A free software developer adventure

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A File Format Timeline

Here is an interresting retrospective from Rob Weir on microsoft way of thinking file formats. There is a very nice chart and not so much text to read (exactly what I need at 7 pm) : http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/06/file-format-timeline.html A quote :
My guess is that OOXML is merely a transitional format, much like Windows ME was in the OS space, a temporary hybrid used to ease the transition from 16-bit to the 32-bit platform that would eventually come (Windows 2000). Microsoft doesn't want to support all of the quirks of their legacy formats forever. That just leads to bloated, fragile code, more expensive development and support costs. They would rather have clean, structured markup, like ODF. But the question is, how do you get there? The answer is straightforward: First, eliminate the competition. Second, move users in small steps, promising the comfort of continuity and safety. Third, once you have eliminated competition and have the users on the OOXML format that no one but Microsoft fully understands, then you may have your will of them. For example, introduce a new format that drops support for legacy formats and force everyone to upgrade. They are pretty much doing this already on the Mac by dropping support for VBA in the next version of the Mac Office.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Offline GMail, Gmail tags and Thunderbird 2

[SPOILER] As this post is quite long, here are the main ideas : (1) create a thunderbird extension to grab GMail tags, (2) standardize the way MUA (GMail, Thunderbird, Zimbra...) share mail tags with each other.

From time to time, I dream of an offline GMail & GCalendar. Those two applications are really nice but lack of an offline mode, which makes them unsuitable for travelling. As I use GMail & GCalendar to implement GTD [1], those two applications are cruical to my daily work. Not being able to access them is really a pain.

Offline Gmail & GCalendar? Yes, I am quite sure that this dream will come true some time in the future as Google announced Gears [2] a few month ago. For thus of you who missed it, Gears is a framework for making web applications work offline. Currently, Gears allows Google Reader users to check RSS feeds offline. Thus, we can easily suppose that GMail and GCalendar will be supported. But before this comes true, I have to find an offline solution.

The offline calendar issue was solved with Thunderbird, lightning and GCalDaemon [3]. This allows me to have access to my Calendar, to modify it and to synchronise everything back once I get an internet connection. It works really nicely.

For the GMail synchronisation, I can use POP to download the content of the mails, but I lose a highly critical part of the mail information: the tags. As each mail in my inbox is categorized with several tags (cf GTD) I can't possibly imagine to apply manually the tags for each mail twice. That would be a complete waste of time. It is also not possible to create filters/rules to automatically because the tags applied to a mail change over the time but not the content of the mail.

As a matter of fact, more and more Mail clients support tagging. For example, GMail, Zimbra [4] and Thunderbird support it. My first question is thus: would it be possible to improve the mail protocols (IMAP, POP) to support new features like tagging or flagging? If anyone has an answer, I would be eager to know it, but as always will well established standards, it would take year before we could see the result in daily used apps.

In the meantime, what I would like to see is a Thunderbird extension to synchronise tags between GMail/Zimbra and Thunderbid. Does anyone knows if such an extension exists? If it does not exists, I think I will try to spend some time working on it. The major issue I currently think of is: Does Google allows access to such an API? Any clue is welcome.

PS 1: BTW, if you don't know GTD, you should really read that book, it might change the way you work.

PS 2: Zimbra already provides a beta of an offline mode.

[1] GTD With GMail
[2] Google Gears
[3] Gmail and Offline Calendar

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Gmail and Offline Calendar

Since a few years, I have been using GCalendar for managing appointements. It is really a nice tool providing all the features I need (email alarms, ical sync...) : http://www.google.com/googlecalendar/overview.html The only real issue I had with it was to access to my appointements offline. As I regularly spent weeks abroad without any internet connection it was really a pain. Thus, I needed to print on PDF the next weeks in order to access to my schedule which is not that nice. Tonight, I finally found a solution, GCalDaemon: http://gcaldaemon.sourceforge.net/index.html And an introduction to using it: http://lifehacker.com/software/google-calendar/geek-to-live--sync-google-calendar-and-gmail-contacts-to-your-desktop-251279.php I can now synchronise all my calendars using Thunderbird and Lightning. This is a real improvement to my way of working.