I love email. The pleasure of receiving emails is matched by the pleasure of writing them. An email from a friend, providing happy reading and giving me the opportunity of drafting a carefully crafted reply, makes my day.
Central to the joy of email is, of course, the email client that you use to receive and send your messages. Many people use online email services such as Hotmail and Google Mail but I find these insufficient. I have several email addresses, based on 5 domains and a couple of online email accounts. It is simply not practicable to operate these through online email services. Nothing less that a proper email client connecting through POP3 will do.
I have tried many email clients in my time. Being the fussy blighter that I am, I have found only a few that meet my rather demanding expectations.
Those of us who use Windows are faced with a rather curious set-up. Back in the days of MS-DOS, you downloaded a program, unzipped it into a folder and ran it. Not under Windows. Under Windows you have to “install” a program, meaning that it places files here, there, and everywhere on your system, so that tracking them down becomes a nightmare, and puts entries into that sinister and dangerous haunted cavern called The Registry. Why this was ever invented is beyond me. It clutters up your system, slows it down and can even bring it to its knees and make in inoperable. I am told Macs don’t have a registry. The fact that Windows does suggests insanity at the heart of Microsoft.
Until recently, I had perforce to put up with this situation. As with most of the uncomfortable facts of life, such as death and taxes, one pushes them to the back of one’s mind and trundles along the best one can. Recently, however, this was all changed by a sudden realization.
When we were on holiday in Torquay, we found we had Internet access in our hotel room. Thinking about it, I realized that an increasing number of hotels offer some sort of access, whether through hard-wired broadband or through WiFi, and even if they don’t, there are plenty of Internet cafes in every town. These days, then, you can keep up with your online life even when you are away from home.
Ah but… what about email? If you have an online account fine, but not if you use an email client. When you are in Torquay, it is sitting on your PC at home. Well, you could use a laptop. Yes, you could, and a very good solution it would be too but for the expense of buying one and the nuisance of lugging it around everywhere you go. This is without adding the fact that they are apparently very easy to lose (ask any government minister).
Pondering these matters (and I do like a good ponder), I had my inspiration. I suddenly remembered that these days it is possible to get programs that run quite happily on a USB flash drive. This includes a growing list of so called portable email clients. I decided I must look into this when I returned home.
Back in London, I looked around and studied the field. I could now name you about 9 portable email clients that run on a flash drive and there are probably more. What are they like, though: do they possess the features that a demanding curmudgeon like me requires or are they as lightweight as picnic kettles?
The answer is that some are good, some indifferent and some not much use. I tried i.Scribe, for example, and found it quite nice but lacking in features. I then remembered that RITlabs produces a portable version of its famous TheBat!, called Voyager, and decided to try that one.
The first thing that hit me was that Voyager is not free. In order to use it, you have to buy a licence for TheBat! Professional. Guess what? I already had such a licence, so Voyager suddenly turned out to be free (to me, at least)! So I set to trying it out with a will.
When I installed it, I felt as if the good old days of DOS had returned. You simply unpack it into a folder and run it. It does not spread files here, there and everywhere. It does not put entries in the Registry. It runs on a flash drive and leave no traces on the computer when you remove it. James Bond should have one of these! And a flash drive is a lot easier to carry than a laptop.
But how good is it? Is it just a cut-down version of TheBat!? No, to my eyes it is as fully featured as TheBat!. In fact, I set it up by taking a backup from TheBat! and restoring this to Voyager. Thus I was up and running in a few minutes with all my accounts and stored emails available and all my settings in place.
Running on a flash drive makes it a little slower than running on a HD but you soon get used to this and the difference is not great. So my holiday email is sorted: just pop the flash drive in my pocket. My flash drive is password protected and so is the program. You cannot run Voyager without first entering the password that you choose when setting it up. This password is used to encipher the data files so even if you leave your flash drive in the cyber cafe, as long as you have logged off, no one can access your data.
But that is not the end of the story. I could of course use TheBat! on my desktop and restore a backup to Voyager when I go on holiday. But why bother? Why give yourself the work? Why not simply use Voyager all the time? That is what I have been doing for several days and I have yet to find any disadvantage.
Soon I am going to try out portable Firefox in the hope that I can take my browser and my store of URLs, carefully collected over a period of years, with me on holiday too.
But it isn’t just the holidays. We are getting a new computer soon and I have been worrying about transferring all my programs and data. This worry is beginning to recede. Firstly, most of my data is kept on a LaCie external drive that works though – yes, you guessed – a USB socket and can be used with any Windows PC. With this, and with my main applications on flash drives, there will be much less transferring to do.