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Enhance the Mozilla Mail and News client

"Software-Patents" in Europe: The threat prevails

Soon the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will again decide about the legalisation and adoption of so-called "software patents" in Europe, which are already used by large companies in other countries to put competitors out of business. This can lead to the termination of many software projects such as Mozilla, at least within Europe, because the holders of the over 30,000 already granted "software patents" (currently without a legal foundation) can claim exclusive rights and collect license fees for trivial things like "progress bars", "mouseclicks on online order forms", "scrolling within a window" and similar. That way, software developers will have to pay the "software-patentholders" for using these features, even in their own, completely self-developed applications, which can completely stall the development of innovative software for small and medium companies. Apart from this, the expense for patent inquiries and legal assistence is high, for even trying to find out if the self-developed software is possibly violating "software-patents", if you want to continue to market your software. Contrary to real patents, "software-patents" are, in the draft proposed by the commission, monopolization of business ideas and methods, even without any tangible technical implementation.

More about the current major problem at http://nosoftwarepatents.com/

The Mozilla POP3/IMAP/News client can be used for a variety of things like usenet discussions and e-mail access. It offers some of the most advanced features in these fields, such as access to multiple mail-servers (via POP3 or IMAP protocl), tools to electronically encrypt/sign messages, and a secure design that will protect you from the gazillions of viruses that exist on the Outlook/Outlook Express clients. For example, you can disable Java and/or JavaScript in e-mails and usenet messages, and you have the possibility to deny e-mails the access to images on distant servers.
Although it is almost perfect, the Mail and News client leaves some (albeit small) room for improvement, such as the following suggestions.

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Install spell checks for several languages

Mozilla, as opposed to Netscape, does not include a spellchecker due to licensing issues. There is of course the possibility to install a spellchecker with the easy-to-use mechanism that we already used in the user interface section. Just go to the Mozilla Spellchecker project, and install the software by clicking on the corresponding link on the installation page. Please restart Mozilla after the installation.
This will install the Mozilla spellchecker and the US-english dictionary on your computer. If you need to be able to spellcheck mails in more than one language, you can install additional dictionaries that are available from the OpenOffice.org site, another great open-source project. Download the dictionaries you need (they come as a ZIP archive). Copy the .dic and .aff files included in the ZIP archive to the components\myspell folder, located in the Mozilla program directory. Now, change the underscores to hyphens (e.g., change "es_ES.aff" to "es-ES.aff"), and the next time you run the spell checker in the compose window of the mail client, you can select the dictionary you want to use in the drop down box.
Update: It is now possible to download a wealth of pre-configured spellcheck dictionaries from http://www.mozcafe.com/. Just select the dictionaries you need from a list (be sure to (un)select the spellchecker binary only if necessary!), and let Mozilla do the rest with a batch install.
Note: When I installed the spellchecker and additional dictionaries, Mozilla kept crashing after selecting a dictionary. When you open the spellchecker the first time after the installation, the drop-down box for the dictionary selection shows "Download More". Select any installed language and press the "Close" button, thereby closing the spellchecker dialog. Now, press the "Spell" button again, and the language you chose in the previous step is now selected. At this point, you can be easily change the language and spellcheck without crashing Mozilla. Apparently, the spellchecker is in some misconfiguration during first start-up (and every time the "Download More" option is selected). Pressing a button other than "Close" in this situation crashes Mozilla.

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Import your e-mail addressbook from Pine

In case you have been using Pine for your electronic correspondence, or you want to continue doing so and use Mozilla and Pine in parallel, you might want to import your e-mail addresses stored in the Pine addressbook. On GNU/Linux, this file is called .addressbook (the dot as a first character makes the file "invisible" on GNU/Linux) and is located by default in your home directory.
There is no direct way to export Pine adresses to Mozilla. The most promising solution is the address book converter Dawn. Download and install this tool, get your .addressbook from Pine, and convert it into a file in LDIF format. This LDIF file can then easily be imported by Mozilla via the "Tools/Import" menu.
Note: The latest Version of Dawn (5.2, I think) kept crashing during this process. After de-installing this version and installing version 5.0, the process worked fine. However, sometimes the resulting .ldi file will have a size of 0 bytes. Try to create a small text file (pine.ldi) that contains one line (the content doesn't matter). Then, choose that file when you select the destination file during the migration process. Apparently, Dawn has problems creating new files, but appends to existing files without problems. After Dawn has converted the addressbook, open the file again with Notepad, and delete the first line that was created by you. Now, import the resulting .ldi file in Mozilla without problems.

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Install a GPG/PGP-plugin for encrypting and/or signing messages

Most people have a misconception about e-mail, thinking of their commmunication via this medium as comparable to a letter that they write to someone. This idea is outright wrong. Let me repeat this: e-mail is in no way similar or comparable to real-world letters.
Real-world letters are sealed to prevent unauthorised people from reading your correspondence. Furthermore, you can usually (although not always) be sure that the sender of a letter is the person that actually signed the letter, given that you know his/her handwriting. This neglects of course the fact that handwritings can be and actually are falsified.
E-mails are a lot more similar to postcards than they are to letters. Whenever I send an e-mail, the operators of the mail-server I use can actually read that mail if they wanted to. Furthermore, the administrators of the server that will receive the mail (e.g., Yahoo! Mail) can read that piece of correspondence whenever they want. To worsen things even more, faking e-mail headers is quite easy, and if the recipient does not know where to look for authenticity, he/she can easily be fooled in believing that an e-mail has been sent by the person that appears in the "From:" line in the mail client.
For all those reasons, personal privacy and message authentication are two big issues for me. There are several possibilities and ways to achieve those two characteristics with electronic mail, but my favourite solution is the GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG), which also happens to be based on the "most widely used e-mail encryption standard in the world" (quote from www.openpgp.org, the page where the actual standard RFC 2440 is described).
The GNU Privacy Guard is a "tool for secure communication and data storage. It can be used to encrypt data and to create digital signatures." (quote from GnuPG's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page). As such, you can use it to encrypt messages, i.e. enabling only the intended recipient to read that e-mail (and thereby effectively preventing the administrators or any other person from reading it). Additionally, GnuPG can be used to sign messages digitally. This feature allows the recipient to verify that you and nobody else wrote (or afterwards modified) the message he/she is reading.
Since this whole subject of encryption and authentication/signing is very extensive, I would like to encourage you to browse around the GnuPG webpage, and to read some articles:

I hope that I managed to convince you at least to think a little bit about these issues. If you decide to use e-mail encryption/signing of e-mail with Mozilla, I stronly suggest that you have a look at Enigmail. This Mozilla extension integrates seamlessly into the mail client, and offers you all GnuPG options, just a mouse-click away. Installation and integration with Mozilla and GnuPG (which has to be installed beforehand!) is described on the Help page, but is (again!) as easy as going to the Download/Installation page, clicking the corresponding link (learn more about Software Installation), restarting Mozilla, and enjoying the features.

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Achim J. Latz, achim@latz.cc , 01.12.2008

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