Email clients and services

I’ve been using Thunderbird for several years now. Before that, (which is to say, before Thunderbird existed,) I used the Mozilla Suite’s inbuilt mail program. The services available to me with my email providers has always (and only) been POP, and I download all my messages to my local machine so I have a backup copy of all my mail.

I easily imported all my mail from the Mozilla Suite to Thunderbird (both Windows XP,) and then I switched from Windows to OS X, and was still easily able to import all my mail back in. That part was great, no hassles whatsoever. Since Thunderbird is professed mbox format emails, I figured at that stage I could easily import all my emails into OS X’s Mail.app.

No.

Apparently, from what I’ve managed to discover in several forums, Mozilla’s clients use a slightly lax (read: invalid) file format of mbox, which has also changed over time (and over clients.) Of the 265 emails in one directory alone, Mail only managed to import some 100 of those successfully (there were another hundred or so emails that did not exist in my original Thunderbird directory, all I can guess is the proprietary mbox filing system somehow kept some old messages, and has some proprietary marker to not display in Thunderbird itself.)

So, I thought, what to do now: perhaps try to clean out the junk that’s in my faux-mbox files? That’s when I found the next problem.

I moved the 37 messages in my inbox to a temporary directory, and closed Thunderbird. Checking the Thunderbird settings in ~/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/, I discovered that my empty, void-of-anything inbox was still garnering a heavyweight 202 MB. Strange, I thought. Inside was hundreds of emails that hadn’t been in my inbox probably for years. So I deleted the file, reopened Thunderbird to recreate the inbox file, and moved the 37 emails back into my inbox, and promptly closed it again.

8.3 MB. Something’s definitely wrong there, isn’t it.

I hunted and found a script that apparently cleans out Thunderbird’s poor attempt (definitely from my point of view, if not from an entirely objective and generally-accepted standpoint) at mbox. I started to get stuck into it, then stumbled across my next gem discovery: Gmail now has IMAP.

Gmail, or Google Mail, has been my email provider since mid-August 2006. A server-side backup of all my email, along with some 4.5 GB of storage space (previously I had just under 3, but Google are ever increasing the limit.)

Unfortunately, Gmail has been slightly limiting in some ways: no directories for storing your mail, the application of categorising your emails has been to apply “labels” to the messages themselves. That, and Gmail was only POP.

Now, with IMAP, I can easily transfer all my locally-stored emails from my ex-email providers of long ago back up to be stored in Gmail. Slow, but worth it. I don’t need to keep my oversized and proprietary locally-stored files for Thunderbird.

So, I think I solved the problem of the unnecessarily hefty inbox size. And without losing a single email.

Will I stop conversion and keep using Thunderbird for my email, or continue the switch to Mail.app? It doesn’t matter so much anymore. In the end, I still think Thunderbird’s filters are more robust than Mail.app’s. And the signatures are more customisable. Oh, and the way IMAP works in Thunderbird means less download time, and faster email seeking (because Thunderbird by default only downloads the headers to local, not the entire emails. Mail.app downloads emails, or emails minus attachments, or none.)

We’ll see.

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