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Behold Oddpost!
April 6, 2002 4:46 AM   Subscribe

Behold Oddpost! Like they say, it really is "indubitably the most astounding web-based email application on earth." I was skeptical, but their drag-and-drop interface is so clean and functional that comparing it to Microsoft Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail is like comparing a Frank Lloyd Wright house to a birdcage made of Tinkertoys. All DHTML, so it requires IE 5+ on Windows. Netscape, Opera, Mac, and Linux users are out of luck. (Welcome to the effects of market share.)
posted by monkey-mind (45 comments total)

 
All DHTML, so it requires IE 5+ on Windows. Netscape, Opera, Mac, and Linux users are out of luck.

That's dumb on so many levels I don't know where to begin, regardless of how they try to justify it in their FAQ... I think i'll stick to using my moz mail
posted by slater at 5:03 AM on April 6, 2002


From the FAQ:

Why would I pay for email when Hotmail and Yahoo Mail are free?
Why doesn’t everyone drive a Hyundai?


lol
posted by Why at 5:24 AM on April 6, 2002


What slater said.
posted by donkeyschlong at 5:36 AM on April 6, 2002


Er...IE 5.0 and above has an absolutely dominant market share at the moment, it's a far from dumb move in a business sense. At least until AOL's implementation of Netscape gets under way in earnest.
posted by Duug at 5:55 AM on April 6, 2002


What Duug said. What are all the levels it's "dumb" on? There are plenty of software companies that only make products for Windows and somehow survive.
posted by yerfatma at 6:09 AM on April 6, 2002


Er...IE 5.0 and above has an absolutely dominant market share at the moment, it's a far from dumb move in a business sense.

Have to agree with you there. Although I wouldn't be surprised if just a small bit of extra effort wouldn't make it work at least on Netscape 6.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:12 AM on April 6, 2002


OK, I'll bite.
All DHTML, so it requires IE 5+ on Windows.
For one, it's dumb because Macs handle DHTML fine. The word "so" in that sentence is insulting. (However, as a web designer I would like to say for the record that DHTML sucks. Major.)
posted by planetkyoto at 6:17 AM on April 6, 2002


planetkyoto, have you checked out the actual app? It's a great looking email client, irrespective of whether it's sucky DHTML or not. :-)

I'm not a Web designer, but it looks fab and any online email service that operates like my Outlook Express prog, and gets rid of those naff Hotmail like folders is cool in my book.

They have expressed their intentions re other platforms in the FAQ:

'None of those platforms have a big enough share of the browser market to justify the engineering costs of bringing Oddpost to them. If that situation changes, so will our development plans. In the meantime, we’re focused on making a great product for the majority of machines surfing the Web.

Sounds to me like a sensible move for a small start up. :-)
posted by Duug at 6:23 AM on April 6, 2002


Very impressive. Not the least because the body of one of the emails in the demo includes the text : "I have found on occasion that peering through the eyes of a chicken
can aid one's grasp of longitude on the high seas. Most expeditious
!"

Darn tootin'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2002


Its a great interface. But the options/features are limited. Im using Fastmail which is pretty kick ass powerfull.
posted by stbalbach at 6:37 AM on April 6, 2002


There's some serious work gone into that. A few minutes playing with it found no glitches. The web app developer in me is impressed. Having said that, personally, I've always been uncomfortable with the Outlook interface, which is what they're obviously modelling it on, but I can see the sense in sticking to a familiar inteface for a venture such as this - they've made a better job of it than Microsoft's own Exchange Server interface.

I'd be tempted to give it a go if it were not missing two important features (for me at least) - searching for text strings within multiple messages and blocking/filtering.
posted by normy at 6:55 AM on April 6, 2002


What's so *dumb* about it is that there is a fundmental difference from a platform-application and a web-application. There is no reason for DHTML to be Windows-platform-choice only. The "fact" that the story poster thought that DHTML equated to Windows-only shows the mindset, not the possibilities. And that's ignorance---not something that follows automatically.

That said--I've seen references to this link before here on Metafilter, and there might something said for only Windows users "needing" a web mail app. Why they would abandon Hotmail is beyond me--I thought "market share" waas the same as "lowest common denominator."
posted by Hilarion at 7:09 AM on April 6, 2002


There is no reason for DHTML to be Windows-platform-choice only.

Commercially there is one big reason: Time to market. Cross-platform web applications simply take longer to deliver. They need more design-time and more code because there's more use-cases and more functional requirements and therefore more testing, debugging and maintenance. Assuming you can agree on what "cross-platform" actually means. With the current state of OS/browser technologies, it simply costs more.
posted by normy at 7:22 AM on April 6, 2002


That's not DHTML (which to my mind means something which uses HTML + CSS + Scripting + DOM, which should allow current Opera, IE5+, Netscape 6+, and Mozilla to get in). Let's instead call the technology this RELIES on MS-DHTML. It's all wizzy and cool, but when I want to get my mail remotely I might be on some other platform.

If it were truly a smart DHTML app I'd be incredibly impresseed. To me, when an app locks itself to a browser so early, it's destined to be. The proviso that you can use some other service to get your pop mail is lame. For a subscription fee, shouldn't I get one stop shopping?

But I hope I'm wrong. The concept of bringing desktop application-level interactivity to "just web pages" is a wonderful one which will push the web towards more interesting things. I think though, that it's an order of magnitude more difficult than building regular "web page" based web applications.

So, nice, but it's MS-DHTML.
posted by artlung at 7:54 AM on April 6, 2002


Actually, it's MS-Win-DHTML. (My Mac IE(MS-HTML) is locked out too).
posted by artlung at 7:58 AM on April 6, 2002


I really like the 'Subject-O-Matique' feature (under File > New > Insert).
It seems like they built it with a sense of humor.
posted by fatbaq at 8:05 AM on April 6, 2002


I'd agree that if it's all DHTML, there's no reason NS6 (and probably Opera) couldn't work with it. The fact that they don't now doesn't mean they couldn't so much as it means Oddpost has locked those browsers out.

IE 5.0 doesn't support the Microsoft CONTENTEDITABLE attribute, so I don't see why it would need to be "MS-Win-DHTML," other than making life simpler for them. (And I did get an erro when I tried to attach a file)
posted by yerfatma at 8:10 AM on April 6, 2002


planetkyoto - I would like to say for the record that DHTML sucks

artlung - The concept of bringing desktop application-level interactivity to "just web pages" is a wonderful one which will push the web towards more interesting things

Got to agree with both the above. Web application development is both facinating yet incredibly frustrating. Right now the technology is a complete dog's dinner of competing and (often) incompatible technologies. Rather than make good existing technologies work together, vendors and freelance evangelists abandon and re-invent (XSLT, I mean you). Rather than being brave enough to abandon bad, over-engineered and obsolete technology, they try to cram in more workarounds (HTML, I mean you). Rather than agree on a good idea and work together, they compete (XML-RPC vs. SOAP).

I just want to concentrate on making things that people (clients or customers or just me) like and want to use. I don't care about the technology, I'd write everything in Pascal if I thought it might work, just give us technology that will work, PLEASE! Instead of having to re-invent everything every time someone has a vaguely good idea?

Lets take what we've got that's good and run with it. For a start, give us a strictly object-oriented script language - JavaScript, so near, yet so far - give us a standardized way to use compiled code client-side, give us reusable componentized architecture.... I'm dreaming, s'what Saturday morning coffee is for, I guess.

FWIW, if I was thinking about designing what the chaps in the subject of this thread have done, I'd be sorely tempted to do it with an XML socket in Flash (heresy! ...burn him!). At least that way you have the foibles of only a single platform to worry about and browser tosh could be bypassed...

in preview:
(and probably Opera)


not a hope... disasterously poor DOM support.
posted by normy at 8:47 AM on April 6, 2002


What do we think of XWT for building web application interfaces? The creator describes it as an XML Windowing Toolkit that can project application interfaces onto client machines. It sounds just dreamy enough to be a bunch of hogwash and over-promises. It would sure be swell if it was real though.
posted by willnot at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2002


I'm not impressed.

One of the key benefits of web mail is the ability to access it from anywhere -- and if you're in some out of the way library or school, where Netscape 4 is still the standard browser, this webmail becomes useless.

would it kill them to have a 'low-fi' version for older browsers?

And besides, if I want something that looks like Outlook, operates like Outlook, and feels like Outlook -- I'll use Outlook. Where's the originality and creativity in the interface?
posted by mkn at 9:10 AM on April 6, 2002


And besides, if I want something that looks like Outlook, operates like Outlook, and feels like Outlook

So, new programs should never have any elements in common with competing programs? No two spreadsheets should share common characteristics? I think Oddpost probably assumes the robust mail program most folks know is Outlook, so they're trying to ape that to make their client more attractive.

The whole point is that you can't use Outlook everywhere. In fact, you have to pay for multiple copies to use it in multiple places. This offers (they hope) an email client people are already comfortable with and can use anywhere they can get IE 5.0+ web access for an annual fee. Whether that's a good idea or not is the debate (to me).

And if you're not impressed by the application, what the hell web application does impress you? I'm not interested in paying $30 for something I don't need and I do think only supporting IE is unfortunate, but Christ, you have to appreciate the time and effort that went into that.
posted by yerfatma at 9:32 AM on April 6, 2002


anyone try hacking the user-agent header to see if it works with an unsupported browser?
posted by machaus at 9:52 AM on April 6, 2002


There is no reason for DHTML to be Windows-platform-choice only. The "fact" that the story poster thought that DHTML equated to Windows-only shows the mindset, not the possibilities. And that's ignorance---not something that follows automatically.

This app reminds me of the Pyra app interface a little bit of the Blogger interface. The reason those apps worked so well in windows, and so-so in everything else was due to the additional functionality provided by the windows versions of IE.

I can't fault the guys behind Oddpost. If I were going to build something ambitious like this, I'd want to make my time to market as short as possible, and take every shortcut that could help my struggling company gain an advantage over the competition. I've been on web development teams that have created complex intranet DHTML apps, and even doing DOM standard stuff for mozilla and netscape 6 takes quite a bit longer than using the proprietary IE windows DHTML shortcuts. There are also several key bits of functionality that don't exist in anything beyond IE windows. The ability to select chunks of text in a textarea and perform scripts (like the link builder in this very comment interface on metafilter that doesn't work in anything besides IE/win) that allow you to change the text, drag it to a new area of the interface, etc.

I exchanged email with one of the founders yesterday and told him how I would love to use this, and that I need something like this as I'm constantly moving between a (mac os X) laptop and a (win xp) desktop development machine. If the site worked in both, I'd probably drop my email clients on each and just use the web interface, but for now I'll continue to lug my laptop everywhere just to read email.

If there's anything or anyone to be mad at or point blame at, the target of your frustration should be placed clearly on Microsoft. Microsoft's app teams all work in the same place, and yet, even the same applications between platforms do many things in very different ways. As I'm jumping between platforms now, I've been thinking of writing up these differences and how annoying they are. Take Word from Office XP vs. Word for X. On the mac, I get a word count at the bottom of the writing interface and with revisioning turned on comments show up as yellow background highlights. On windows XP, you have to use a menu option under Tools to get a word count, and comments now show up as very faint outlines around words in the text. There are many little differences between mac IE and win IE as well. Here in this comment textarea, if I hit my keyboard's "home" key, on the pc, the cursor jumps to the start of the line, on the mac, the webpage scrolls to the top. If I select some text with the mouse, then hold down shift and click cursor keys, the selection grows in one way on the pc, and in the opposite way on the mac.

If Microsoft made a concerted effort to create a stable development platform for their products, across their OS line, nothing would be "IE 5 for windows only." It wouldn't be quite java, but on MS products, it'd be "write-once, run on any Microsoft product." The extra work and money spent by companies like Oddpost to make their products cross-platform wouldn't be a necessary evil or something to decide on, they could write their apps once, and have it run cross platform, making customers using Microsoft's products happier because they could all use the same applications. For Microsoft to *not* make their products more consistent across plaforms is to shoot themselves in the foot, as people are less likely to switch to the mac OS if their apps won't work the same and if there will be less apps available for their use. I suppose one could say Microsoft is protecting their operating system monopoly, by making their OS just a little better, and all the apps that run on it run nicer. I would hope that's not an obvious choice on the part of MS, and that their respective product development teams have just lost sight of a goal towards cross-platform consistency.
posted by mathowie at 10:05 AM on April 6, 2002


machaus: I've tried using the Mozilla useragent modifier uabar, and no matter what I put in Oddpost rejects me.
posted by dhartung at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2002


If you happen to be traveling where IE is not available you can still POP3 into Oddpost and get your mail using webbox.com or somthing. Its not like they lock you out or anything. Just that %95 of the time your going to have access to IE so why worry about it? I think its a very wise move for a small development team.
posted by stbalbach at 10:45 AM on April 6, 2002


This is, apparently, where the new Flash MX is going to come to the fore. My understanding is that this is exactly the type of application they have in mind, given its new ability to interact with backend dbs and whatnot.

According to Macromedia, it's going to have all kinds of crazy tie-ins to the new Cold Fusion MX, making backend-to-frontend integration even easier.
posted by ph00dz at 10:50 AM on April 6, 2002


Oddpost's refusal to develop for browsers other than Windows Internet Explorer 5+ is a copout. Microsoft's Outlook Web Access has similar functionality and works on Macintosh, UNIX, and other non-Windows platforms.

I don't see any essential items in Oddpost's interface that couldn't be done in cross-platform DHTML on a modern browser—in fact, it looks like Microsoft is able to do everything on non-Windows platforms that Oddpost claims it can't.

This is more a case of developer ignorance or laziness than of actual technical limitations. If they'd started from a standards-driven DOM-based app and then added platform specific enhancements, they'd have a more solid and portable app. Locking people out of your application because they can't bold text in a form field doesn't make any damn sense. MetaFilter has the right approach: everyone can post, and people on Win IE can use the nonessential enhancements.

Yesterday I came across a review of Foundation PHP for Flash, which describes using a combination of Flash, MySQL, and PHP to build web applications. It sounds pretty cool from the reviews.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:43 AM on April 6, 2002


This is, apparently, where the new Flash MX is going to come to the fore.

At the risk of making a complete prat of myself, having played with it only for the last couple of weeks, I'd say I have to agree. Not only that, but that if Macromedia keep developing Flash MX in the direction they appear to be, this whole conversation may turn out to be irrelevant. Its still a scripting language, so it still sucks, but ActionScript has got way better, and some of their new interface components are really rather tasty.
posted by normy at 12:05 PM on April 6, 2002


...oh, and matthowie...

For Microsoft to *not* make their products more consistent across plaforms is to shoot themselves in the foot

...amen to that.
posted by normy at 12:10 PM on April 6, 2002


Web application development is both facinating yet incredibly frustrating. Right now the technology is a complete dog's dinner of competing and (often) incompatible technologies.

But that's what makes it fun. Besides, it's job security.

FWLIW, I don't agree that DHTML "sucks". No more than anything else. It has its limitations, sure; what doesn't? Cross-browser compatibility isn't that difficult a trick to manage (so long as by 'cross-browser' you mean NS6 and IE5); cross-platform introduces a few more quirks and bugs. It's not impossible, certainly; the best way to do it is test everything while you build it. If your developers build something on a single platform for a single browser, and then try to make it cross-compatible later, you're screwed. (Or, rather, your mac users are screwed.) Every serious web developer should have two machines on his desk, each loaded with a copy of IE and Netscape 6; bonus points for Opera or OmniWeb. (Dont bother with NS4, though; that's just masochism.) While I'm making proclamations, every serious web developer should have a personal masseuse, too. Yeah, a little to the left. Yeah. Yeah. Mmmmm.

That said, I think these guys probably made the right choice sticking to windows/IE only (and I'm typing this into OmniWeb on a Mac.) I'd feel differently if Hotmail or Yahoo did it, but oddpost is aiming a niche product at a niche market; they chose the largest niche they felt they could support. (And it's a damn big niche.) Sound thinking.
posted by ook at 12:23 PM on April 6, 2002


That "Microsoft consistency" would have to be done within reason, especially with regard to interface issues. They had always had a total lock on the Mac word processing market, but then they decided to make Word 6 look as much as possible like the then-current Windows version of Word. Mac users went absolutely batshit and abandoned it it droves. If whatever company was making Word Perfect at the time hadn't already been in financial trouble (Ashton-Tate? There were so many companies that owned that product; but whoever it was they went under), and MS hadn't finally gotten the hint and gone back to the Mac interface standard just in time with their next release, they probably would have lost about 75% of their Mac market share. They were definitely well on their way down that path when they got religion again.

And just think of the other ramifications: MS probably would have said "Well, hell, we're not making any money on the Mac any more, let's just shut down the Mac products division," which would have made things much worse for MS when their monopoly trial started a few years later, since it would have been a hell of a body blow to Apple.
posted by aaron at 12:51 PM on April 6, 2002


From a non-techie point-of-view, I think this app is great. Looks good, plenty of features for us MS Outlook users, inexpensive...what's not to love? And I really, really enjoy the developers/owners sensibilities & humor. That counts for something, too.
posted by davidmsc at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2002


I wonder if they're just hoping that Microsoft will buy them out...seems like a reasonably sensible strategy to me, in that light.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:59 PM on April 6, 2002


I love this thing. It's a snazzy interface, and the demos rock. One of the messages is the entire text of my favorite poem. Another one quotes the Three Wise Men. I'd much rather give these guys a little dough than continue to pay for Yahoo (I pay for Yahoo's "Premium" Service. Spam-Tastic!

Let's hear it for the little guy. I hope they knock it out of the park.
posted by Optamystic at 6:10 PM on April 6, 2002


I think it looks great, and as a web developer I have to say I'm impressed. As far as the "is it dumb to develop only for Win IE" question, I say no. If anyone wants to look at the numbers, check out this link for last month's stats. I actually believe these numbers. After all, 398,196,710 hits can't be wrong.
posted by LuxFX at 8:20 PM on April 6, 2002


The counter stat doesn't seem to distinguish between Mac and Win IE, and it's impossible to tell how many browsers masquaraded as IE 5/6.
posted by gyc at 8:59 PM on April 6, 2002


Microsoft's Outlook Web Access has similar functionality and works on Macintosh, UNIX, and other non-Windows platforms.

Ever send an email in OWA to more than three people? Ever need to attach multiple files to a message? Ever forget someones email address, and wish you could access the GAL? Ever get errors re-deleting something that didn't refresh when you deleted it the first time? I HATE OWA!

Unfortunately, Oddpost is kick ass, but I won't shell out any money for what will inevitably be the waiting game that is the day that our proxy admins decide to block the site.
posted by machaus at 9:08 PM on April 6, 2002


Ever send an email in OWA to more than three people?

Yes, all the time, and I've never run into any problems doing it.

Ever need to attach multiple files to a message?

Again, not a problem for me.

Ever forget someones email address, and wish you could access the GAL?

Not sure what the GAL is (General Address List?), but I access our master address book from work with no problems at all. It even automatically checks real names as I put them in.

Maybe you're using a much older version of OWA or something, but I've never had the problems it sounds like you do. I'm using Mac IE 5.1 in OS 9.
posted by willnot at 10:02 PM on April 6, 2002


OWA on Exchange 2000 is a far prettier and well-knit (though still sub-optimal) beast than is OWA via Exchange 5.5.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:45 AM on April 7, 2002


I really liked it, and I'm getting it. I'm already paying for the premium Hotmail service, and I hate them. I feel like Hotmail suckered me into paying anyhow. I would much rather give my money to these guys. Very impressed all-around with it.

Personally, I prefer its forward-looking interface and features to making something completely backwards compatable. I think that was the decision, and the trade-off was making something cool, or making something like everything else. And you can still access it when you're visiting Grandma during Christmas.

These guys succeeded on a lot of levels -visual, technical and business wise (I think).
posted by xammerboy at 9:34 AM on April 7, 2002


kirkaracha: Oddpost's refusal to develop for browsers other than Windows Internet Explorer 5+ is a copout. Microsoft's Outlook Web Access has similar functionality and works on Macintosh, UNIX, and other non-Windows platforms.

I don't see any essential items in Oddpost's interface that couldn't be done in cross-platform DHTML on a modern browser—in fact, it looks like Microsoft is able to do everything on non-Windows platforms that Oddpost claims it can't.


Actually, if you're using the most recent version, Outlook Web Access is significantly better and has far more features on when accessed via Windows IE versus access via Netscape or Macintosh.

Most significantly is the WYSIWYG editing interface, which I assume makes use of the Microsoft DHTML Editing Component which allows for full WYSIWYG HTML editing within an HTML form. This is Windows IE 5+ only technology; doesn't work on Mac or Netscape. (This of course is what I was referring to in the initial post when I mentioned DHTML, but whatever.)

It's amusing to me that (a) people got their panties in such a wad over me indicating that the source of the platform-specificness was DHTML, and (b) that people would expect a two-man company to strive for cross-browser, cross-platform capability.

The Oddpost guys would have to be friggin' idiots to waste -- yes, waste -- time on cross-browser, cross-platform capability. They are creating a product that is all about the interface, and it just so happens that the browser with the 90%+ market share also provides interface capability (e.g. the DHTML Editing Component, for example) that isn't available in other browsers.

From any business perspective, it doesn't make sense to do it otherwise. The tiny percentage of the market that is "excluded" doesn't justify the up-front development costs.
posted by monkey-mind at 1:48 PM on April 7, 2002


monkey-mind: " Outlook Web Access is significantly better and has far more features on when accessed via Windows IE versus access via Netscape or Macintosh."

Yes, but it's still accessible and usable by people on other platforms. What essential features does Oddpost have that are impossible in other browsers? WYSIWYG HTML editing is cool, but it's not an essential feature for an e-mail application.

Oddpost also locks you out from their home page, not just the application, if you aren't using Windows IE 5+. If you're on a Mac, you can only access their contact info and testimonials via a Google search or VirtualPC. I use a Mac as my main computer, but I might be interested in using Oddpost, or recommending it to clients, and I can't even see a demo.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:44 PM on April 7, 2002


Speaking of e-mail, CNET has an interesting wish list for the ultimate e-mail application.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:49 PM on April 7, 2002


What essential features does Oddpost have that are impossible in other browsers?

None. Absolutely none. There is almost no such thing as a feature that cannot be implemented in software given enough time and resources. If you have a chunk of money and a team of programmers to provide to oddpost I'm sure they'd welcome the help and get you the functionality you want in no time. If not, I' m sure that when the two people who are oddpost actually have enough paying customers or investors to allow them to put some resources on duplicating the functionality on other platforms, they'll do it.
posted by dchase at 4:36 PM on April 7, 2002


If not, I' m sure that when the two people who are oddpost actually have enough paying customers or investors to allow them to put some resources on duplicating the functionality on other platforms, they'll do it.

MSNBC, which is about as far from a two-man shop as you can get in the tech industry, has been live for about what, six years now? Much of their site's functionality was Windows-only on the day of launch, and every bit of it that was Windows-only then remains Windows-only today.
posted by aaron at 9:46 PM on April 7, 2002


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