing options. Internet Explorer had been absolutely terrible for essentially its entire existence, but early versions of Netscape Navigator and Netscape Communicator left much to be desired. Then Netscape 6 was released, which was based on the young, yet promising, Mozilla Application Suite. Unfortunately, I never paid much attention to it; like many consumers, Microsoft was all I knew.

Towards the end of 2004, the browser I had been waiting for was finally released: Mozilla Firefox. It did a decent job of rendering a wide variety of web sites, and regular compatibility and feature updates were a godsend. But Firefox’s real draw was its customizability. It was now possible to install browser add-ons that were not named “Flash Player,” and the possibilities were almost endless.

Mozilla Firefox
Mozilla Firefox

As a web developer, coupling Firefox with the Firebug extension became an absolute necessity of life. I could easily inspect any element in a web page, monitor all requests made by a single page request, investigate response headers, and even edit CSS on the fly to immediately see the effects of a change.

Throughout the years, I have experimented with Safari, Opera, Chrome, and Internet Explorer 7 and 8, but nothing really grabbed me. Internet Explorer was (and is) still absolutely terrible, Safari didn’t fit my Apple-free lifestyle, and Opera and Chrome didn’t do anything I couldn’t live without. I was convinced Firefox was not only my favorite browser, it was THE browser.

Mozilla Thunderbird
Mozilla Thunderbird

Over time, my Firefox fandom led me to using Thunderbird as my desktop email client. This was another area in which there were not many good options in the dark days of computing. Outlook Express was, in my opinion, not a pleasure to work with, and Outlook was not a viable option for anything other than businesses running a Microsoft Exchange server. Thunderbird provided an easy-to-use interface for POP3 and IMAP email accounts, and the customizable UI took the cake. I was hooked.

Thanks to Mozilla, over 6 years of my cyber life were absolute nirvana, and I never imagined I would leave it all behind.

C-Day

The day that set the fateful chain of events in motion was the day that I downloaded the Firefox 4 Beta. I absolutely loved the new minimalistic interface design, leaving many more precious pixels to display the current web page. I also loved the Sync feature which allows me to use the same bookmarks, usernames, and passwords from any computer at any time.  I don’t even need to mention the benefit provided by the smaller memory footprint and faster page rendering.

Google Chrome
Google Chrome

Then an old friend from back in college made a comment on Twitter. In my own words, he said that “Chrome is better at being Chrome than Firefox is at being Chrome.” That’s when it hit me: I should be using Chrome instead of Firefox. It has all of the features that I love about Firefox, as well as many features that the new Firefox was trying to emulate. After spending some quality time with Chrome, it was clear that it is still faster than Firefox at rendering most web pages, and has an even smaller memory footprint.

Windows Live Mail
Windows Live Mail

My newfound love for another browser got me thinking about the state of my email client. Thunderbird has fallen behind, and I was not so sure I wanted to stick with it. Since the free Windows Live Essentials 2011 was recently released, I decided to give Windows Live Mail a spin.  Turns out: I love it.

Windows Live Mail is essentially a version of Microsoft Office, except focused at the home user. It even includes the nifty ribbon interface that caused everybody to hate Microsoft even more than usual when they released Office 2007. With much of the fat trimmed out of the full-fledged Outlook client, Windows Live Mail fits my needs as a home email client. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking to switch, as long as they don’t use Linux as a primary operating system.

Competition has done a lot to make the internet a better place. I hope the competition continues, and may my mind be open to another browser switch when the time is right.

Fix: Advanced Search Fields in Microsoft Outlook are Disabled or “Grayed Out”

Group policy is a feature in the Microsoft Windows operating system that allows administrators to set rules and privileges for users on a network. One of its abilities is to disable indexing of files on your hard drive, which can be done for security or performance purposes.

A common problem that can occur when indexing gets disabled is that you can no longer perform advanced email searches in Microsoft Outlook. The result is that when you click the down arrows next to the Search All Mail Items field, the fields for From, Body, Subject, and To will be disabled and inaccessible (they will also appear gray).

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Enabling Outlook Indexing

To fix this problem, you don’t need to enable indexing for the entire hard drive, just for Microsoft Outlook emails.

Step 1: Open the Registry Editor application. This can be done in two ways:

Option 1: Open the Start menu, select Run, and enter regedit then press enter, or

imageOption 2: Open the Start menu and type regedit in the Search programs and files field (available in Windows Vista/7 only).

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Step 2: In the Registry Editor, click the Edit menu and select Find. Type PreventIndexingOutlook in the search field and click Find Next.

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Locate the PreventIndexingOutlook key in the list on the right.

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Step 3: Right click PreventIndexingOutlook and select Modify. Change its Value data to 0 and click OK.

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Step 4: Search again by clicking the Edit menu and select Find. Type SetupCompletedSuccessfully in the search field and click Find Next. Locate this key.

(You can optionally navigate to HKEY Local Machine/Software/Microsoft/Windows Search and locate the key).

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Step 5: Right click the SetupCompletedSuccessfully key and select Modify. Change its Value Data to 0 and click OK.

Step 6: Restart your computer and you will now be able to perform advanced searches in Microsoft Outlook.

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