Monthly Archives: January 2013

Be Explicit.

Something I see time and time again when observing technical support in action. Don’t ever assume that because you know where a certain feature resides in a certain application that the customer will also know what you’re referring to. If for example the location where you need a customer to modify a setting is at “Edit -> Preferences -> Options -> Formatting, in the desktop variant of application ‘x’, then that is precisely what you must communicate to her. Not, “go to the the formatting settings in application ‘x’, without any indication of what edition of the software you’re referring to.

And not just customers either – it’s a rule that should be adhered to just as rigorously when communicating with colleagues, no matter what their technical level.


The curious case of Postbox

Whilst working through some Gmail/IMAP/Thunderbird issues a while back, a reader left a comment with a recommendation to check out Postbox, an email client which amongst other things bills itself as “an awesome alternative to Thunderbird”.

As far as I can tell, Postbox is actually a Thunderbird fork, wrapped up in a non-free license with attendant commercial licensing terms and a fraction of the platform support. You get Mac and Windows, and some vague mutterings about demand potentially influencing a future Linux version. UI prettiness aside, a fair number of the advertised goodies seem to have their origins in recent Thunderbird releases, such as improved Gmail support and cloud storage service provider integration. So that’s some of the uniqueness of Postbox already gone.

Regarding the licensing, one of their blog entries entices users to switch to Postbox, highlighting Google’s purchase and subsequent shutdown of the much loved Sparrow email client. Considering Google could just as well purchase Postbox any day of the week they choose, Postbox users depending on proprietary functionality offered by the application would be just as much up shit creek, with no community support in the case of an acquisition and closure.

Licensing and duplication of features compared to Thunderbird notwithstanding, you’d probably expect to get some premium support for the cash shelled out for Postbox, right? Actually, you don’t get any support. That’s right, none. If you look at the Postbox support FAQ, they’ll tell you to read the manual, read Mozilla’s support forums (what?), Google the issue (what the hell??), and at the end of all that:

“Please note that we do not offer one-on-one support offerings to new users at this time. All support efforts are currently dedicated towards providing better documentation and self-help solutions so that our users can more quickly find the answers they need.”

You’d think personalised support would be close to the top of the list of desirable features for any commercial deployment, but apparently the folks at Postbox see it differently…

To recap: proprietary license and associated risks, not free, limited to two operating systems, most features already present in Thunderbird, and no actual support. What are the advantages of this application again? And is Postbox just hanging around in the hope of cashing in with an acquisition itself?

Installing the Oracle Java 7 plugin in Firefox on Ubuntu 12.04

We are briefly describing here how to install the Java plugin for Oracle JDK/SE 7 in Firefox. This is a manual procedure, and in this case we are wanting to install the plugin for Java 7 update 10 to enable running of JavaFX apps in Firefox 17.01 on Ubuntu 12.04 x86.

Assuming we are using the full Oracle JDK and have installed it to /opt, then the Firefox/browser plugin is located at at /opt/jdk1.7.0_06/jre/lib/i386, and is the file named

davek@mymachine:/opt/jdk1.7.0_06/jre/lib/i386$ pwd
davek@mymachine:/opt/jdk1.7.0_06/jre/lib/i386$ ls -al 
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 169420 2012-08-10 15:20

At /usr/lib/firefox/plugins create a symbolic link to this file:

davek@mymachine:/usr/lib/firefox/plugins$ pwd
davek@mymachine:/usr/lib/firefox/plugins$ sudo ln -s /opt/jdk1.7.0_06/jre/lib/i386/ .
davek@mymachine:/usr/lib/firefox/plugins$ ls -al
total 8
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 2012-08-15 22:19 .
drwxr-xr-x 6 root root 4096 2012-05-03 00:09 ..
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root   41 2012-08-15 22:19 -> /opt/jdk1.7.0_06/jre/lib/i386/

After restarting Firefox, the Java plugin should now be available (and can be enabled and disabled accordingly):

Java plugin in Firefox.