Using Microsoft Exchange (Zimbra Server) from an Android Phone

I’ve been using K-9 on my Android phone for email, and wanted to get emails as soon as they arrived without having to poll the server for them (using an IMAP account). K-9 has support for Exchange, but not sub-folders and not recent versions of Exchange – and not Zimbra Server.

Researching the clients turned up two: the often-recommended TouchDown (for $20) or the newer RoadSync (for $10). There are trials in the Android Market for both TouchDown (30 days) and for RoadSync (14 days). TouchDown is an independent company with a long history of supporting Exchange on Android; however, their user interface is not quite as user-friendly as one might want.

RoadSync is also a venerable company, but the Android client is new. The software is sold by DataViz, the people behind DocumentsToGo. The user interface is a joy to use.

Both TouchDown and RoadSync support sub-folders, which is a must for me. I handle email by sorting it extensively when it comes in, placing just about every email into a folder.

However, there is one interesting item: the search for the best Exchange support for me started with looking for “push” mail – that is, having the server notify me of new mail, and not waiting for a poll. IMAP now has the IMAP IDLE command. What does this mean? It means that IMAP will thus push mail to the client. Your IMAP server has to support the IDLE command, but if it does, you don’t need to run an Exchange client to get your email notifications.

If you want to know the technical details of the IMAP IDLE command, it is described in RFC2177 (from 1997!).

One more thing – since I’m using K-9 with the IMAP IDLE command, and have trials of TouchDown and RoadSync running – now every email I get instantly gives me three notifications! Woot!

Using example domains

People have put example domains in all kinds of programs and servers, often using example.com, example.net, or example.org – along with such as test.com, anywhere.com, anywho.com, somewhere.com, anytownusa.com, and so on.

All of these are domains that resolve and have actual servers up and running on the Internet. Of those mentioned previously, only example.com, example.net and example.org are preserved for testing purposes by IANA in RFC 2606.

Better yet, when using example email addresses avoid any surprises by using one of these domains specified in RFC 2606:

  • .example (for documentation)
  • .test (for testing purposes)
  • .localhost (for sending to the local host)
  • .invalid (for creating guaranteed invalid domain names)

If you use these domains, you won’t have to worry about mail going out that wasn’t supposed to go out. I’ve seen this happen before – a configuration file sent out with an open source server sends mail to an example address – which address turns out to go to a valid domain on the Internet, where it is accepted by the mail host.

Don’t get caught by this mistake! Use the RFC 2606 domains wherever needed, and don’t make one up of your own.

Email Productivity: Smack Down that Email!

I believe I have a somewhat unusual approach to email – at least, unusual in that it doesn’t seem to be discussed much. It works for me, and might just work for you.

I get a ton of emails – mainly because I either a) have notices and warnings and logs coming from systems I manage, or b) subscribe to way too many newsletters, mailing lists, and so forth. At work, I get notices; at home, I get mailing lists…

This is what I do.

Sort everything!

If you can quantify it, put it into a folder. Nothing should be in your inbox except mail you’ve not had a chance to quantify yet – or haven’t seen before.

Create rules to sort things automatically. This is the crux of the system: everything is sorted as it comes into your mailbox. Also, if necessary, force the rules to sort only once: once the rule is triggered, it should quit and stop processing rules. Thunderbird does this automatically; Outlook has to be told.

As you create the rules, most email clients will allow you to create a folder at the same time. Use this capability.

Many clients also have the ability to create a rule from a message – sometimes even to the point of automatically creating a filter on a sender or on a mailing list sender: use it. Both Thunderbird and Outlook will provide much of this capability from a right click on the message to be sorted.

Also remember to apply the rules as you create them to all messages currently in the inbox: that is the whole purpose. Before the rule was created, they couldn’t be sorted – so sort them afterwards.

Here are some examples:

  • Mail from the boss. Move it to a folder with his name.
  • Mail from the system administration mail group. Put into a folder named according the the group’s name.
  • Newsletter from a system manufacturer. Move to a folder named according to the newsletter name or the manufacturer’s name.
  • Automatic log messages sent by mail from a system. If these are “alarm” type messages, separate them. System messages could go into a folder named after the system, or into a folder according to the monitor tool reporting.

The last example brings up the next point:

Use saved searches to sort in different ways.

For example, all automated messages from a system could go into a folder by system name. Then created saved searches that show all messages from a particular monitoring system (such as Nagios or HP’s EMS).

Add alarms for vital mail.

In contrast to what others have said, I believe in message alarms: however, only use them for mail that is truly important. For example, when the boss sends you an email, you’d better look it, yes? Likewise, if you are responding to help desk tickets, you’d better know about it right away.

The general suggestion still holds however: turn off global message alarms!

Change view of inbox to only show unread mail.

This is how I achieve Inbox Zero (I cheat!). I do still create rules as much as possible for everything that comes in – but there are stragglers.

Create a list of favorites.

Lastly, create a list of favorites. Outlook allows you to mark a folder as a favorite; KMail has a similar capability. This provides you with a way to sort everything but only see (directly) what is most important.