A Bat Delayed, Filetered, and Still Not Shaken

Have you dashed off a quick e-mail, sent it, and immediately: (a)Realized that you left out something important, (b)Wished that you hadn't sent the message, or (c)Noticed a misspelled word as the application was closing the message and queueing it for delivery? The Bat comes to the rescue with a "delayed send" option and you get to choose the delay: 1 minute, 5 minutes, 23 minutes, 2 hours, 1 day. Whatever. It's your choice. And that's just one small reason why my favorite e-mail program has been The Bat for more than a decade.

Click for a larger view.The Bat already had an option to schedule a message. Write it in the evening and go to bed. Schedule the message to be sent at 2 am tomorrow, telling your boss how happy you are to be working on a big project even if you have to stay up late to finish it. OK, so maybe there are better uses for this, but I'm sure somebody will use it the way I've described. You do, of course, need to leave the computer on and The Bat must be running for this to work as intended.

Popular in Europe, but essentially unknown in North America, The Bat was released in 1997. At the time, I thought it had great promise, but continued to use Eudora until about 2000, when I switched to The Bat. The program is a product of RITLabs, based in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, a region of the former USSR. The Bat doesn't currently pose a major threat to Microsoft Outlook, but it has several million users around the world. I like it because I can program it to do just about anything.

Scheduling, for example. Other e-mail clients, such as Outlook, also allow you schedule a delivery time for a single email, but it isn't possible to do this for all outgoing messages. Instead of specifying an exact date and time to send messages, you set a specific amoung of delay. So when I think, 5 seconds after sending a message, that I intended to add a comment, I can just open the message and add the comment. This reduces the number of times that I have to send a message that begins with "Oops. Sorry, but I meant to add this bit of information to my previous message."

By default, no messages are delayed. I don't see a way to apply a default delay using the graphical user interface, but it's easy enough to add the change to the message template. The advantage here is that templates can control an entire account or just a specific folder.

Click for a larger view.Click for a larger view.The command to add a delay to the template is %POSTPONE="Nd Nh Nm" where N is the number of days (d), hours (h), or minutes (m) to delay the message. The Bat has specific templates for new messages, replies, forwards, and reading confirmations. So I might set 5-minute delays for new messages, replies, and forwards in my primary account, but allow reading confirmations to go without delay. In another folder, but within the same account, I could set longer or shorter delays for some or all of the message types. The combined flexibility of templates per message type per folder provides the kind of flexibility no other e-mail program offers and it's one of the primary reasons I use The Bat.

Click for a larger view.The ability to delay messages is a feature that's new to version 4.2.6, which is a free upgrade to any user of version 4.1 or later.

Flexibility Beyond Compare

Click for a larger view.Here's a snapshot that shows some of the folders in my prirmary e-mail account.

First, let's consider inbound messages, which come to a variety of addresses that are all forwarded to a single collector account, where they are examined and rated by SpamAssassin. SpamArrest picks up all of the messages from the collector account and sorts them into known-good messages that are made available immediately and suspect messages from addresses that aren't on my whitelist. These messages are placed in a sandbox where I can examine them to see if I want to receive any of them.

The Bat picks up all of the messages from SpamArrest and sorts them into various folders. The sorting may be based on the address the message was initially sent to, so all messages sent to my TechByter account go to the TechByter folder. In other cases, I have filters set up to look at the sender's address, possibly in conjunction with a marker of some sort in the message's subject or possibly within the message's header information.

(1) represents my primary e-mail account. If messages aren't sorted into another folder, they will come to the inbox here or, if the sender is in my address book, to the "inbox - known" folder. (2) is where messages sent to TechByter Worldwide are sorted. This category expands to reveal folders for messages from hardware and software companies, PR agencies, a general inbox, and more. (3) Copyediting is for use by two related mailing lists. I sort both received and sent messages into these folders. Finally, (4) is where messages to me as a consultant go.

Click for a larger view.Click for a larger view.The filtering system allows me to identify a message by the sender or recipient; by specific text in the subject line, the message text, the header; by the size, age, or priority of the message; and more.

If it's a text comparison (below, left), the filter can look to see if the string is simply present or absent, if the string and nothing but the string is present or absent, if the text begins with or ends with the string, and (most powerful of all) if there is a "regular expression" (RegExp) match. Regular expressions are the subject of many large books, so I'll limit my explanation to this: They are extremely powerful.

Click for a larger view.Click for a larger view.Having clearly identified a specific message, The Bat's filtering system can then move or copy it to a folder; export the message, extract attachments, or print the message; delete the message, locally and from the server; capture the address; forward or redirect the message; create a new message; send an automatic reply or reading confirmation; play a sound; create a scheduled event; set a flag (read, unread, priority, parked, or unparked) just to name some of the actions that are avaialble.

4 CatsBottom Line: The most flexible e-mail program adds more useful features.

The only reason The Bat earns 4 cats instead of 5 is its still crippled help system that keeps many of the programs most powerful features locked away from users. A program this good deserves better documentation and an on-line users group is able to answer nearly any question you might have about how to accomplish any task, simple or advanced, if you can put up with the list's oddities.
For more information, visit the RIT Labs website.

If You Call It "Think Free", Shouldn't It Be Free?

I'm a bit confused, but this is my normal state. A service called Think Free says that it's better than Google Documents and better than Zoho. It calls itself "free", but then it asks for $40. Or maybe $25. "Free" seems not to equate to $40 or even to $25. Free, at least to my mind, would equate to $0. Maybe I don't quite comprehend the meaning of "free", but if that's the case, the American Heritage Dictionary seems not to grasp the meaning, either, considering "free" to mean "Costing nothing; gratuitous: a free meal". What am I missing?

Click for a larger view.Think Free might be a worthwhile service that allows you to "access the documents stored in My Office anywhere, anytime," but it appears not to be free, really. At least not in the gererally accepted meaning of the word.

So I have no argument with Think Free's overarching concept, but only with its name.

Click for a larger view."Have you ever received an important document that you couldn't open because your Office program didn't know how to handle it?" the Think Free website asks. "With the View Document service, you can easily view documents that are incompatible with your current Office program." Among the file formats Think Free can work with are DOC, DOT, RTF, PPT, POT, PPS, XLS, XLT, DOCX, PPTX, XLSX, PDF, and HWP. HWP? According to filext.com, HWP is Hangul Word Processor File, a Korean format. I don't receive too many of those.

At the left, above, is a view of the TechByter Worldwide program status spreadsheet. Below, at the right, is the same spreadsheet as viewed in Excel.

Click for a larger view.Hmmm. Maybe that's a clue. Korea. Where is ThinkFree.com registered? THINKFREE, domainadmin@thinkfree.com, Guui-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Prime center 8F, 546-4 Seoul, 143200. Ah, now I comprehend. If you're storing and sharing a high-school English report, storing it in Korea might be OK. If you're working on a top-secret government report, this would definitely be a bad idea. For projects between those two extremes, it's your decision.

According to Wikipedia, "ThinkFree Office includes a word processor (Write), a spreadsheet (Calc), a presentation program (Show), and a WYSIWYG HTML and blog editor (Note). ThinkFree Office reads and writes to Microsoft Office file formats (.doc, .xls, and .ppt). ThinkFree Office has a look and feel similar to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, providing a degree of familiarity to new users."

I'm not currently using ThinkFree. But then I'm also not currently using Google Documents, Microsoft's on-line service, or Zoho. Until further notice, I'm planning to keep control of my own documents.

Two Reasons Chrome Will Be a Winner. Or Maybe a Loser.

Ever since Google announced its long-anticipated operating system will be available sometime next year, all the pundits who have been saving up their "10 reasons why Chrome will succeed beyond Google's wildest dreams" stories have started running them. And those who had stories titled "10 reasons why Chrome will fail beyond Microsoft's greatest hopes" have started running them, too. In the past week, I've seen at least a dozen of these stories, including some that come down on both sides of the fence.

I'm staying out of the fray. I suppose that I could whip up one of those 10-reasons stories. Or maybe even one of those fence-sitter articles with 5 reasons Chrome will succeed and 5 reasons it will fail. After all, if you've ever worked for any kind of publication, you know how much people love "X-reasons why" stories.

When Chrome arrives, I'll look at it. Then I'll make a decision about why it might succeed wildly or fail spectacularly. But in reality, it will probably do neither.

For now, at least a year before any planned release, who cares!

Short Circuits

A Twitter, Stolen

Twitter is becoming the poster child for poor security. If something can go wrong at Twitter it will. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the latest problem at Twitter involved the theft of confidential business documents. For example the financial forecast that suggested Twitter's revenues would increase from zero (now) to $140 million by the end of 2010 and to $1.54 billion by 2013. The company also predicted 1 billion users by then.

Other stolen files revealed plans for Twitter's new offices. Does this sound like pre-2000 dot-com-bubble-era planning? The plans call for a sleeping room, a playing room, a greenhouse, a meditation room, a bicycle room, a gym, a wine cellar, and an aquarium. Some of the information that was stolen resided on-line in Google Apps. No matter how good the security is, all it takes is a stolen user name and password if files are stored on a publicly accessible machine.

Read the full story on the San Jose Mercury News website.

Apple Tweaks the Palm Pre

Apple is a really nice company that's always going out of its way to help the people who use its products, right? Right, maybe, if you never stray too far from the tree. Apple has just updated Itunes so that the music manager turns a deaf ear to the Palm Pre. Palm designers, apparently thinking that people who owned one of their devices might want to download some of their Itunes music to the device, designed the Pre to work with Itunes. Apple didn't like that.

Plug a Pre into a computer that's running Itunes and Itunes will think you've plugged in an Ipod or an Iphone. Or, more accurately, it would have thought that.

Starting with version 8.2.1, Apple addressed an Itunes "issue with verification of Apple devices". And that fix makes the Palm Pre invisible to Itunes. See what a nice, cooperative company Apple is!

Workarounds exist, at least on Windows machines. But the point is that workaround shouldn't be necessary. Apple should consider its customers first because without customers there would be no Apple.

Netflix Continues to Sail

Most of the rest of the economy remains in the tank, but Netflix is doing OK. Growth is down, but at a time when stability is considered to be growth, real growth is unusual. But should this surprise anyone? When the economy tanks, people stop going to restaurants as much so grocery store sales rise. They stop going to movies as much, so operations such as Netflix increase. That's just the way things work. So at a time when rival Blockbuster is closing stores, Netflix is expanding.

The company does a lot of things right. It's increasingly common (maybe because of the oddball selections I make) for Netflix not to have what I want in Columbus, so it has to be shipped from Seattle or San Jose or some other distant city. I always receive an e-mail from Netflix telling me the movie is on the way and, in the meantime, they'll send me the next item on my list at no extra charge. There are times that I end up with 4 Netflix DVDs in the house at the same time

As well positioned as Netflix is now, the company will have to keep an eye on the future because DVDs are becoming old technology. The future is video on demand via the Internet. As speeds increase, we'll see more video delivered that way. Pricing may be a challenge, though. If you rent a DVD, you can watch is as many times as you want. With video on demand, what happens? If someone else in the family wants to watch the program tomorrow, do they pay, too? What if you want to watch it again next week? Or next month? How about next year? Maybe you get a subscription for $X per month that allows you to watch up to Y hours of video, or one fee for as much as you want to watch.

Something tells me that the folks at Netflix are thinking about these things today and preparing for tomorrow.