Charles Engelke's Blog

February 22, 2004

Changing Software Programs

Filed under: Notes — Charles Engelke @ 5:10 pm

I’ve become pretty conservative about changing the software I use.
It’s usually just not worth the effort. The software I use is
generally good enough now, and most updates add little or nothing
I want. And the updates may be unstable or worse than the original
(as with Acrobat Reader 6.0, which seems to take forever to start
up, but which doesn’t do a single thing I care about better than
Acrobat Reader 5, or 2, 3, or 4, for that matter).

Still, every so often I want to see whether there’s something new
out there that’s better than what I’m using. Recently I tried out
using OpenOffice instead of
Microsoft Office, and
Mozilla
Thunderbird
instead of Eudora
for e-mail.

Last October I migrated to a new, larger hard drive, and I
reinstalled everything from scratch. I decided to not install
Microsoft Office but see how long I could go with OpenOffice
instead. It turned out to be four months, and could have been
even longer. OpenOffice worked pretty well for everything I did,
with just a couple of glitches:

  • A big Word file with a lot of included graphics displayed one
    graphic upside down. I think that the graphic had originally
    been created in a drawing program, then put in PowerPoint, and
    finally in Word, so it must have been pretty complicated
    internally.
  • I offered to let other presenters at a conference session use
    my PC to show their slides, and two of the PowerPoint files
    had problems. One just skipped the transitions that were shown
    in PowerPoint, but the other failed to show large portions
    of some slides. I’d never had these problems because my
    PowerPoint slides are very simple and always worked fine.

Eventually, though, I went ahead and installed Microsoft Office
just because I know all the keyboard shortcuts (especially in
PowerPoint) and it was taking me longer to create files with
OpenOffice than with Microsoft Office. I don’t know that this is
really a deficiency in OpenOffice, since someone that started out
with it would probably have the exact same kinds of problems
moving to Microsoft Office. I still have OpenOffice, which saves
files in compressed XML; maybe I’ll find that useful someday. And
I’ll definitely install OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office on
test and development machines (and my home PCs) rather than use up
expensive Microsoft licenses.

The Thunderbird test has been a bit different. I’m very happy with
my ancient (version 4.2) copy of Eudora, and even the commercial
license for Eudora is very inexpensive, so I wasn’t looking for an
alternative. But I love Mozilla Phoenix Firebird
Firefox,
and a friend suggested trying out Thunderbird, so I did.

Thunderbird imported my existing Eudora mailboxes pretty well. One
mailbox whose name started with a blank didn’t come over at all.
It was an important mailbox; I started the name with a blank to force
it to the top of the list, and Eudora was fine with that. I don’t
know how I can get those messages over to Thunderbird. And many
HTML messages now display the raw HTML, instead of the formatted
message. (New HTML messages show up fine, though.)

I’ve had to learn a new key combination to fetch mail from all three
of my mail accounts (<control><shift>T instead of
<control>M), and my saved folders are shown further away from
the inbox, but neither of those is a big deal. Thunderbird handles
multiple mail accounts fine, and even supports the APOP
authentication method I need,
though it doesn’t call it that anywhere in the program or
documentation (it calls it “secure authentication” instead).

I think I’ll stick with Thunderbird, though I’m still telling it to
leave my messages on the server and fetching them to Eudora occasionally,
just in case. I like the Thunderbird display, and it seems to fetch
and display mail noticeably faster than Eudora does. It also has
junk mail filtering that learns how to distinguish spam. I need that
because our server-side SpamAssassin has started marking some false
positives for me. I’ve kicked up the server-side SpamAssassin threshold
so I get more spam downloaded to the client. Thunderbird is getting
pretty good about filtering that remaining mail, and any false
positives at that stage aren’t as big a problem because the messages
are still on my PC where I can see them.

It looks like open source software is getting pretty good at meeting
my core requirements, and is better than commercial software for
some things (web browsing) and just as good at others (e-mail).

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