The case for MailSteward

April 30th, 2007  |  Published in etc

The first time I heard about MailSteward I thought it sounded kind of stupid, but that’s because at the time I imagined myself to be some sort of Mustache Pete of the e-mail world, heavy on the Brylcreem, sock garters, straight razors and IMAP.

I’m not thinking that way anymore. My work e-mail account doesn’t even use IMAP. I could wedge it into my IMAP server with a bit of fetchmail or something, but I don’t want to. That always seems to break. And as the travel season begins, I’ve been getting comfortable with Gmail again, for its nice Web client, its IM archiving, and its pretty handy Blackberry client.

While it’s simple enough to forward stuff over to Gmail and keep a home server in whatever configuration, maintaining a whole ‘nother IMAP store isn’t really useful, and I don’t think it’s necessary anymore, anyhow. IMAP is great for organizing stuff, but it doesn’t feel as necessary to me as it did five or six years ago, when searching mail was a gigantic pain in the ass. When Tiger came out, I started noticing I was getting a lot less rigorous about filing mail because Spotlight made it so easy to dig a message out. Gmail’s the same way: It’s just very easy to find anything, and there’s less chance I’ll trip over some arbitrary silo boundary I created if it’s all just sitting there, swimming around in a big vat of searchable text.

All that said, I’m mildly paranoid about e-mail in general, and I have several massive folders I’ve accumulated, especially over the past four or five years. I like knowing it’s all there.

And I like knowing I’ve got it somewhere besides in the clutches of Google, which is just like any other big company: It will squash your precious data over some slight or engineer’s mistake, and it won’t even have to shrug and say “beta, dude,” because it has an army of sycophants on Digg and reddit to say that for it. Nerds love blaming the victim and they love Google. So anyone rolled under Sergey’s wheels is like birthday cake to those fuckers.*

So I did the MailSteward trial, thinking that I’d use it to preserve some of those archives that I never use day-to-day anymore. It does 3,000 messages per archive in its trial version, which is an easy number to bump up against. Late 2002 to early 2007 represents 14,000 mails, with a few thousand more than that lurking in Gmail, waiting to be sucked down.** But the more I fiddled with it, the more I started liking the idea of it:

MailSteward allows for timed backups, so it’s a pretty simple matter to create a few tiers of mail: the inbox, some general work/personal divisions for the sheer sake of not having to see work mail next to personal mail, a bigger pool of short-term storage, then a trip to the great MailSteward beyond.

Once mail is in the MailSteward database, it’s searchable and exportable as either an mbox or a SQL file. I don’t need 99 percent of what’s in there, but it’s nice to be able to dig out licenses & registrations, or happen across old conversations.

Searching is pretty fast: It took less than a second to present every mail Phil and I ever exchanged that involved iPods. A search on all the invoices from a particular author took about as much time. And those searches are that fast without having to load the database in for browsing. You just open MailSteward, key in a search, and it has what you’re after in a second or two.

And overall, MailSteward is pretty fast. A 14,000 message store takes 10 seconds to load for browsing. Keeping a three- or six-month-old collection of short-term stuff that’s still in Mail and accessible via Spotlight is a good idea, if you’re into just looking around recent mail for whatever reason, but a mere 10 seconds to grab that many messages and make them presentable for viewing is great.

So in the wake of the recent Big Disk croak, which caused me to realize I had a lot of mail floating around in different folders and scattered around mboxes, I got more of a backup/archiving focus. MailSteward made sense.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to buy the whole thing right away. The $24.95 “light” version removes the limit on records. You just don’t get the export features or the ability to set timed captures. Nothing like a little lock-in to induce an eventual upgrade. :-)

*Love it: site links to Google- defending android who turns out to be a plagiarist. And he’s ripping off Tim O’Reilly, who burbles:

“In a brilliant Copernican stroke, gmail turns everything on its head, rejecting the personal computer as the center of the computing universe, instead recognizing that applications revolve around the network as the planets revolve around the Sun.”

The blood of Numenor runs thin.

** I bet your mail store is much bigger. I, for one, have no idea how you fit it in your pants. Probably you and the Grube should go sneak out behind the tree and belittle each other’s favored mail protocols.

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