The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Email Sucks – So what else is new?

Posted by Deliverator on July 18th, 2006

A number of my clients have recently started wanting to do mobile email. In most cases, they have just gone out and bought a Treo, T-Mobile MDA, Cingular 8125, other random smartphone of the week without consulting me. In general, I have found the built in email apps on these devices to be horribly lacking. There are a couple good 3rd party email clients out there. I particularly like Snappermail for the palm based Treo devices (WM devices need not apply). The other issue that I’ve had to contend with, besides poor email client software, is that a large number of my clients have grown up using MSN or AOL and are now joined at the hip to these accounts. These two providers in particular play a lot of dirty pool to lock customers into their particular brand of email hell.

AOL, for instance, makes it virtually impossible to export messages/contact lists from their software. A number of 3rd party export utilities have emerged as a result. With MSN, the latest trick they have played is not allowing the checking of pop3 accounts when not on their network. This makes it particularly difficult to check a MSN account using a very basic pop3 email client, like those included with most cell phones/smart phones. MSN has implemented proprietary support for MSN/Hotmail accounts into Outlook Express, which uses some sort of http gateway. In addition, MSN has disabled all email auto-forwarding abilities on its accounts, making it impossible to simply forward email to a pop3 account which could be checked by the portable device.

I used to work for MSN and it shames me that they have stooped to “lock-in” tactics similar to AOL, which only generate ill-will, rather than striving to encourage customer loyalty through value adding features. In general, this attitude is increasingly representative of business practice at Microsoft (think Windows Genuine Advantage/Notification) and I think it will come back to bite them in a big way.

Well, if you are well and truely locked in, or just unwilling to switch right now? One solution I stumbled upon is fastmail. Fastmail is a commercial email service provider with a couple of neat features. The one that caught my attention was its ability to retrieve email using the proprietary http gateway that MSN uses to support Outlook Express. You will need to use one of the $20/year accounts to get this feature. Essentially, fastmail will periodically download messages from the MSN account and you set up your portable device to check your fastmail account. This seemed to work well with Snappermail on a Treo 650, but your mileage may vary. The only downside to this technique is that Fastmail only fetches email from the MSN/Hotmail account on an hourly basis, which makes it difficult to have a rapid back and forth email conversation via email. Still, it is better than a sharp stick in the eye, but only just…