OS X Blitzmail

Last month, the College released a beta Blitzmail client for OS X (download it from here).

Disappointingly, the software is an update (“Carbonized,” for those in the know) of the 2.5.3 Blitzmail client, the code base of which stretches back to 1987. Blitzmail for Mac has never been a particularly robust application and, so far as I can tell, the only advantage of the OS X client is that, when it crashes and hangs, the entire computer isn’t frozen.

Blitzmail itself, as a platform, is great for a number of reasons, including its tight integration with the Dartmouth Name Directory (and the easy addressing and lookup capabilities that come with it), continuous messaging (i.e., in some ways it’s more like a instant messaging client than a POP or IMAP mail client), folder support (which predates IMAP), fast POP support, reliability (due to the sometimes heroic efforts of Kiewit staff), and ubiquity. All of which make the lack of a dependable, upgradable, feature-rich client more maddening.

Rumor has it that much of the Macintosh client is written in Pascal (well, this can be confirmed) and is all but unmaintainable (especially considering that the client’s author is now self-employed, working on another of his Dartmouth projects, following an appearance on a televised gameshow). This would explain the paucity of releases in recent years as the Windows client has zoomed ahead in usability (not to mention popularity) and web-based clients have finally matured. OS X Blitz bears this out: there are no new features and no improved functionality. Working over a dial-up connection, I’ve found the OS X client to be significantly less robust than its predecessor.

To be fair, the current release of the OS X client is a beta, and, no doubt (I hope) many of these stability problems will be fixed by the time a final version is released (the timetable for such a release has not been made public).

But I still wonder if the Blitzmail development team didn’t take the wrong approach. OS X includes with it a robust and rapid development environment called Cocoa. Cocoa applications automatically inherit the benefits of application services, like spell-checking and text-summarizing, and other OS X features, like antialiased fonts and framework-based customization (e.g., other Blitzmail sites could retool the client easily). Rewritten using the Cocoa framework, Blitzmail could lose its single window focus (ever notice that when a progress bar is on-screen all other windows are inoperable), non-standard help and dialogue boxes, and frequent crashes (building on tried, tested, and supplier-maintained frameworks and objects is inherantly more robust than a muddle of cross-platform ported code). A new and maintainable codebase could finally allow Blitzmail to evolve into a fully-featured client: Cocoa Blitzmail could easily gain HTML or rich-text support (through Apple’s renderers), local message archiving, and a number of other, easily-added features.

So how about it, Kiewit folks? Does “email for everyone” still mean anything?