Drewloid's Blog

Archive for November 2013

I”ll start by saying I love my macbook air. I love Apple products. I recently chose to commit to using apple products and the Apple ecosystem as the foundation of my digital life. This is no small commitment on my part, as I have never particularly liked the way Apple software works. I have also never cared for the pretentious air of smug superiority that has long pervaded the attitudes of the faithful, otherwise known as Apple fanboys.  This all started when Apple bigots felt the desperate need to malign the Amiga and Atari computers which were much much cheaper than Apple offerings of the day.  “My way is the best way and should be the only way!” is the kind of thinking that has time and again led to genocide, so I tend to disagree with it.

My beef with Apple is this. Apple makes their software work with their hardware for you to use a certain way, and if you donʻt want to use it that way, too bad.  As it happens, this is their strength. For the most part, it works, and the user does not have to think about it. I finally reached the point where the combination of crappy hardware and poor software integration in the Windows ecosystem was unbearable for me and I made the switch to Apple. It might not work exactly the way I want it to work, but at least it works in some way with a very low level of frustration. I cannot say this about products in the Windows ecosystem.

Ok, that is a lot of background, but it is important. Because now it is apparently a common complaint that Mac Mail does not work well with Gmail.



People have to have something to whine about I suppose.

I must say I find this whining to be absolutely hilarious.  The Apple faithful always had a response to my assertion that the advantage of Windows was that I could make my system work the way I wanted.  “But you can do that with Apple as well!”  Yes, if you want to code up some applescript and fart around with it.  The problem with these sorts of solutions are that they are fragile. If you try to use something to do something for which it was not designed, you have a fragile solution that will inevitably break.  I can use a reciprocating saw to make a woodworking cut in some wood, but itʻs not designed for that and you wonʻt get a consistently great result.

So in a nutshell, here is the complaint: “Apple is trying to fix Mac Mail to work better with Gmail and itʻs broken all my hacks to make it work the way I want!”  Too bad, thatʻs what happens when you hack things together.  There is a standard protocol for email that makes it possible to synchronize multiple email clients against the email store, and it is called IMAP.  It works well enough for what it is supposed to do.  And what it is supposed to do is present a consistent abstraction of email messages stored in a hierarchical folder view.  Gmail doesnʻt work that way.  Gmail stores messages in a database and applies labels to tag the messages in order to present different views of the messages in the database.  Gmail is inherently not compatible with IMAP.

At this point, I want to say to these people, “Get over it.”  But there is no reason to write this little blog entry if that is my attitude, Iʻm writing this to get my thoughts down about how I see underlying patterns at work in the world.

Let me digress.  I wrote dial up networking in Windows 95.  The great strength of my implementation was that it was an excellent example of the Internet Engineering credo of “Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you accept.”  The underlying protocol for dial up network offered an amazing variety of options that 99.99999% of Windows users could never benefit from. So I implemented NONE of them. If something was not specifically required by the base protocol spec, I used the standard mechanism to not support it.  Windows 95 dial up network worked with EVERYTHING.  Except implementations that were so broken that I would have had to break it relative to correct implementations.  This actually happened with the dial up routers at a certain Ivy League college.

My point is that the abstractions were consistent and everything worked according to the consistent design principles.

There is no way to have an IMAP email client work consistently with Gmail.  There never will be.  The business priorities that drive gmail are quite different from the business priorities that drive an IMAP email client.

Googleʻs business priority is get as much data about you as they can so they can maximize the price they charge for showing you an advertisement.  What they care about is a technical architecture that supports their database searching needs and they need to control your view to the data so they can present an ad – i.e., they need you to use their webmail client.

The business model for your IMAP client (of which Mac Mail is an example) is that you pay for the software, and so naturally, you are paying for something that works with IMAP.

So if you want to use something that you get for free in a manner which doesnʻt fit the business model of the person who is providing the free something, Iʻd say you are pretty silly if you think you wonʻt have issues.  Likewise, itʻs pretty silly to complain that something that works the way it is supposed to work (the IMAP mail client) doesnʻt work well with something that it canʻt work well with (the gmail system).

I had gmail connected to my mac mail.  I wanted a better way to organize all my old gmail messages. I finally gave up. Google doesnʻt want me deleting any of my old data.  Google doesnʻt want me using anything other than their client.  Google tolerates any of these transgressions only as much as is necessary for them to extract some value out of me.

I find it incredibly silly that these folks are complaining that Apple “broke” their gmail support. No they didnʻt.  They made it better. The way they saw fit with a “one size fits all” approach.  That is what has been incredibly successful for them. They will keep doing it.

Free is not free.  That is all there is to it.  Gmail doesnʻt cost you any money, but it is not free. These folks are discovering that the time they have spent getting gmail to work with mac mail is actually an ongoing maintenance cost. I find it much easier and cheaper to simply pay $36/year for email that works than to try to use “free” gmail in a way that it is not designed to work.

I am really curious why someone would pay up the premium price to use an Apple product and then go cheap for email. That seems really really silly.

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  • Roberta Koral: Hey Drew..Andrew ar Andy, whichever you prefer. I just found your blog. Roberta here.
  • globularity: Sharp analysis. -Davoid
  • Stephanie: What a marvelous article, thanks for writing it "friend."