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Software Communications

Why Desktop Email Still Trumps Webmail 340

Posted by Zonk
from the get-ye-behind-me-web-two-point-oh dept.
p3net writes "Shortly before the release of Thunderbird 2.0 RC1, Wired held an interesting interview with Scott MacGregor, the lead developer of Thunderbird. He presents some views as to why desktop email clients still triumph, even in this much-dominated web age. 'Some users want to have their data local for privacy and control. Furthermore, you can integrate data from different applications on the desktop in ways that you can't do with web-based solutions, unless you stick to web solutions from a single provider. For example, you can use your Outlook address book with Thunderbird. We'd like to continue to expand the kinds of data you can share between Thunderbird and other apps (both web and desktop applications).'"
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Why Desktop Email Still Trumps Webmail

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  • 6 Of One... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nos. (179609) <andrew@thekerrs.FREEBSDca minus bsd> on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:23PM (#18678281) Homepage
    Generally speaking, desktop based applications will have more features and better integration, but web based applications have the advantage of being portable, not to mention they're (generally) easier to upgrade for multiple users.
  • by HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) * <lajollahomeless@hotmail.com> on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:26PM (#18678335) Homepage Journal
    Didn't we already see this [slashdot.org]?

    More to the point: desktop applications are inherently preferable to the individual user. The argument can be made that a corporate environment, in which more than twenty people may need to use a program with limited seats in a license, or in which more than five people need to work collaboratively on the same data set, a client-server type may be more appropriate. Webapps are a client-server type of application in which the client is the web browser and the server is the application running within the web server. Viewing it as such may help to expose the odd nature of allowing so many middle layers to persist.

    Desktop apps are important not only for security but also for efficiency and to prevent the gratuitous overconsumption of network resources.
  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:27PM (#18678349) Journal
    Yeah, it was always kind of obvious to me. With a desktop client, you don't have to load a web browers, go the page, and click on inbox. It doesn't have to reload a bunch of stuff to bring up an email. Deleting is easier. Attaching is easier.
  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Silver Sloth (770927) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:32PM (#18678447)
    An additional balance is all about data security.

    On the one hand Google do better backups than I do and I'd be amazed if I ever lost data from my Gmail account

    On the other hand do I want sensitive data stored on someone else's server?

    You decide...
  • Re:Sorry... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by penix1 (722987) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:34PM (#18678481) Homepage
    "It doesn't make sense to have thick clients anymore, when the web apps can do everything that the desktop apps can..."

    Until you don't have an Internet connection. I can type up 30 emails and queue them in the outbox until I do get connected if it is local.
  • by Chairboy (88841) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:34PM (#18678489) Homepage
    The discussion about local e-mail clients vs. web clients is similar to discussions about digital cameras and pistols.

    When talking about cameras to buy, some folks advocate SLR, expandable, large cameras that have huge optical zoom, attachment points, and a huge slew of features. Other folks will say "I'll take an Elph" (or some other small format, quality camera that's the size of a pack of cigarettes. The most common argument the big camera people will use is something to the effect of 'yes, but you're sacrificing 20% image quality' (or something along those lines. A common response? "Sure, but I'm about X times more likely to actually HAVE the camera on me when something interesting happens. A big camera that takes slightly better pictures that's at home is less useful to me than this."

    Concealed pistol arguments have both sides too. "I prefer the 9MM Glock" or "Nothing less than a .45 will do the job, it has _stopping power_." There will usually be folks on the other side who say "Those are nice, but I prefer a .22 Pistol. It's small enough that I'm much more likely to actually have it on me if something happens in public. A heavy, bulky gun that's sitting on the dresser is much less useful to me when I'm in danger than a small .22 that I can carry every day."

    E-Mail clients seem to be heading in the same direction. T-Bird has some great features and rationales for using. It does stuff that can only really be done from a fixed location (private mail, etc), and yes, it can integrate with desktop apps. But... I rarely use those extra features. I've switched to webmail knowing that I'm trading off some features, but the payoff of being able to actually GET to it wherever I am has paid off many more times than not having integration into MS Word or something.

    Different audiences, different needs, but both sides have their reasons.
  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:35PM (#18678513) Homepage Journal
    Generally speaking, desktop based applications will have more features and better integration, but web based applications have the advantage of being portable

    Well, but so are laptops, palmtops, and etc; so are server accounts where you leave the mail on the server and can download it into multiple clients, so that you can get your mail at work, but that still leaves it retrievable at home, both on real (that is, non-web) clients.

    I'm not comfortable, frankly, with Google or whomever handling my mail. I know my backup strategies, I know my mail (since about 1985, including all my old Compuserve mail) is all intact, and I like being able to search it, prod it, use it as reference material. I can get at my mail, in my laptop, during those times I cannot get on the net - that's worth something too.

    I don't think web mail (or any web application, for that matter) is a very good solution for users who make more than cursory use of email or any other data. I understand the urge to create web based applications, but that doesn't mean its actually a good thing. :-)

  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrBugSentry (963105) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:38PM (#18678573) Homepage
    You also don't have to trust your ASP with your data.
    Or if you do host your data with somebody else, you can use public key encryption and not trust them with the access to your data, keeping your private key on your system.
  • search... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pointbeing (701902) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:45PM (#18678703)
    I host my own personal mail and use horde exclusively - at work I use Outlook because I need considerably more horsepower than a web client is able to give me.

    Today I had to pull page counts from ten HP 0299c digital senders and the scanners IP addresses were spread out through ten different work orders - using an outlook plugin called Lookout (this company was eaten by Microsoft but you can still find the plugin if you look around) I was able to search a bit less than 4gb of email archive in two different .psts for the string 'digital sender' in a bit more than half a second. 709 hits that I can browse because the word order number is in the subject line.

    You'd play hell doing that with a webmail client.
  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Assassin bug (835070) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:47PM (#18678741) Journal

    On the other hand do I want sensitive data stored on someone else's server?

    Two other important questions related to the one above...
    Do you own your own email server? If the answer is no, do you have your client options set such that email messages are deleted from the email server once they are grabbed by your client?
    I don't think that data are any more secure on non-web clients unless the user is actually aware of what makes their data more or less secure.
  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bogtha (906264) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:49PM (#18678769)

    On the other hand do I want sensitive data stored on someone else's server?

    The privacy angle is bogus. If you are using somebody else's mx, then they can archive all your mail anyway, even if you are using a desktop application. If you are using your own mx, then there's nothing stopping you installing a webmail application on your own server.

  • by Etcetera (14711) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:54PM (#18678857) Homepage
    "Funny"? How about insightful!? Lol.

    I run several independent qmail/vpopmail mail clusters, with a couple of different webmail packages, IMAP access from anywhere, and Eudora, Thunderbird, and MSOE at various times, and user IMAP from another Exchange server for our corporate parent.

    And I *still* prefer to shell in and use pine for my "personal" account on campus rather than the other solutions they provide. It's convenient, easy, has never lost me an email, works under low bandwidth conditions, and after 10 years is just as fast as any of the other clients for me. On the off-chance I actually do need to view something with images in it, I simply (B)ounce it to my work account.

    Can't beat simplicity.

  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:05PM (#18679057)
    True. But those of us who are extremely mobile and on the run all the time can sacrifice ease of attachments and deleting for webmail. I forward all of my email to my Gmail account. It's a fantastic interface (makes me productive), it's quick (I've never seen it slugish), it's portable, and it's encrypted for when I'm on unsecure connections (https://mail.google.com). Did I mention it's free?

    Just as the time came when everyone went from centralized servers to desktops, the time is coming where everything will move back to centralized servers.

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:13PM (#18679215)

    I was forced to give up using Thunderbird at work, because some people I started working with elsewhere in the organisation relied on Exchange+Outlook calendaring facilities. In other words, I ought to be a prime target for Lightning. I'm also a geek who understands more than a pretty UI about what's involved with actually doing this.

    What do I see at the top of the lightning page?

    • Open source
    • Open standards
    • Cross-platform
    • Extensible

    Do you know how many of those I care about at work? Exactly none. And neither does pretty much anyone else in the target market for this product.

    What I do care about is how well it integrates with Exchange Server, and whether its notifications for meetings and such are compatible with the business standard Exchange+Outlook combination. However, the word "Exchange" does not appear anywhere on the product home page; nor does "Outlook".

    In other words, either their web page is terrible, or this isn't even close to making Thunderbird into a serious Outlook competitor. Given that the current version of Lightning is 0.3.1 (as in, starting with "0.") I'm going to go with the not-even-close version, and so it just about everyone else.

    I'm afraid TFA was much the same: yet more of the popular "many eyes make secure software myth" (seriously, are we still peddling that nonsense?) and more cries about the greatness of Thunderbird due to its extensibility (does anyone reading this actually use Thunderbird with any extensions, never mind the natural way they are routinely used by Firefox users?).

    Sorry to be so negative. I'm grateful to those who spend their time writing Thunderbird and giving it away to others, I really am. But it's starting to suffer from the two major diseases of the OSS world: a mistaken belief that users care more about philosophy than functionality, and a mistaken belief that OSS is somehow immune to the normal problems with software development just because some of its popular applications haven't (yet) been compromised as badly as the mainstream commercial players. I like the product, but until its marketing stops talking crap, I'm going to criticise the marketing.

  • by massysett (910130) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:25PM (#18679431) Homepage
    FTA

    Some users want to have their data local for privacy and control.

    I can think of many reasons to use a desktop mail client. Some of them are actually good reasons. But this one is completely ridiculous. Email is not private. If he had said "Some users want to have their email local so that they can decrypt and encrypt it with GnuPG," that would have been an understandable statement. But plain text email is not private, under any circumstance, ever, any more than a postcard with plain text is private!

    I hope people are not using desktop email thinking it is more private. A false sense of security is worse than no security!
  • by avronius (689343) * on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:34PM (#18679571) Homepage Journal
    First, I said "competitor" - not replacement.

    Now, I'll address a few things in your response...

    Do you know how many of those I care about at work? Exactly none. And neither does pretty much anyone else in the target market for this product.
    Apparently you believe that there is room for exactly one collaboration tool in the universe. You seem to be oblivious to the market that exists outside the Windows space. Exchange integration isn't an option for people who regularly use MacOS*, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, linux, OS/2, etc. My doctor uses a Macintosh computers in his office, I have an Ultra 80 at my desk, and support engineers running Blade's at theirs. My coworker uses HP-UX primarily, and he has clients that only have openVMS running on DEC Alphas. Are we not in the target market for this product? You, as a Windows user, have a product available to you that easily facilitates collaboration. You are *not* the target market for this product.
    [note: I am aware that there is an Outlook client for MacOS, but it's functionality is quite limited]

    What I do care about is how well it integrates with Exchange Server
    I, too, wish that there was a panacea to allow this product set to interact with Exchnage server without modification. But, you are correct. There is nothing that indicates integration with Exchange. There are plugins to allow access to web-based mail servers, it will connect to Exchange via smtp or pop, but does no callendar integration.

    ...a mistaken belief that users care more about philosophy than functionality...
    How is a comment like this any different from the "Microsoft at all costs" mantra? Ultimately there is a market that does not believe that a Microsoft product suits thier needs.

    In *this* religion, you aren't required to drink the kool-aid.
  • by thebdj (768618) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:38PM (#18679615) Journal

    What I do care about is how well it integrates with Exchange Server, and whether its notifications for meetings and such are compatible with the business standard Exchange+Outlook combination. However, the word "Exchange" does not appear anywhere on the product home page; nor does "Outlook".
    Since when has Exchange+Outlook been the business standard? It isn't a standard of anything, not even a de facto one. As much as it hurts to say, both Novell Groupwise and IBM Lotus Notes are far superior groupware applications. They are more easy to integrate into mixed environments as well, something Exchange is not as easy to deal with. You want real standards, I recommend looking at iCalendar [wikipedia.org] for calendar usage and IMAP [wikipedia.org] for mail serving. Of course, these are both easily supported by Thunderbird and can be used in a similar fashion to Outlook, without the need to be tied into a single, proprietary software program.

    (does anyone reading this actually use Thunderbird with any extensions, never mind the natural way they are routinely used by Firefox users?)
    I use at least two. I would have to look when I got home if there were more. First, I use Lightning. It is an extension that adds calendar capabilities to Thunderbird and guess what, it is linked to my Google Calendar, fairly easily. Second, I use the GPG extension, so I can encrypt/decrypt e-mail messages in the client. The plugin to do this for Outlook is notoriously buggy, and we have had a few problems with encrypted messages not leaving encrypted here at the office.

    I believe there are some spam filters and some other rather useful tools available, but I have not really taken the time to get and install them. Granted, it doesn't look small compared to the 5 or 6 extensions I have installed for FF, but there are so many extra things to get.

    Sorry to be so negative. I'm grateful to those who spend their time writing Thunderbird and giving it away to others, I really am. But it's starting to suffer from the two major diseases of the OSS world: a mistaken belief that users care more about philosophy than functionality, and a mistaken belief that OSS is somehow immune to the normal problems with software development just because some of its popular applications haven't (yet) been compromised as badly as the mainstream commercial players. I like the product, but until its marketing stops talking crap, I'm going to criticise the marketing.
    Um, you know why Firefox and Thunderbird are extremely more secure then their MS counterparts? For Firefox, it is a lack of ActiveX, which is nothing but trouble, and the fact that FF isn't as tied to the OS as IE is. Outlook suffers part of the trouble that IE does because they use common DLLs and libraries. It also suffers from the fact that the security of it is dependent on support from MS. You might not buy the "many eyes myth", but it is not too hard to see. You cannot hide a bug as easily when the code is available for all, you also do not have to rely solely on the vendor when code is available. OSS has many advantages, but I will admit it isn't going to solve all software woes.
  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:46PM (#18679747)
    Deleting is easier. Attaching is easier.

    Try getting to your old email messages from the hospital to find the phone number of your friend's mother at the critical moment. I delete and attach so few messages it really doesn't matter if it takes a couple more seconds with a web client than a desktop app. Having access to my email from anywhere in the world at any time is far more valuable. I will never go back to desktop email.
  • by ak3ldama (554026) <james_akeldama&yahoo,com> on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:52PM (#18679829) Homepage Journal

    I'll bite, first the four things you mention:
    * Open source
    * Open standards
    * Cross-platform
    * Extensible
    Open standards are kind of important in the world of software. As for "many eyes make secure software myth" (seriously, are we still peddling that nonsense?), we'll be peddling this 'nonsense' for a long time because it's important. Security through secrecy doesn't work.

    Just because Cross-platform and Extensible are things you do not care about doesn't make them useless features that are not important to the long term viability and growth of the application and user space. The only thing you mention that is of any relevance is that Lightning is a 0.x release and therefore not ready for all users yet. This is absolutely correct, and as such is not ready for using Thunderbird at work. You should be happy that the Lightning page doesn't make claims that it can't backup. It makes that very clear with the version number. In the meantime there will be those people that do care enough about Philosophy to help develop and test OSS applications in the hopes they can become a viable alternative.

  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:55PM (#18679877)
    A lot of posters here talk about certain features with a desktop client against a web client not realising that none of this has anything to do with weather the mail is web based or local. The interface can look the same weather on the desktop or a server ( at least in theory) the question is what difference the location of the actual process that handles the input and output makes. There are advantages and disadvantages to both schemes.

    Web based:
    Can be accessed from any computer that has a browser.
    Mail cannot be read while offline

    Desktop based:
    Requires a configured mail client
    All mail can be downloaded at once and read at a latter date when an internet connection is not available

    It would appear to me that this means Web based mail would be more attractive to Desktop users who can't easily move their computer arround and who are likely to have a permanent internet connection whereas Laptop and Notebook users would prefer a local client as wireless availability can be limited and it is easier for them to move arround. Of course, you coudl always go with my aproach. I use a web based e-mail but keep a local copy on my desktop. That way I can read my mail from anywhere I want and I also have it available if my connection dies ( which is rather often unfortunately ). Best of both worlds in my opinion.
  • Re:Yes, Gmail (Score:4, Insightful)

    by werfele (611119) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @02:56PM (#18679913)
    You don't need to sort by date, because you can search by date. Search for :after:2006/3/1 before:2006/4/1 to find emails from last March, for example.
  • by amper (33785) * on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @03:01PM (#18679995) Journal
    If only we could convince someone to write the Exchange competitor on an open database...

    What, like this [calendarserver.org]?

    Why do people use Outlook and Exchange? Because Outlook is more full-featured than any other email client out there (I admit, this isn't always a good thing, but just try getting someone who *wants* those features to use a generic IMAP application. And Outlook will *never* do IMAP right, because that eliminates most of the reason to buy Exchange), and because Exchange gives you the calendaring and scheduling side of things in a way that is far superior to any other application out there except for the old CS&T/Netscape/Steltor/Oracle Calendar Server.

    How is it that the entire software industry has sat back and allowed Microsoft to completely dominate with Exchange and Outlook for the last ten fscking years? What the F are people thinking? Of course, once again, it's Apple that has to pull everybody's collective asses out of the fire, and no one will end up appreciating it.
  • Re:Sorry... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Matt Perry (793115) <perry.matt54@yahoo . c om> on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @03:13PM (#18680149)

    "It doesn't make sense to have thick clients anymore, when the web apps can do everything that the desktop apps can..."
    Until you don't have an Internet connection. I can type up 30 emails and queue them in the outbox until I do get connected if it is local.
    I use Gmail and I can type 30 emails and send them later too. What do you think text editors are for? I realize that if you find yourself without a network connection often then working with local application might be useful. But don't pretend that because you don't have a network connection every so often that you are suddenly unable to type.
  • Re:6 Of One... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rabbit994 (686936) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @03:20PM (#18680239)
    Easy, pay a little extra money for email with a provider that offers IMAPv4 access. That way you have your email stored on a server and can still access via webmail. Cost a little more but better then leaving it with Google. It scares me how much data people are willing to leave with companies that a vested interest in cataloging everything they can get their hands on and have limited set of ethics.
  • by walt-sjc (145127) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:03PM (#18680953)
    Oh I understand completely. You are still confused. Thunderbird does compete with outlook even in an all Windows environment, or are you REALLY saying an all MICROSOFT environment? The two are quite different. You seem to think that Outlook and Exchange are separate products. In reality, they are not. They are very tightly integrated - you don't get the maximum benefit / functionality unless you use both together. Either one alone with any other client / server is truly horrible. Now replace the Exchange component with an alternative available for Windows (and there are many) and your options become wide open.
  • by Thaelon (250687) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:34PM (#18681427)

    As much as it hurts to say, both Novell Groupwise and IBM Lotus Notes are far superior groupware applications.

    You've got to be kidding me.

    Outlook has usability problems, but Lotus Notes is a usability nightmare.

    Outlook:
    Options buried 23409823 clicks deep. Parts of the interface aren't very intuitive. Search utilities suck horribly.
    Mail and calendar work beautifully, especially scheduling meetings for when 20 people and the conference room are free.

    Cons of Lotus Notes:
    Exposes the user to the fact that its a database trying to be an email/calendar collaboration tool. Why the hell would I care about what database I'm connected to and when it replicates?
    It takes a sysadmin to setup and keep running.
    The entire UI is complete and total garbage. And if you thought Outlook buried options, try Notes.
    I guess it does line wrapping better.

    You'd have to drag me back to Notes kicking and freaking screaming. I'd rather use intra-office snail mail. I'm not even joking.
  • Re:search... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hf256 (627209) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @05:52PM (#18682577)
    Seriously, are you suggesting that desktop based code searches large data sets better than Google?
  • by Chris Snook (872473) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @07:15PM (#18683449)
    I use Thunderbird for work and Gmail for my personal mail. Each is ideal for its designated task. If I was forced to use webmail for work and Thunderbird for personal mail, I would go nuts.

    So, enough with these "foo is better than bar" declarations. Both exist and are popular because they are the best solution for *some* problem.
  • by bozwell (1085725) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @10:58PM (#18684987)
    Just my $0.02, it seems to me that although Thunderbird does run on various non-Windows OS's, this isn't entirely relevant because most PC's don't run on non-Windows OS's, at least not at this time. If you're attempting to debate whether Thunderbird is a competitor, it only seems proper to consider only, or at least give the most weight to, how each performs under Windows, as that's how most people will use the two products. Looking at how they do under Windows, perhaps Thunderbird is more of a competitor now than it was, but I wouldn't consider it a serious competitor quite yet, if only because Outlook/Windows in general are so well-established. And for that reason, people will be comparing Thunderbird's feature set to Outlook's and wondering why they should switch if they don't see all of the same features they currently have. I guess I tend to agree with Anonymous in the end, although I am always glad to see these projects improving.

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