Jun 9, 2006

Folderless Outlook

This is a reply to an email I have received from Mark of CNXN fame, the one that made del.icio.us and Reddit with his No-Folder tutorial as a feedback to my post. The text has been edited slightly to better fit blog.

First a quote:

As illogical as this sounds I find this very valuable info. When I first started using Outlook without folders I had the “fear” as well until I kept at it and realized that it was unfounded. The realization came when I started looking at WHY I started using folders in the first place. For me it was generally to shrink the list of things I needed to look through so I could reduce the fear. That fear was directly proportional to the size of the list. Gradually though, that fear went away as it sunk in that the list did shrink conceptually by sorting the fields.

But this concept has to be learned, which takes effort, which takes time, which is something people generally have very little of. I hate drilling new habits as much as anyone, but my inconsistency with and distaste for filing necessitated that I do.

So back to being delighted. We’re developing an email tagger for Outlook in order to address some of the short comings of not using folders. Even though we strongly believe that people could get away with 95% less filing, there is undoubtedly a need for SOME type of categorization.

The fear you described is the most important factor in designing a functional UI for the email tagger - how are people going to react to 10000 messages in one place?

We’ve posed a number of questions to stimulate product suggestions, but the best feedback we’ve rec’d to date comes from saying to people, “Do it this way” and they tell us why the don’t want to.

I suppose the matter is not solely filing vs. not filing. A significant part of the issue is a tool at hand. When I use Gmail I do not, per se, file anything – Gmail is a proof enough that your approach is quite valid and can be used. However, what is very important in case of Gmail is that the way all communication is handled, whole efficiency of it. Conversations/threads are preserved and tracked well. Search is almost instantaneous. Rules can be used to efficiently tag/archive messages. What this does is that you are not feeling intimidated by the length of a scroll bar, a counter of messages in your inbox (let alone by the number of unread ones!).

What is interesting is that at that Gmail borrows well from Pine, Mutt, Elm. I would not mind to use mutt as my email client if I could at work! I am more than certain I’d be lots more efficient.

About tagging. From what I know, there are several Outlook tools that attempt to do just that. Take, for instance, NEO. It is a great tool – allows you to categorize your mails easily, groups it for you by different views (by contact, by dates, by categories, etc.). It is fast and does rely on the same keep-it-all-in-one-place approach. If I were looking at a tagging solution – NEO would definitely be an app to look at closely.

Another alternative is ClearContext, although it does look more at tagging. Yet another is GTD Outlook add-in. It also allows you to tag (assign t projects and contexts).

Now, as far as tagging goes what it really requires s being easy to access and unobtrusive. You can categorize mail even now, but it requires way too much clicking around. Either a keyboard shortcut, or a drop-down list on the toolbar, or a small text box where status bar normally sits would be the way I’d go. Another good way, but I am not sure it is easy to do with Outlook, would be to do what MailTags does in MacOS Mail.app – an extra side bar that lets you set a few things, tags inclusive.

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Jun 4, 2006

Is Bangalore as high-quality resource-rich as it wants everyone to believe?

Apple software logs out of India- The Times of India:
Considering the low-cost, high-quality talent pool that Bangalore offers, it is unclear why Apple decided to shut shop just over a month after it commenced operations.

Say what? Maybe the proper way to react to Apple's actions was to actually stop and think: are there really that many high-quality support resources over at Bangalore? Low-cost -— sure, no doubt. But high-quality in impeccable Apple kind of way? I would not say so. One of the very important things that sets Apple apart from the rest of PC industry is their attention to details and to end-to-end customer experience. This also includes customer support. And Apple would certainly hate it had it somehow been forced to deliver service quality below its customers expectation. Something that has been all-to-frequent with India (and China) outsourced activities...

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CRN | Lenovo, Linux, Lenovo3000 | Lenovo To Shun Linux

As seen on Slashdot, quoted from CRN: CRN | Lenovo, Linux, Lenovo3000 | Lenovo To Shun Linux:
Computer maker Lenovo will not install or support the Linux operating system on any of its PCs, including ThinkPads and a series of new notebooks, the company said this week.

So, it has started. It has not really taken all that long. I used to be an almost adamant ThinkPad fan — I still think that in Wintel world they used to be the best laptops ever. Best engineering, even if a bit moody at times, requiring a very diligent installation process.

The day I learnt IBM would stop actually making them — I have not cried, but I was certain that the end has, indeed come. And I can attest that the most recent of my ThinkPads (T40), the one that has Lenovo's name on the back, is lousy, compared to 5-year-old 770E that still works.

IBM has never to the best of my memory, directly supported Linux on ThinkPads, though one could find some recommendations on forums, etc. about what might be the best setup. Remember how everyone cheered up when IBM announced that they are now a Linux company? One of the most frequent sentiments I remember was people saying "At last — we now will get native Linux drivers for-this-and-that!"

Never did happen. And now Lenovo is fully selling off to a certain Redmond-based company. So long.

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Using Outlook Without Folders, Without Filing

Over at Mark Rosenberg has published a tutorial on Using Outlook Without Folders, Without Filing.

This is so much un-GTD that I had shivers going down my spine when I realized what this was about. This is also likely targeted at those lucky among us that don't fear seeing an inbox full of 12,345 messages — then waiting for them to get sorted, the way author suggests.

I have known people to go by "my inbox is the place I keep all of my messages" approach — but I could never equate them with the most productive folk. True, Mark does suggest a few enhancements to how you keep all this info in one big pile: color, use different font, etc. Yet you're likely to go crazy if you do need to manage too many tasks/projects/relationships this way (say, is bold-italic-lime related to that mega-project or not?). This approach does not really help you organizing your info, it only reduces that 15-second decision you should have made when you got your message (and if you remember, David suggests that you should never file it in multiple places, you should rather go with the folder that first comes to mind, that's it).

Folder-wise filing, with a very quick heat-of-the-moment filing decisions coupled with a good search tool like (no longer available for download) LookOut — this is what does make your mind flow, not a big pile of info.

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Jun 1, 2006

Opera Mini 2.0

Opera Mini™ for Mobile:
Opera Mini™ is a fast and tiny Web browser, that allows you to access the full Internet on your phone. ... The new version further improves the browsing experience by enabling download of images, MP3s, etc directly to your phone.

I've had previous version of OperaMini running on my Nokia 6230 phone and pretty much always preferred it to the stock Nokia browser. The only drawback was when accessing operator-enabled resources that did not like Opera, but in every other instance it was far superior to the default web browser.

For one thing, it uses screen much better, even a tiny one like mine. On my wife's 7650 it almost real thing! It has much better layout capabilities, supports enough JavaScript that you can access your Gmail account (although you should probably think twice before doing so -- it does not support HTTPS). And as a quote above says — you can even download media (images, MP#s, etc.) onto your phone!

First experience after upgrading — it definitely feels much faster. Opera states that:

Opera Mini uses a remote server to pre-process Web pages before sending them to your phone. Web content is optimized for your device, ensuring fast browsing and a great user experience. ... Opera Mini recognizes your phone and optimizes Web pages accordingly to provide faster browsing. link

This is quite impressive, and what is more important — it works. Web sites, though cramped into a tiny screen, “degraded” very gracefully in most of my tests — they were pretty much unrolled, following the structure and preserving styles as much as it was possible (i.e. if CSS called for leaving a 150px margin, that was not honored, while colors, pictures, fonts, etc. certainly was).

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