My Outlook for Outlook

My friend Jeanne called in a panic the other day. Apparently, she had lost all her email stored in Microsoft Outlook. She had spent the last week on the phone with Microsoft and doing Google searches to find some glimmer of hope that she could recover her last five years of email. She was clearly distraught, and I did my best to help her and calm her down. But inside I was livid. It was deja vu because the exact same thing had happened to me 3 years ago.

The root of the problem is an old bug in Microsoft Outlook 2000 and earlier. These versions do not allow your email file (called a PST file) to become larger than 2 GB’s. When Outlook gets close to the limit, without notice, Outlook just stops working, and as described above, the user runs the risk of losing all of their emails. A hotfix in Outlook 2002 adds a helpful warning before it dies, but it wasn’t until Outlook 2003 that Microsoft really fixed the problem.

Jeanne is a heavy email user. She sends hundreds of emails every day, and she saves every email. I would call her a high end email junkie, and so am I. Her life can be found in her email, from her business highs and lows, to the birth of her grandson. Imagine how devastated she must feel, and why? Because Microsoft did nothing to fix a 5-year-old bug.

This is the heart of most people’s criticism of Microsoft. Microsoft has known about this problem for years. That’s right – years! On top of this, when someone experiences the problem, it is devastating. Thirdly, the problem should be easily fixable. How hard would it be to add a dialog box “Your Outlook files are close to exceeding the maximum, please upgrade to Outlook 2003 to avoid losing your data.”? But of course, Microsoft does nothing. Why? We can only guess, but I would speculate it is because they have no financial incentive to improve their products. Once you become a monopoly, you can throw customer satisfaction out the window.

One can argue that your email program is your most important PC application. If you are like me or Jeanne, we store our entire lives in our email program. At the very least, we must trust our email program to reliably send, receive and archive our emails. It is for these reasons about two years ago, I decided that I had to stop using Outlook. In fact, I made a five year plan to become Microsoft-free. First, I would wean myself off of Outlook, and then Office, and lastly, Windows.

As Microsoft already knows, it is not easy moving from one email application to another. It is damn hard. I have years and years of emails stored in subfolders, some with attachments, and many with embedded photos and pictures. I tried several programs including Eudora, Thunderbird, and Poco Mail. Of the three, the only one that was capable of migrating all of my mail was Poco Mail. The other two migrated the mail but in some incomplete form. As I recall, Thunderbird was unable to migrate my attachments, and Eudora could not migrate my subfolders. So based on this one criterion, I chose Poco Mail.

I would describe Poco Mail as an OK product. It worked as described but there were a few annoying problems. It had problems properly formatting text. In particular, when someone sent me a mail with an Outlook template, it had difficulty recognizing it. Some of my messages came through as garbled. But overall I was ecstatic. It almost felt as good as the first day I quit smoking. I was on my first step on becoming Microsoft free.

Thunderbird is faster, easier-to-use, and nicer-looking than Outlook, plus it’s free.

About a year later, the problems with Poco became more aggravating, and it was not working well with my internet connection in Brazil. Sometimes, it would take up to 2-3 minutes to send an email. It was time to change again. I tested the usual suspects, and unfortunately, they all seemed to have the same problems migrating my even larger mail file. More by chance than anything else, I ran into a small company called Aid4Mail, and they were just what the doctor ordered! I downloaded the trial version which limits the migration to 50 mails but I was able to confirm that it could successfully migrate all of my mail. I gladly paid the $24.95 at their web site using my Visa card. Within two minutes, my telephone rings, and it is an automated voice confirming my purchase. I press 1 to confirm, and within a minute I have an email with my license key. This is one slick company!I chose Thunderbird for my new email client, and I am more than happy. It is nicer looking, and it is very fast. It is much faster than Outlook, when searching for an old email. It just seems snappy. And of course, Thunderbird is open source and there is already a version for Linux. For my needs, Thunderbird is better than Outlook and I feel confident that they will continue to create new versions to evolve with our needs. I am now finished with my first step to become Microsoft free. Now, I just have to wait for Open Office to have pivot tables. It might take a while but I am a patient man.

Enough Said,

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