Moving away from Google Apps

2010/12/31 23:44:16
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I tried Google Apps for Your Domain (GAFYD). I really did.

Over the past two years, I’ve been a bit annoyed with Postini’s overzealous SPAM blockage, the few times Gmail has been down, and Gmail’s difficulties with listing labels containing 100s of messages. AND I WAS A PAYING CUSTOMER!  I realize now that I don’t use the labels as much as I had expected. Being able to read my mail from anywhere with a web browser wasn’t as useful as I had thought, considering my phone doesn’t render Gmail well.

Being able to read my messages in any client (OSX Mail,iOS Mail, Outlook Mobile, Microsoft Outlook) that supports IMAP is better.

So, I’ve taken a step back to the days of the email client and email server. I’ve set up Courier as my mail server. I use the aforementioned mail clients. Courier uses Maildir for searching folders and it is faster to search through that Gmail. I primarily use the mail clients on my MacBook Pro and iPad, but occasionally read email on my cell phone or iPod. Using a mail server for my domain rather than Google has improved performance when using these devices. Of course, now I have to maintain the software, but I don’t mind that.

For web-based mail, if I need it, I’ve downloaded and installed Hastymail2 on the web server.

I’m going to stick with using Gmail for my Contacts and Calendar as it allows me to sync with all my disparate devices (iOS, Windows Mobile, Windows, OSX). I’m on the lookout for another Calendaring and Contacts solution so that I can be free of Google altogether, but I don’t think that will come any time soon due to the device syncing constraints. I like the fact that my wife and I can see each others calendars and share a calendar, both nice features of Google Calendar. We’ll see what future solutions arise.

Automatically Backing up Gmail to a Linux Server

2009/01/18 11:49:00
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So, today I decided to set about the task of backing up my Gmail to my home server. I pay Google for 99% uptime, and really don’t expect their service to fail, but I have to account for more likely scenarios. For example, I may conceivably delete a message and find out I need it later; or, I may not want to keep a message on Gmail anymore but still need to retain it.

The players in this setup are a server running CentOS 5.2 and Gmail itself. My plan is to create a cron job that backs up the email at some fixed interval (daily) and saves it to a folder. At some point, I will back that up to DVD in case I or Gmail lose everything one day.

Gmail Backup runs on Windows and Linux. Gmail Backup does something that fetchmail or other solutions fail to provide: your Gmail labels are actually stored. This made it appear to be a better solution overall, so I decided to give it a whirl.

It is written in Python and requires Python to run on Linux (the Windows version is compiled). Unfortunately for me, the Python that comes with CentOS 5.2 is Python 2.4.3 and Gmail Backup requires Python 2.5.

I could just rip out the Python 2.4.3 libraries and replace them with Python 2.5 libs, but that would create problems for some of CentOS’s native utilties. So, I’ve installed Python 2.5 and wxpython in a different directory on my server and pointed Gmail Backup at the correct Python files.

According to the documentation, I just needed to run: backup my-backup-directory gmail-username gmail-password

The first attempt at running Gmail Backup met with failure:

Error: IMAP: [ALERT] Invalid credentials (Failure)

which I realized was because the shell was not escaping the ! in my password, so I changed the password.

Then I got:

ValueError: time data did not match format:  data=XXXXX  fmt=%Y%m%d

The XXXXX was the last half of my new password, which had a space in it. I consider this a bug in the implementation of Gmail Backup. I’ll contact the author with a fix later. So, I removed the space from my password.

That did it. Off I went. Gmail Backup nicely put my email into a directory. Each message is stored as a text file in directories indexed by year and date. All of the labels are stored in a text file.

Restoring to Gmail is as easy as: restore my-backup-directory gmail-username gmail-password

With a little scripting and a cron job, now I can automate Gmail Backup with a script, having it create periodic backups of all of my messages, then compressing the backup directory into one big file for storage and offloading.

Thanks Gmail Backup for making this so much easier!

Palm has been busy

2009/01/13 15:36:00
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So, it looks like Palm has been busy since I thought it had abandoned it’s users.

The Palm Pre debuted this week to happy audiences. According to PC Magazine, the phone comes with a QWERTY keyboard just like the Treo of old, but also comes with a 3.1 touch screen. The slide out keyboard design has been done before, but I like the Palm chiclet keyboard better than the Blackberry one.

I would love to make use of the 8GB of internal user storage, which seems a bit much for what I use my Treo for. This makes me wonder how well it plays music.

Just like the iPhone, the system will rotate the perspective of web pages based on the angle you hold the phone.

The new Palm webOS is Linux based and offers and interface that has intrigued reviewers. From the screen captures it doesn’t appear to be that spectacular, but is evidently far more responsive than PalmOS or the Treo’s Garnet OS ever was. The gestures that one can use to control the interface could take some getting used to, but I learned the Palm alphabet long ago, so I’m thinking I can tackle the gestures if they’re worth the time.

The web browser is quoted as “desktop class” by Palm. Reviewers have noted that it is far, far better than the existing Treo Blazer web browser. Having suffered at using the Blazer browser, I have to agree that anything would have been an improvement, so it’s almost like comparing something to nothing.

The Pre can charge via USB, or though an induction device called the Palm Touchstone. I’m cooled out that I don’t need to plug it in. The only other device that I have that charges this way is my electric toothbrush. I just question how long it takes to charge via this method.

My personal question comes to: how well will Google Calendar and Google Contacts sync with this device? I realize that webOS should let me look them up online any time, but what about when I can’t get online? I still need access to the information. Blackberry and Android are still the only device types that Google Apps supports. Unless someone writes a third-party application, this leaves the Palm Pre out of the running for my next smartphone.

I’ve asked Sprint to let me know the instant this phone comes out.


Everything Google?

2009/01/07 11:48:00
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So, now that I’ve got everything on Google (and I mean everything), and have embraced cloud computing wholeheartedly, my Palm Treo 755p is no longer a sufficiently capable smartphone for my needs.

I’ve been getting frustrated with Palm over the past year.

Because the included web browser (Blazer) was so feature poor, I wanted to use Opera mini, but can’t. Palm no longer distributes IBM’s Java Virtual Machine for Palm OS, required to run Opera.

Because Palm offers no native way of synching calendar, tasks, and contacts with the Internet, I wanted to use Funambol, but can’t. Support for the Sync4j client on PalmOS is nonexistent, probably because the j in Sync4j stands for Java (see above note about the discontinued IBM JVM on Palm OS).

Palm, the once proud leader in mobile personal information managers has fallen far from grace.

So, of course, I’m looking for a replacement, and now Google Apps has put new requirements into my hands.

A year or more ago, I remember reading somewhere that Google was working on an environment for cell phones. So, I started checking up on Android, Google’s cell phone environment. T-Mobile offers the G1, but I hear it doesn’t have all of the kinks worked out and
I’m also a Sprint user.

A look at the Google Apps web site reveals an application called Sync which is designed to work with Blackberry smart phones. That indicates that Blackberry is also an option.

Switching to Verizon for an Android phone doesn’t seem to be an option, as Ars Technica reports they’ve ditched Android for LiMO.

So, I appear to have the following options so far:

  1. Wait for Sprint to have a decent Android phone, which looks to be available from HTC sometime in the summer of 2009.
  2. Get a nice existing Blackberry from Sprint.
  3. Change to Verizon and get my hands on the Blackberry Storm, which I hear is the first touchscreen Blackberry and hence has bugs that RIM hasn’t worked out yet.

I’m attempting to make an informed decision and don’t want my impatience to get the best of me. Any suggestions?

More information:

Web site technology brainstorming

2008/10/11 17:55:00
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A year ago, after much consideration of differing tools, I looked at all of the open source Content Management Solutions and came to the conclusion that nothing solved every one of my needs well.

I needed the following:

  1. A blog
  2. A photo gallery
  3. A web mail program

I tried quite a few solutions and came down to the following solutions that seemed to do their respective jobs best:

Then I ran into the following problems:

  • No common authentication scheme for these three tools. In essence I had to log into each of them separately. This is a common problem to using multiple tools.
  • A strange Out Of Memory error that occurs on my Apache web server when it runs too long. I don’t know if it’s B2 Evolution or Gallery 2 doing that. Currently the web server restarts its process every hour to avoid this (not really an optimal solution, don’t visit at the top of the hour)
  • Squirrelmail has many of the features I want, but the interface is lacking.
  • No way of tying the information together. I can not use the same categories for blog entries, photos, and email messages together. This was not an original requirement but became more apparent over time as I began using other tools, like Agendus on my PDA.
  • PHP seems to have quite a few security holes, requiring a lot of patching/restarts of the web server.

So, with the hubris that most developers have, I decided it would be better to just write my own tools to do this.

I have looked at the following programming environments:

Each has its own pros and cons. Both Zope and Ruby on Rails appear to be very much tied to database design and relationships. J2EE is looking like a good choice for complete abstraction, but with that power comes a lot of work.

Then, there is the research needed to make certain aspects of blogs and photo galleries work.

In order to understand the implementation of Trackbacks and other Blog-related concepts, I’ll end up diving into B2Evolution’s code. In order to find out how caching is handled for photos, I’ll end up diving into Gallery 2’s code.

At that point, I might as well force those tools to do what I want.