In theory, email ought to be something simple and reliable. But after all these years, it doesn’t always work out that way in the real world. If you use a free service, such as Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo and Apple’s iCloud, expect outages. Expect outages for paid services too, such as one that took out Microsoft’s Exchange system last month for more than a normal work day.
Imagine how you’d feel if the email went down, or would you find yourself freed of the irritation and able to get on with your life. But far too many people depend on email to transact business, and without it, the bills won’t get paid.
Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, our guest list included blogger and commentator Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who explained why two times are a charm with his new Mac Pro. He also discussed Apple’s curious way of managing some iCloud email spam, and the hoops you have to jump through to fix false positives. We went through free mail systems too, and briefly mentioned email hosting services, and I’ll have more to say on this subject later on in this issue. The bill of fare also included cloud storage solutions, and alternatives to Dropbox.
Now when it comes to his new Macs, Kirk sometimes gets a defective unit, giving Apple the opportunity to make good on their tech support with a replacement. His new Mac Pro, for example, arrived with a curious hardware problem where it took long minutes to boot, but Apple was only too happy to send him a replacement that works just fine, thank you.
You also heard from tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today and Yahoo. He talked about the failure of Aereo, a TV delivery service that claimed not to be cable, before the U.S. Supreme Court, Android L, the forthcoming version of Google’s mobile platform, and why T-Mobile was accused by the FTC of hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges for extra SMS services and other features that customers may not have known they had. This is a behavior sometimes known as “slamming,” and I had thought it was mostly history until the news appeared about what T-Mobile may or may not be up to.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present an episode featuring the ever-prolific Nick Redfern, who will be discussing his latest book, “Close Encounters of the Fatal Kind: Suspicious Deaths, Mysterious Murders, and Bizarre Disappearances in UFO History.” So was there really a plot to cut short the lifespans of people heavily involved in UFO research? What about the untimely deaths of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal or UFO researcher M.K. Jessup? Did they truly commit suicide or was there something sinister in their deaths, and those of others who may have had some connection to the UFO mystery?
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
Despite a rising stock market price, and improving industry evaluations, Apple is still perceived as the beleaguered company. Every new product that is intended to compete with an Apple offering is a “killer.” Just the other day, in fact, I read something claiming Samsung was going to release an “iPhone 6 killer” this fall.
Yet it’s also true that, on a single model basis, Apple continues to outsell Samsung by a decent margin. True Samsung sells more handsets overall, but with loads of models, most of which are cheap feature phones or basic smartphones sold at prices that pretty much preclude a decent profit or any profit. It’s a “volume is everything” approach that doesn’t really help a company’s bottom line, and it’s not Apple’s way.
Indeed, just about every “killer” has failed to slay the dragon. Each and every one gets some play in the tech media, or in some lame-brained financial analysis of Apple’s prospects. Apple will invariably be exhorted to wake up, smell the roses, and build cheaper gear or gear with more features to fight the coming competitive deluge.
The competitive deluge more or less worked exactly once, with Microsoft Windows. The Windows interface mimicked the look, if not the feel, of the Mac OS, and businesses bought into it, particularly because the prices were low. It didn’t matter that the PCs didn’t generally last as long, or that Windows was polluted with malware until Microsoft finally recognized reality and took steps to shore up the platform.
With the iPod, the competition never had a chance. All those iPod “killers” failed, sometimes at the starting gate. Microsoft’s Zune came along, first with a rebadged Toshiba digital music player, and Apple’s critics were just delighted. Here’s the “real” competition for the iPod, but few cared. But Microsoft took the Zune’s tiled interface and regurgitated it for Windows Phone and Windows 8. Well, maybe the interface was the best part of the Zune, maybe.
Apple continued to be attacked when the iPhone arrived. There’s the perception that the iPhone lost the number one slot with the onslaught of Android, but it was never number one. Indeed, Steve Jobs once famously said he’d be delighted if the iPhone had a one percent share of the mobile handset market by the end of 2008. Of course, Apple did a lot better, and the iPhone went on to dominate more than half of the company’s total sales.
Even success was branded as a failure. Some five million iPhone 5 sales were reported the very first weekend on sale — unprecedented in the industry — but some analysts said Apple should have sold ten million. It didn’t matter that Apple reported they couldn’t keep up with demand, which meant they couldn’t have sold 10 million copies so quickly even if buyers wanted that many. No other handset maker has done better. Samsung boasted of selling 10 million copies of the Galaxy S4 in 28 days. That was supposed to be a great achievement, but not Apple selling half that many in a single weekend.
Recently, Samsung has warned of flattening mobile handset sales, but the critics are still claiming Apple is the company that is in danger of failure.
The iPad? Yes, sales stumbled or, allowing for inventory changes, were somewhat less in the last quarter. But claims that Apple is being overwhelmed with Android tablets are not supported. It’s not even certain how well Amazon does, except the recent claim where they reported selling tens of millions of Kindles, whereas Apple has sold hundreds of millions of iPads.
I suppose if iPad sales didn’t recover the last quarter or in this one, some might rightly suggest that tablet sales have plateaued. It is also true that tablets appear to be longer-lasting than smartphones, which are often replaced on or before the end of the usual two-year contract. An iPad can last for years, even if it won’t run current iOS versions. So Apple will only have to work harder to entice you to upgrade.
Despite all the achievements, Apple’s critics will cite chapter and verse on what the company must do to continue to grow sales, or even stay in business. Some haven’t given up on demanding that Tim Cook retire and allow someone else — anyone? — to replace him. He’s not a product guy, he’s a supply guy, so what qualifies him to run Apple?
Well, he is also the chosen successor of Steve Jobs, and during his time as CEO, the company has earned record sales and profits. Maybe growth isn’t as fast as before, but that’s true of any large, mature company. The real questions about Apple have yet to be answered, despite the claims that it’s already too late.
So what about the iWatch? Will it exist and revolutionize a nascent market? Will Apple use the Beats Music technology to build the killer streaming music service that will outdo Spotify or any other contender? What will the next Apple TV be like, and will there be a TV set too?
There is a promise of new products and new product categories later this year. Apple delivered on a lot of potential with the announcements about iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, both of which are due to arrive this fall. The follow up is of critical importance, but it’s far too early to suggest Apple is done for, or even in trouble. The truth almost always seems to confound the critics, but they’ll never admit they were wrong.
When you sign up with an ISP, email is part of the package. It’s free, and you usually get a few gigabytes of storage and the ability to add extra accounts, sometimes ten or more depending on your broadband package. Some even support IMAP, which means email is stored on the server, and (sometimes with a few required tweaks of your email client) all your messages are in sync. So why do you need another service? Why indeed!
But consider: You tire of your ISP because you’re not satisfied with the service and the competition (if there is competition) is offering a better deal. Or you move somewhere where that ISP is no longer available. So you’re forced to change your address. If you have a few contacts, friends and family, and you aren’t receiving too many newsletters and sales pitches, it’s not such a big deal to change your address. Otherwise, it’s just another annoyance in your life.
With a third-party email service, it follows you wherever you go. The same address is always available, and you have plenty of choices. Among the most popular is Gmail, Google’s free service (there are paid options too), which offers loads of gigabytes of storage, and a way to access from an email client on a Mac, PC, mobile device, or even a Linux box. Gmail is full featured — sometimes with too many features that make little sense for most people — but the online version is strictly an accommodation to send you targeted ads. That’s the price of free!
The same is true for Microsoft’s Outlook, but it has a more minimalist interface that makes it easy to adapt to. But I’ve run into a niggling bug that Microsoft knows about, but hasn’t fixed. If you set up Outlook in Apple Mail and send a message, that message shows up twice in the Sent box. This is slightly reminiscent of a bug with Samsung’s Android smartphones, where the messages you send to an IMAP server are repeated twice in the same message if you view them on a Mac or a PC. Samsung knows about that one, by the way, because I told them and they confirmed it. But the last time I checked a Galaxy smartphone, it was still present. That experience isn’t recent, so it’s possible it no longer occurs.
Yahoo established a free email service years before Gmail and Microsoft, but it still, after all these years, fails to support IMAP access from an email client. It works best online, and even the paid plans don’t improve matters.
There are other alternatives, such as iCloud from Apple, or even AOL. The former is simple and well crafted, but I’m annoyed that Apple chooses to keep what they suspect as more intense or higher-level spam from your Junk box. If you’re not getting email from a legitimate source, it may have been due to a false positive by iCloud’s spam engine, but you have to request Apple support to check it out for you, which is a waste of time. AOL? Well, I have an AOL email address first established in 1989, which I keep. But there’s no way to do an auto-forward in AOL’s online interface to another email account. I suppose that’s their answer to customer retention, but it’s silly, and you can usually retrieve email from different accounts in one of the other free email accounts.
Yet another free alternative I’ve tried in recent days may be the best of all, and that’s Zoho Mail. Zoho offers email accounts with 5GB of storage free of charge. There are no ads even in the online version, and you can use your own personal or business domain or a Zoho address; your choice. You also get access to Zoho Docs, which is their equivalent of the online app suite offered by Google. But nobody is scanning your email, and the free version supports POP, IMAP and even Active Sync. The latter is useful for push email on your smartphone, but the constant polling for messages may reduce battery life.
Of course Zoho wants you to buy a product to stay in business, and there are over two dozen apps and services that cover contact management, email campaigns, project management, invoicing and lots more. Prices are pretty low in the scheme of things. If the basic email service isn’t sufficient, you will find packages ranging from $2.50 to $10 monthly per user, depending on the amount of storage and other features. But the free version lets you have up to 10 users, and that may be more than you need even for a small business.
Having tried all of these no-cost alternatives, I find Zoho Mail to be the best of the breed. The control panel and Webmail settings offer loads of features and the interface is simple enough for you to figure out most of it without the need to search the Help menus. You can also migrate messages from an existing email service, but, typical of such systems, it may choke on huge mailboxes, forcing you to run it several times to complete the process.
One more thing: Even one of those $5.00 per month web hosting packages will include email, but the spam filtering is usually subpar and you don’t always have a way to fine-tune the settings. All of the free email choices I’ve mentioned above offer at least decent spam protection.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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