Two things get Nick really steamed -- and neither one is Microsoft's fault

I'm really cranky today.

I didn't get to go on a vacation I had planned. My three-year-old son is sick and has been crying for two days. It's too darned chilly in the San Francisco Bay Area for September. I feel like I could sleep for a week.

So I figure that now is probably the ideal time to vent about a couple of my pet peeves, while I'm grumpy enough to really enjoy it. So look out.

Netscape Communicator

Peeve number one: can anyone possibly find me a more unstable program than Netscape's browser for Linux? And I mean Communicator 4.61, not a prior version -- Communicator hasn't always been this bad. Ironically, it was far more stable back when Netscape considered Navigator an unsupported product. It seemed to go off the deep end just about the same time that Linux surged in popularity. If I were among the top brass at Netscape, I'd drop everything and sift through my development team to look for the Microsoft mole.

But regardless of how it happened, Communicator has become so flaky that the bank in my town is about to change its sign to read today's time, temperature, and number of Communicator crashes. Anyone who uses Communicator knows that it sometimes leaves behind a lock file after a crash, and then complains about said lock file when you try to restart the browser. I've manually removed that lock file so many times that I'm considering scheduling a cron job to do it for me every five minutes.

No matter how many different things I copy or cut, Communicator insists on pasting the text I copied half an hour ago.

And memory leaks? We're talking a serious case of incontinence here. At least I assume it's a memory leak that occasionally causes Communicator to forget how to accept new information in its clipboard. Once it goes bahooties, no matter how many different things I copy or cut, Communicator insists on pasting the text I copied half an hour ago. The only way to get cut and paste to work again is to exit and restart the browser.

I suppose there's always Mozilla, but that's not exactly maturing at the speed of light, is it? I'm hoping my grandchildren will be able to give the final version a shot.

What we need is something to motivate the Netscape team to get moving again. I hate to say it, but the company should go back to charging money for the browser if necessary. After all, the Opera browser for Linux is just around the corner, and Opera kicks serious keister. I predict that a lot of people will gladly shell out $39 for Opera rather than continue to put up with Communicator. So why wouldn't they chip in a few bucks for a stable version of Netscape's venerable browser?

POP3 versus IMAP

Peeve number two: What is this love affair people have with POP3 mail? Why is it that most email clients are optimized for POP3 and include only marginal (and usually very buggy) support for IMAP4?

Read my lips: When you use POP3, in most situations you end up archiving messages in folders that reside on your client. When you use IMAP4, you store your messages in folders that reside on the server. In other words, IMAP4 is a better way to do email, simply because it allows you to search through your folders no matter where you are when you access your email. (Yes, I know there are ways to do this using POP3, but IMAP4 really is the most elegant solution in most cases.) Whenever I make this complaint, people usually tell me that POP3 doesn't require as much storage space at the server; ISPs therefore prefer it. If that's the case, then ISPs are being stupid. They can charge for that extra disk space and make a bundle. And by charging for storage, they motivate their customers to be intelligent about where they store their information. Users can keep archival storage on their local disk; files they want to be able to access immediately from any computer can stay on the server.

People tell me that POP3 doesn't require as much storage space at the server; ISPs therefore prefer it. If that's the case, then ISPsare being stupid.

Regardless of why POP3 seems to get preferential treatment, the result is that most email clients only talk POP3. When they do talk IMAP4, they almost inevitably do a lousy job. And even when they do a less-than-lousy job, they do so inconsistently. (I should mention that one of LinuxWorld's editors thinks that the University of Washington's pine is the ultimate IMAP client; unfortunately, I've been unable to get it to work properly with my folders, which are based on the Cyrus IMAP server. If you've had success here, please let me know.) Take Star Office 5.1, for example. Star Office 5.1 is a wonderful program. I use it, I love it, and I eagerly look forward to the Web-based version, called StarPortal. But who's the nincompoop who designed Star Office's IMAP4 client to make my subfolders show up in the inbox as though they're messages? Why should I have to scroll down through all my subfolders just to see the latest message in my inbox? (Or am I just a nincompoop who doesn't know how to set up Cyrus IMAP folders properly? Is this the root of my problems with pine?) And what about all those IMAP4 clients that automatically sort mail so that the oldest message is at the top? Hello, anybody home? Some of us get so much email that we have to either figure out how to reset the default sort method (not always a simple matter) or move a few dozen pages down in order to see the latest email.

Anyway, when I add up all the inconveniences in IMAP4 clients, I generally get left with only one client that works the way I want: Netscape Messenger. And if you want my opinion of that, see pet peeve number one.

That's all I'll subject you to this time around. Hopefully, it will be a while before I get this down in the dumps again. Until then, if you have any solutions for a lousy browser and a poopy POP client, please feel free to post them in our discussion forum or send me an email.

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