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Is the New Eudora Bait and Switch?

The other day, from out of nowhere, comes the first beta of the new open source version of that famed email application, Eudora. In case you tuned in late, the publisher, Qualcomm, best known for for building cell phone chips these days, has given up on this venerable application. The project has been handed off to Mozilla, as part of their Thunderbird project.

Code-named, Penelope, the first beta of Eudora, version 8.0b1, has shipped, and all I can say is that it may be lots of things, but Eudora doesn’t seem to be a part of that list. That is, unless they expect us to believe that substituting a few toolbar icons and perhaps changing a few features somehow amounts to something significant.

My initial exposure to the beta was uneventful. I barely read the release notes, preferring to experience everything at first hand, then see where it has been and where it’s going.

As with other Mozilla apps, there’s no installation process involved on a Mac. The application ships as a disk image file, and you just open (mount) the image, and drag Eudora to the Applications folder. After that, you double-click the newly-installed application to get it rolling.

In passing, I read an article the other day from someone praising the “portable” version of Thunderbird for Windows to the skies. You see, under Windows, a standard installation will toss files into places that are neither consistent, nor fully addressed by the Add/Remove Control Panel. Not a pretty picture, particularly when you end up with stray files in the Windows Registry, where all sorts of mischief can occur. The special version of Thunderbird puts everything in a single folder, sort of like we’ve had with many Mac applications over the years.

To my surprise, the very first thing I noticed after the initial launch of Eudora was that every single element of my Thunderbird 2.x settings had been carried forward. In fact, the mail viewing screen, other than the distinctive Eudora icons, looked precisely the same as the regular version of Thunderbird.

I realize that Penelope is at beta one and there may be other interface changes along the way, and perhaps some of them would bring Eudora closer to the application you all know and love. For now, it’s Eudora in name and icon only, and I feel quite disappointed that this was the best offering Mozilla’s programmers could provide after months and months of work. Maybe some of these people used to work for Microsoft? No, that might be an insult, but only if they inherited Microsoft’s peculiar methods of pushing software out the door.

As far as this faux Eudora is concerned, it inherits the good things about Thunderbird, which include speedy performance and a rich array of settings to customize your email experience.

Now I want to be perfectly fair about this. I was never enamored of Eudora in its original form, but I appreciate the fact that a lot of you prefer it to all other email clients, and have used it for years. Having an application survive under new management and perhaps gain some modernization along the way ought to be a positive development.

On the other hand, Eudora 8.0b1 unfortunately inherits some flaws from Thunderbird that drive me crazy. You see, I prefer to view my messages from the top down, meaning that they start with the newest messages and go backwards down the list to the oldest messages. However, when you delete a message, the cursor moves up and not down.

Why did they do that?

The other problem is more serious, at least for my particular way of working. With Apple Mail and Entourage, when I want to reply to a message, I would select a portion of the text to quote in my answer, and that’s what’s displayed in the new message window.

With Thunderbird, and the bogus Eudora, it’s all or nothing. Whether you select one word or all, the entire message is quoted, so you are forced to manually delete the contents you don’t want to use in your answer.

It may well be that my particular objections, and they are minor, but nonetheless show-stoppers to me, won’t affect a lot of you. You may prefer the way Thunderbird manages your messages, and adapting Eudora to fit into the same mold may be a good thing.

But I would also hope that Mozilla would work towards incorporating more of the traditional Eudora look and feel in future versions of the program. As a beta one, it is perhaps at the middle of its development cycle. Maybe things will change for the better over time. I surely hope so.

Meantime, yet another possibility has come to light. A company called Infinity Data Systems has announced that they intend to develop a true successor to Eudora, with a beta promised by the end of the year. So stay tuned. This is one story that has yet to be fully written.