Offline Access to Gmail

This post serves two purposes, the first is to let people know how to enable offline access to Gmail, and secondly to let people know how important it is to enable offline access.

There is a misconception that Gmail doesn’t allow offline access, and lots of people are on the edge of their seats waiting for Google to bring in Gears support for Gmail so they can finally read their email while on a plane. Well Gmail has always had offline access – since day one, first with through the POP protocol and more recently also using IMAP. Both protocols allow you to access your Gmail account with a desktop client, and also give you offline access by being able to access your emails without an internet connection. Using Gears to give you offline access to Gmail is an incredibly complicated process and I’m unsure why it’s needed, especially as ALL operating systems for the last 10 years have included an adequate mail client by default. So stop waiting for Gears for Gmail to be enabled and just set up your Gmail account in your desktop email client, or download the excellent Thunderbird mail client from Mozilla. For help setting up your Gmail account for offline access, read the “Getting started with IMAP for Gmail” article in the Google help centre. I recommend using IMAP over POP3 as your read/unread status is synchronised between the client and the server.

Now for those of you who are completely against using desktop software (“everything should be in the cloud…”) keep reading, as I’ll now explain why it’s essential that you get this setup ASAP.

Now that you’ve got offline access to your emails, you also have a complete backup of your mailbox sitting on your computer. If you value the contents of your emails at all, having a backup is essential. What if you couldn’t access your Gmail account for a day or two? Or, what if Google accidentally (or purposefully) deleted or disabled your account? Without an offline backup of your emails, you would have absolutely no way of accessing your account. Think this isn’t possible? Well read the article about someone who recently had their account disabled by Google. Or read the article from PC World about how Gmail customers recently couldn’t access their emails for almost a day. Search the internet for more examples and you’ll find similar stories from others who have had their Google accounts deleted or disabled without warnings.

The current trend in computing is all about moving your data into the clouds, but if you don’t keep a reliable, offline backup of your data, you’re putting yourself in a precarious position.

Contact Details via hCard

Rowan’s blog reminded me that I had been meaning to update my contact details on this blog in the hCard standard. In case you have no idea what hCards or microformats are, then read these two articles for more info: Wikipedia, Microformats. And in case those articles are too technical, then all you really need to know is that the hCard format makes it easier for computers to understand your contact details.

Here’s the code I used for mine (you can see it in the sidebar) – just modify with your details as necessary.

<div id="hcard-Stuart-Maxwell" class="vcard">
    <a class="url fn" href="http://stuart.amanzi.co.nz">Stuart Maxwell</a><br />
    <a class="email" href="mailto:stuart@amanzi.co.nz">stuart@amanzi.co.nz</a><br />
    <span class="tel">021766940</span>
    <div class="adr">
        <div class="post-office-box">PO Box 5858</div>
        <span class="locality">Lambton Quay</span>,
        <span class="region">Wellington</span>,
        <span class="postal-code">6145</span>
        <span class="country-name">New Zealand</span>
    </div>
    <a class="url" href="xmpp:stuart@amanzi.co.nz">Jabber</a>,
    <a class="url" href="http://twitter.com/stuartm">Twitter</a>,
    <a class="url" href="http://flickr.com/photos/amanzi">Flickr</a>,
    <a class="url" href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/smaxwell">LinkedIn</a>,
    <a class="url" href="http://www.facebook.com/people/Stuart_Maxwell/652219672">Facebook</a>
</div>

If the text above looks like gobbledygook to you, then try this online hCard creator instead. You can see how it’s made up and then add more details to it if you like.

Update – updated the PO Box details based on Andy’s comment below – thanks!

Vodafone to sell iPhone in NZ in 2008

Official word out today confirms that Vodafone will be selling the iPhone in NZ later this year. They have been chosen to sell the iPhone by Apple in 10 countries in total, here’s the press release.

Vodafone today announced it has signed an agreement with Apple to sell the iPhone in ten of its markets around the globe. Later this year, Vodafone customers in Australia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Italy, India, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey will be able to purchase the iPhone for use on the Vodafone network.

[Link to press release.]

Find Your Friends with Flickr

Flickr unveiled a new feature recently that enables you to search through your address books in various email systems to find contacts that are also on Flickr. If you’ve used one of the many social networking sites, you’ll realise that this isn’t a new feature – most other social networking sites allow you to search your address books to find friends that are on the same service.

The difference is that Flickr have implemented the feature correctly.

Most other sites ask you to enter the username and password that you use to log in to the various email systems, then once you submit the form, the system logs into your email account, and downloads all of your contacts through a process called ‘screen-scraping’. What ‘screen-scraping’ does isn’t really important, the important bit is that you’ve just trusted another web site with your email’s username and password. Most sites will include a message saying that your username and password won’t be saved and will only be used to grab your contact details. But what if they are lying…

Your password for your email system is probably your most important password that you have. If someone has your email password, then they can access any personal information that you have stored in your inbox and there’s a good chance that they will be able to get ANY of your other online passwords that they like. For example, if you forget your password for an online service, you can usually go to that site, and click on the reset password button. This will either send your password to your email account, or send you an email with instructions on how to reset it. Imagine if I had your email account password, and I logged on to your account and secretly set up a forwarding address for emails to get sent to an anonymous email account I had set up. You wouldn’t know that your emails are being forwarded without delving into your email system’s options and checking the setting manually. Then I could go to any online site that I thought you might use, and reset your password so that I could log on as you.

Even worse, is that if you have an email account with Google, Microsoft or Yahoo!, then your email passwords are linked to all the other services that you use with them. So your Yahoo!Mail password is also used for Flickr, and IM; your Gmail password is also used for Google Docs, Calendar; and your Windows Live ID is used with almost all of Microsoft’s online services.

So back to Flickr’s new feature, and how it’s been done correctly. Flickr gives you the option to search through your Yahoo!, Google, or Microsoft/Live contacts, but the difference is that Flickr don’t ask you for your email account password. Instead they use the various API’s that are available, which means that if you want to search through your Google contacts, you’re redirected to Google’s site where they handle the authentication, and then send back the contact information to Flickr. The same applies to Yahoo! and Microsoft – at no point does Flickr ask you for your password, you only need to supply your password to the site where you would normally log in to anyway.

So the point of this post is to not just congratulate Flickr on implementing this feature correctly, but also highlight to you how dangerous it can be to give out your email account password too freely.

Nokia N95 White Screen of Death

I was upgrading to the latest version of Google Mobile Maps when my N95 rebooted itself. After starting up again, I would get the Nokia logo then nothing but a white screen. Removing the batter and SIM card didn’t help fix the issue either.

So after some Googling I found out how to reset your N95 back to the factory defaults while in a broken state. Turn on your N95 while holding the ‘3’, ‘*’, and ‘answer’ keys and it will go through the reset process and you’ll get back to the setup screen.

Hope this tip helps someone else searching for the solution.

Amanzi Limited site updates

We’ve been tweaking the Amanzi site recently, but under the hood we’re planning a fresh new release shortly. This will tie in with the new slogan: Your virtual IT department.

This sums up nicely what we’re planning with the business – it’s effectively giving all NZ small businesses access to a high quality IT department without needing to hire their own staff to manage their systems. We’re providing a mix of onsite and hosted solutions for our customers and as we’re a small business ourself, we’ll be dog-fooding all our solutions ourselves.

So stay tuned for further updates and keep an eye on the Amanzi site: www.amanzi.co.nz

64bit iTunes now available

I didn’t notice this last week, but when the latest version of iTunes was released, Apple also finally released a 64bit compatible version for Windows. So now you can install iTunes 7.6 for 64bit and be able to sync your iPhone or iPod Touch which wasn’t possible until now.