Portable email

Written at evening time in English • Tags: ,

I’m often way behind on my personal email, and many messages can go completely unanswered. When I get home from work in the evenings, I’m just not “in the mood” for writing email: there are all sorts of household chores that need to be taken care of, or I’ve just arrived home so late there is nothing else to do but sleep.

I’ve thought about portable before, but haven’t come up with any solutions yet that I could implement right away without having some concerns on feasibility in the long term.

The reason I think portable email might help is that I spend about two hours on the commuter train every day. Usually I spend that time reading (except today I’m typing this article and composing some other notes to be posted and emailed once I’m back on the network). I don’t want to give up reading on the train altogether, but some of the trips could be very productively spent if I had access to my personal email. I’m already carrying a Blackberry for work email, and it has definitely proved to be a gadget worth its weight thanks to its always-connected email feature.

The “problem” with portable email is that I really really like MH for email. One of its best features is its scriptability, as you can mix MH commands with any UNIX commands you want. This is probably also the number one reason why it is difficult to migrate from MH to any other MUA.

I could run NetBSD on my laptop and have nmh installed, but I’m not comfortable with the idea of having all my mail delivered to my laptop only. I’d really want to be able to synchronize all messages to a server, preferably in a way that allows multiple clients to synchronize. This is a tall order for MH, and will probably never become possible. The closest would be to (automatically) rsync or tar up the mail from the laptop to a server, creating snapshots for emergency restoral.

If I was able to say goodbye to MH, then the solution could probably be called “obvious.” I should just start using one of the IMAP clients that have off-line capabilities. In fact, I have had my eyes on Thunderbird already. Maybe even Microsoft Outlook Express would suffice in a pinch. I would also gain web access to my mail as a bonus (as my IMAP server is already coupled with SquirrelMail for other users). But I know of no IMAP client that provides scripting, so I would lose that.

I would probably also need to find a “data store” for little notes. Currently I use email for that, although it is getting more and more difficult with all the added spam prevention measures in place.

I guess this problem still needs more thinking before a solution will present itself.