KELLNER: Making e-mail work, for work and home

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I’m not happy right now. You might not be, either.

And while I’ll grant, dear reader, that my personal happiness is probably not your concern, the subject of my ire, and perhaps yours, may be mutual: E-mail. More concretely, e-mail applications that run on our computers, mobile devices and what have you. I’ve come to the conclusion that many of them, well, stink (another adjective comes to mind, but this is a family newspaper).

The reason for my complaint is having spent the past day or so trying to get stuff sorted out in Microsoft Outlook 2011 for Macintosh. When introduced last fall, I hailed its arrival as an advancement for Mac-kind, if not humankind as a whole. And, in general, I like the concept, but the execution is driving me nuts. (More on that in a moment.)

Not that Apple’s Mail.app, the standard, “free,” e-mail application bundled with the Mac OS X operating system, is all that much better. Something went south with that program a while back and I had to rather laboriously reinstall Mail.app in order to accomplish what I needed to do. This sort of thing can happen in computing, so I can understand that. What I don’t like is that, now, Mail.app doesn’t want to connect to one of my outside e-mail accounts, no matter how hard I try.

And forget about Thunderbird, the Mozilla.org-backed e-mail client for Mac, Windows, Linux and perhaps CP/M (the 8-bit operating system from the Pleistocene era). That “puppy” won’t fetch mail from a Microsoft Exchange server come you-know-what or high water; both I, a Mac user, and a Windows-wielding colleague, have had the same problem. (Suggested solutions are welcome, however.)

So, to borrow from the late Gerry Rafferty, I’m “stuck in the middle with you,” Outlook 2011.

The dilemma: Apart from either my Exchange-based account (naturally) and accounts that use the Internet Message Access Protocol (or, IMAP), everything else was being dumped into one “Inbox” in the “On My Computer” folder. Those of us who lead compartmentalized lives may prefer to have stuff from accounts “A,” “B” and “G” (for Google’s Gmail) in separate account folders, automatically.

That was not to be; there’s no way that I’ve seen to set up Outlook 2011 to handle that, and my frustration mounted day by day. Until I remembered that one can set up subfolders, and create a “rule” to channel new messages appropriately. Click to “run” the rule (i.e., apply it) to the older inbox and everything is sorted.

Problem solved, sort of. It took a long time for the computer to sort everything and while that’s a one-off thing, I’m surprised that setting up accounts in this way is not doable.

Oh, and one more thing: Inserting a graphic into an e-mail signature isn’t all that easy with Outlook 2011, or so it seems. I kept trying to “paste” it in, and it wouldn’t display. Until I had to send an e-mail this morning and it showed up, but only after I told the computer to “download” a given image.

My point — and I believe I do have one — is that things need to be simpler, in terms of e-mail, for all of us. Busy users don’t have the time, or the patience to get involved in some of the things we have to do to make e-mail software work the way we’d like. And while the Web offers many nice solutions; i.e., the Web-based versions of e-mail accounts, there are times when having e-mail on a “local” computer is important, if not vital.

Thus, it’s incumbent upon software developers — somewhere — to find something better and bring it to the masses. Or at least to me. Before I tear my hair out.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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