Readers of TidBITS already know that I live inside my email program, and that my email program is Eudora. I liked Eudora Pro 3.0 when I wrote about it in December of 1996, and I like Eudora Pro 4.0 now.
Nightmare on Installation Street — However, I must admit that initially my transition to Eudora 4 was anything but smooth. Indeed, this is the first Eudora upgrade that required any significant transition at all from its users. Earlier versions were basically identical to the version preceding them: you installed and launched the new version, its look and features were completely recognizable, and you started sending and receiving mail as if nothing had happened. Some menus may have been rearranged and there were some added capabilities, but basically it was the same old familiar Eudora. (Indeed, to this day I still occasionally encounter Eudora 2.0 or even earlier, and I feel instantly at home with it.)
Not so, this time.
To begin with, the Eudora installer did something utterly uncharacteristic: it meddled with my System Folder. First, it installed the Thread Manager extension, which I don’t need because it’s built into the system. So I deleted it.
Then, the installer moved my WindowShade and Color control panels into the Trash, and replaced them with the Appearance Manager (a control panel and an extension). Naturally, I wasn’t about to stand for this, so I promptly undid it, removing the Appearance Manager stuff and putting back my original control panels. And what happened? Eudora refused to run! It turns out that Eudora 4.0 requires the Appearance Manager.
Now, that’s all very well if you have Mac OS 8 or 8.1. You’re already living with the Appearance Manager; it’s a required part of the system. But I’m still back at System 7.6.1 (the reasons I haven’t upgraded to 8.1 are complicated, so don’t ask). So suddenly Mac OS 8 menus and windows were being inflicted on me, just so that I could run one little email program! I turned off the Appearance Manager’s system-wide platinum appearance, because it was messing up some of my Open/Save dialogs; the result was anomalous, because now Eudora alone had the platinum look, including different windows, a differently colored menubar, and so on. Ultimately I installed Kaleidoscope just to obtain uniformity of windows and menus once again.
On the other hand, when I moved my old preferences and mailboxes into the new Eudora Folder and started Eudora, it coped beautifully, even though it now requires a different arrangement of sub-folders and files within them. Files were moved automatically to their proper places, my settings were preserved, and my old mail was available. I was ready to roll.
Back to Square One — That’s when I got my second shock: the new Eudora doesn’t look much like the old Eudora. Take, for example, the first column in a mailbox window, the Status column. Previously, a letter appeared in each row of this column telling you what you’d done with the corresponding piece of mail: R if you’d replied to it, F if you’d forwarded it, D if you’d redirected it, S if you’d sent it, and so forth. That was perfect for a verbal person like myself.
Now, however, these abbreviations had been replaced by mysterious arrow icons whose direction are supposed to be significant: west for replied-to, east for forwarded, north-east for redirected (and a check-mark for sent). Unfortunately, I’m not good at distinguishing directions, or at associating arbitrary directions with abstract concepts – so all I see now is a meaningless arrow. (And to top it all off, the icons draw badly on my screen, so that they’re hard to see.) Whatever possessed the Eudora folks to ruin a perfectly good thing like this? [The answer is the many complaints that the Eudora folks received over the years about Eudora being ugly, since it lacked a colorful interface. -Adam]
Something similar has been done with the icons across the top of a message window, but I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the interface, which used to be magnificently functional – dry, crisp, monochrome, and two-dimensional – has now been needlessly cluttered with exactly the sort of "trendy 3D junk" that Eudora used to deride (and, ironically, still does) in its Display settings panel.
Another major step backwards is the manual, which might be kindly described as "degenerate." What used to be a clear, generously informative document has now become a muddled mess, utterly confusing on many important points and woefully incomplete – some of the valuable reference and technical material has been moved into a PDF file, but some of it is utterly gone.
Juggling More Balls — After a week of using Eudora 4.0, I had recovered completely from the shock of its new look, and found I was more productive than ever before.
Most significantly, both checking and sending messages now happen in threads (sub-processes) separate from the main thread in which you read and compose messages. This means that you can download received messages, upload queued messages, and write a new message, all simultaneously. I love doing this; it makes me feel as if I had suddenly developed an extra appendage, like the monkey in the Dilbert cartoon who is twice as productive as Dilbert because he can move the mouse with his tail while he types.
Signatures, personalities, and stationery can now be edited through a single tabbed window; there is no longer any need to go through a hierarchical menu, a Settings dialog panel, and the Save dialog respectively to get at these features. Indeed, not just these, but also the address book, filters, and the mailbox configuration window are now directly available from the Windows menu. This change is not minor. Previously, I was unable to figure out how to use personalities and stationery, because accessing these features was so difficult; now I use them all the time. What’s more, you can drag tabs from one window to another to customize them; in other words, you control what features combine into each single window.
Styled text can now be sent and received either in Eudora’s private text/enriched format or in the more universal HTML. I am constitutionally opposed to styled text in email, but when I do receive an HTML-coded message it is a blessing to be able to read the darned thing! Also, HTML messages mean that inline images can appear anywhere in a message. Some users have reported that received HTML is slow to resolve itself into styled text; this is said to be addressed in the upcoming version 4.0.1.
A long-standing request of Adam’s has at last been implemented: nickname auto-completion. If you have designated the nickname "Neuburg" to stand for "[email protected]", you can now type into a message field just the first few letters of the nickname, such as "Neu", and then tab out of the field; the nickname will be completed and its value substituted, automatically.
Bugs and Gripes — I have not encountered much in the way of bugs. There are still some minor problems with the text engine when you edit an outgoing message, but they are so rare that I can’t be more specific. Some users have reported difficulties with threaded sending and receiving, including crashes; I have not seen this. I did have some problems with threaded receiving until I unchecked the "Backup resource fork toc’s" setting. I sometimes have an occasional mysterious freeze in Eudora, but it doesn’t appear to relate to threading.
The Filters dialog has been improved, but the capabilities of filters have not. For instance, there is still no option to save filtered messages as separate text files automatically.
The Find dialog is still a strong candidate for the worst piece of interface in the known universe. Trying to determine which mailbox will be searched or where the search will start is like trying to set up your VCR. (Indeed, the Find dialog seems to be modeled after a VCR.) After you finally have your search set up, if you delete the search word to try a different word, all your settings are lost. And unlike other email clients, Eudora stops at the first match, rather than presenting you with a mailbox of all found messages that you can manipulate like any other mailbox. The whole thing is idiotic.
Moving the Eudora Folder, something that many users wish to do, is still clumsy; you must create an alias to the moved folder and place it in the System Folder, start up from a Eudora Settings file, or some other obscure trick. Why can’t one just set the location of the folder with a dialog? Even the otherwise abhorrent Netscape Mail gets this one right.
Signatures are not shown in the message window, making it all too easy to send out a message with the wrong signature attached. I often find myself taking the following clumsy steps: I press the signature pop-up to learn the name of the signature attached to the current message, and then I open the Signatures window and double-click that signature to see what it looks like. Why not have an option to add a signature pane at the bottom of the window?
Eudora’s way of combining styled text with quoted material in a reply drives me nuts. What I want are those nice greater-than characters:
> You know the sort of thing
> I mean.
But if there is any styled text in the message, you get instead a funny bar-down-the-left-side quoting style. And if you then try to solve this by removing styles from the message, the barred material becomes ordinary text – it does not turn back into quoted material, and lacks the greater-than characters.
Luckily, the forthcoming Eudora Pro 4.0.1 does automatically replace the left-bars with greater-than characters when you send without styles. And meanwhile, there is an undocumented workaround (thanks, Adam!): hold Shift and choose Paste as Quotation from the Edit menu (Command-Shift-‘) to paste as an unstyled quotation. Eudora puts only a single greater-than character at the beginning of each paragraph, which looks wrong, but when you actually send the message, provided you send it without styles, Eudora breaks the lines with a greater-than before each line.
Tried and True — Despite these quibbles, Eudora remains my trusty companion. Much of the time, my computer is Eudora, plain and simple. If anything, Eudora 4.0 seems even more trusty than before, handling mailboxes stuffed with many megabytes of messages without a murmur.
Readers desirous of becoming power Eudora users should study Adam’s "Eudora Tricks & Tips" article; I must admit that even I learned a thing or two from it. And, you might also want to check out the page he maintains for his Eudora Visual QuickStart Guide – he posts tips from the book there regularly.
For those wishing to stay on the cutting edge, Eudora Pro 4.0.1 is currently in public beta; it offers a few minor changes but mostly small bug fixes. Support for IMAP, the alternative to POP that large organizations want so their users can check mail and leave it on the server, is slated for version 4.1 due later this year.
Eudora Pro 4.0 is now priced at $39. There are no discounts for owners of previous versions, but for such a reliable workhorse and lifeline, it’s still a bargain. I recommend it wholeheartedly.