Can Eudora be beat? Enter Pandora

RIP Eudora

Eudora was the greatest e-mail client ever.

Was. Qualcomm released the last update, 7.1.0.9, in 2006. It had secret subterranean hallways, notably the file esoteric.epi, that yielded another 12 years of utility. But the latest security certificates are just beyond its ability to cope, as far as I can tell. One day I'll have to send something urgently, and a certificate will have changed overnight. Either I put down the urgent item for an hour and miss a deadline while I tinker with Certificate Manager, or I move on now, to a current e-mail client.

RIP Eudora. You served me well for 25 years.

What's an e-mail client? Do I need one?

Why did we love Eudora so much?

What's a security certificate?

What next

But move on to what? I installed Thunderbird and put it through some paces. Among other problems, it would not import Eudora files, so I'd have to start clean. It wasn't my favorite day.

While researching ways to import those Eudora files, I came across a reference to Pandora. Ha ha! Cute name. Not much of a corporate web site, no search engine presence to talk about. What sort of malware might lurk behind it? But then I saw a screen shot, it looked remarkably familiar, so I downloaded a trial.


From here: Pandora official/download site

Pandora

Remember your first really thrilling ride? Roller-coaster, dodge-em car, Air Force One, whatever, where you just spontaneously went “Wheeeeee?” Remember that scene in Ratatouille [youtube.com/watch?v=rLXYILcRoPQ], when the rat bites into this gourmet cheese, and his dark world explodes into colored swirls?

The Same Touch and Feel

How do you spell s-e-a-m-l-e-s-s? Without the seams: seamless. Ctrl-1: In box. Ctrl-0: Out box. Ctrl-M: Fetch mail. Ctrl-E: Send message (with a slight difference). Wooooeeee! Ctrl-L: Insert a link. A few things are slightly different, mostly for the better.

The Same Adaptability and Portability

Like Eudora, In and Out are assigned a folder each on disk, and every mailbox is similarly a folder containing a content file and index. When you have to import, migrate, archive, restore, etc, you have the power to get the system working the way you want it.

Like Eudora, Pandora data files can reside anywhere, on a thumb drive if you like, and you can specify that location in a command line argument.

And there are the Eudora classics: set the font and size, one for the mailbox summary, another for the message. But with more fine tuning. You have the option to store settings in the Windows Registry, or in a configuration .ini file — which I much prefer: copying settings to another computer is a cinch, and a snafu wrecks your e-mail, not the entire operating system.

Better than Eudora

A United Airlines e-mail with online-content servers exposed by a Pandora option. Only two of six are united.com. Messages from retailers are more heavily weighted towards tracking sites.

Pandora is the upgrade that Eudora needed. Here are some differences.

Online content

Pandora controls online content. What's that? Surveillance and worse. You get an e-flier from your department store. That backyard awning going at 20% off. About 20 product pictures. The pictures aren't part of the e-mail, they're on a server, fetched in real-time when you open and view the e-mail. Each fetch request tells the store that you opened the e-mail, at 9:26, went back for a second look at 11:37, etc. A marketing e-mail contains pieces from multiple servers: not just the store, but from a data-harvesting crew that tracks and consolidates your responses to different e-mails and sticks digital tags on your forehead. Even if marketers' silent, intrusive tactics don't bother you, malicious content from spammers should. Pandora has a button at the bottom of every message, that lists all the referenced servers, and you can pick and choose: all servers, none, or specific trusted sources. There's an option to enable all if the sender is in your address book.

Surreptitious plants in our e-mail are unfortunately becoming the rule rather than the exception, and pretty much every e-mail client looks the other way. Pandora exposes them. Bravo!

Incoming-Outgoing switch

In response to my suggestion, Pandora has a perhaps-unique feature, to transform an incoming message into an outgoing message. Why? I'm on the road, and send a message from my phone. To keep a copy in Pandora, I bcc myself. When that message arrives in Pandora, it's incoming. But logically it's outgoing, right? Now I can switch its headers to outgoing. That means I can use any device, iOS, Android, even as a guest on someone else's e-mail device/client, to send mail, and still have it on file in Pandora. That's a big deal: it lessens my need to carry a Windows device, and closes the gap between IMAP and POP3. I got this feature added to Pandora because I asked for it. Couldn't do that very easily in Eudora.

Command-line interface

In response to another suggestion, Pandora now has a command-line interface. From a DOS window, type:

C:\> C:\Progra~1\Pandora\Pandora sendto:john@doe.com?subject=Meeting^&body=How%20about%20tomorrow%20at%20nine?

[This is standard mailto syntax, and techies will recognize the escape characters: ^ before &, and %20 replacing spaces.] Now you can send e-mails from a batch file, or from a command shell in any programming language (without the ^ escape character in the latter case). Pandora could be running or not when this command is issued. It launches if necessary, and the message goes out. There are syntax extensions for personality and stationery. There's also a queueto option in place of sendto, in which case the message sits in the Out box awaiting editing and further action.

Powerful possibilities: mailing lists, automated notifications.

Server parameters

Pandora provides for an incoming and outgoing server and port number for each personality. You can have a secure personality on ports 995/465, co-existing with an insecure personality on a different server using 110/25 or whatever you choose. Eudora had one in- and one out-port, and dealing with personalities at different security levels was troublesome.

Others

This is not a complete listing of features/differences, just some highlights.

The Icing: Seat on the Board

Is Pandora ready for market? Having used it as my primary e-mail client for 10 months, I say a certain YES!

It has its problems of course. As does every other software package. I've seen the program crash, messages disappear, and mailbox indexes corrupted. The program can be re-started, and corrupted indexes can be rebuilt. But lost messages are not tolerable (that problem has been fixed as detailed below, but I wanted to start this section by looking at the product quite brutally, for unbiased comparison).

Which raises the question: is any other e-mail client tolerable, considering that you have to click 4 times instead of once, 30x/day? Do others crash? More than a decade after Word came on the market, I lost work in corrupted .doc files. Similarly, I could easily write a couple of pages criticizing the iPhone mail app, Google products, or just about anything else. It boils down to what you stand to gain by choosing a product, and what risks you're willing to take. Once a product passes basic tests of functionality and stability, I put a large part of my judgment on the character of the people behind it. The corporate value statement if you will, not the words on the web site but the way they're practiced.

With Pandora, you the customer are on the Board of Directors, for practical purposes. Pandora is the creation of Brana Bujenovic of E-Gadgets (his past creations were various e-mail-related utilities). Bug report or suggestion for a new feature? His replies are prompt, intelligent and constructive. If he won't put in a feature you suggest, he'll have a reason why, not necessarily convincing, but thoughtful. If the solution to the problem is to set an option, he can often send a link by e-mail, e.g. "x-pandora-settings:datetimecolumnalign=1", click it and the option is activated. Technically slick, plus refreshing re-focus on the U in UX.

I exchanged 25 e-mails with Brana in the first 2 weeks, and during that period two minor upgrades were released, with responses to some of my bug reports and suggestions. There have been about 20 updates in under a year. This is not just exemplary. It's a class of its own.

Sure the program crashes, maybe every 5 months on average. Nothing gets lost in the process, so I can live with that. The lost-message problem was due to the way some options were set and implemented. An e-mail exchange with Brana, a couple of software updates, and the problem has gone away. There will be more crashes, and mailbox indexes will get corrupted again, as surely as autonomous cars will get into accidents. Life's like that.

In summary, this is more feature-rich, and no more buggy than any other software. Bottom line: whatever problems there are, whatever new problems arise, I'm confident that they'll be resolved, and soon.

Help Wanted

Pandora is almost free. At $14, a license costs about the same as a nice sandwich and soda (Eudora was more like a nice dinner with wine). Minor upgrades are covered, e.g. 2.1 to 2.2, but you'll need a new license to step up a major version, e.g. 1.9 to 2.0. This is standard practice. Eudora did it. WinZip does it.

There's a free version too. It has only one personality, and a couple of other features are limited.

But why not fork out a sandwich worth of small bills to fund E-Gadgets and its magnificent project that makes our lives easier? Support a developer who restores the best customer-focused design and standards in the software business. Even if it's with the selfish motivation that we can't let Pandora go away and have to find another e-mail client that works.

Better still, put in some time. Write some help text. Contribute a user experience. Help to develop momentum for this product. Do your bit to make this not just a mainstream e-mail client, but the standard. It deserves to be.

I thought of a way to help: I wrote this. Can you come up with something?