Internet commentary

Microelectronics International

ISSN: 1356-5362

Publication date: 1 August 2004

Keywords

Citation

Ellis, B. (2004), "Internet commentary", Microelectronics International, Vol. 21 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/mi.2004.21821bag.001

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Internet commentary

But here, unless I am mistaken, is our client[1]

Keywords: Internet, E-mail

I have often written about e-mail clients and I shall probably write still more articles on the subject, so this one will be no exception. As regular readers will know, I have always been very cautious about using Outlook or Outlook Express, mainly because of the security implications. As a result, I have been using Netscape, in various versions, for nearly 10 years. The latest version, 7.02, has been extremely good but does suffer from a few disadvantages. From time to time, I have tried various other e-mail clients, such as Opera, Eudora and so on. I have never been convinced to change.

Having read eulogistic criticisms of Pegasus, I thought I would give that one a try. It was quite an interesting experience and it is certainly the most "geekish" e-mail client that I have tried, up to now. However, it had a number of features which I simply did not like, even after using it continuously for several weeks. I therefore regretfully abandoned this idea.

During the time when I was trying Pegasus, I thought I would take a poll of what some of my friends were using. The results are shown in Table I.

Now, I don't pretend that this table is representative of the Internet community, as a whole, because many of my correspondents are possibly above-average in computer savvy. I was quite surprised, nevertheless, to find that fewer than half were using Outlook, in any form. This may also be partially explained by the fact that a few of them (especially in the "Other clients'' category) are using MacOS or Linux platforms. I noted that the three clients that I tried while seeking a better choice than Netscape (Eudora, Pegasus and Opera, as well as TheBat, which was recommended to me, but I have not tried it) all obtained fairly low scores. I was, however, surprised to see how few were using Netscape, which I had always considered as the main alternative to the Microsoft clients (it used to be the Number One, before Microsoft considered that the Internet was here to stay and tipped up the level playing field). Now, Netscape is an off-shoot of Mozilla, using the same basic open-source code. This inspired me to have a closer look at Mozilla in its various guises. The full Mozilla is actually very similar to Netscape, as can be expected. This means that it is rather top-heavy. However, some time back, the Mozilla developers realised this and started to split it into lighter, simpler, modules, rather than have everything under one roof, while keeping the basic functionality. The main parts are Mozilla Thunderbird as the competition to Outlook and Mozilla Firebird for Microsoft Internet Explorer. Although, at the time of writing, the applications are not yet fully released, they are already extremely stable and reliable. I've been using both Thunderbird and Firebird for some weeks, now. To give you an idea of how I'm impressed at this lean and mean software, I've made them, this past week, my default e-mail client and browser and I've stopped using Netscape, except for archival reference. The changeover has been totally painless. The implementation of POPFile, the Bayesian mailbox filter I've been using for about a year, was easy. It runs now with a current 99.3 percent accuracy level, an outstanding figure for automatically sorting all my e-mail into six separate mailboxes plus all the spam into Trash. Thunderbird also has a Bayesian filter, but I have not tested this because it is only a simple spam/ not-spam implementation and POPFile gives me full satisfaction with more facilities and features.

Does Netscape offer anything that Thunderbird doesn't? I think the answer must be negative, although the implementation of the menus is different (simpler and more logical in Thunderbird, once you realise that the Mail and Newsgroup Account Settings and Preferences items are no longer under Edit but have been moved into Account Settings and Options under Tools). Of course, Thunderbird has eliminated all the annoying little Netscape-oriented features, including the force-feeding of AOL and a few other related sites. Although there are many optional "skins" available for it, the default one is eminently practical and without the "Fisher- Price'' style that plagues many modern applications. One feature I particularly like, compared with Netscape 7.x, is that the left hand box of Thunderbird shows the "folders" tree by default, but it changes to the Address Book when in any mode whereby a message is being prepared for sending (in Netscape, although it was configurable, the two windows were above and below each other, giving insufficient space for either). Thunderbird has become an extremely practical tool and, now that it is stand-alone, should logically give Outlook and Outlook Express a better run for their costless money, even for those who still wish to use Internet Explorer for browsing. Changing to Thunderbird will eliminate many of the security hazards associated with the Microsoft clients and the use of their Address Book by worms. I can highly recommend it.

Having consecrated the Netscape e-mail client to the virtual waste paper-basket (or shredder), what about browsing? Well, Firebird is equally lean and mean, yet retaining all the useful features that I'm used to, and more besides. I particularly like having Google as a default part of the main toolbar – in Netscape, I used a plug-in to add it to its own toolbar, but it frequently spontaneously disappeared. Also, the optional sidebar can be controlled by toolbar icons to allow one to switch between bookmarks, downloaded files and history. Gone is the need to use Ctrl-H to find a site you looked at a couple of days ago, although the facility is still there if you want it, but it toggles it into the same place and not into a pop-up window. Talking of pop-ups, the "Block Pop-up Windows" option is still there, with the ability to override it for given web sites (sometimes particularly necessary for online banking) but it has the advantage that it is no longer overridden for Netscape sites. One shouldn't forget, either, that Mozilla introduced tabs into browsing a few years back; this allows you to switch between any reasonable number of open web pages by a simple click on a tab. It is a wonderfully useful feature that some other browsers have copied, but many have not. The Firebird does have a little bug in its feathers, though; hopefully, it will have been sprayed with Mozilla insecticide before this article has been printed. It is the only bug I've found in either of these new Mozilla applications and is of no real consequence: you know those buttons at the bottom of your screen, showing the name, with a small icon, of all your open items? Well, Firebird does not show the Firebird icon, but the Windows flag icon! The $64,000 question (wow! That dates me, doesn't it?) is whether it is worthwhile changing from another browser to Firebird? If you are currently using Netscape and are changing your e-mail client to Thunderbird, the answer is an unequivocal yes. If you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer, there are definite security advantages, as many illicit bugs specifically target IE. Also, MSIE does not fully conform to internationally accepted HTML and XML protocols, whereas Firebird does so, rigidly. The answer, then, is, yes, there are definite advantages in changing, even if it will take a day or two to accustom yourself to a slightly different layout and the numerous keyboard shortcuts. From other browsers? Well, I can't really say – maybe you should try it for yourself. All I can say is that I highly recommend it as a darned good browser.

So, are you interested in trying out my cutting- edge recommendations? Visit www.mozilla.org to find out more about Thunderbird and Firebird. At the time of writing, it will cost you the time to download, respectively, about 7 and 6 MB and a few minutes to install them by a simple copy (Windows versions). For comparison, the Netscape set-up procedure – which is hairy – involves decompressing 40 MB into a set-up folder while the download is proceeding. Anyway, as the software is open source, it is free-of-charge. Versions are available for all flavours of Windows, MacOS and Linux. I don't think you will regret it – I haven't!

Have you heard about CMAP? This is the Centre for Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging, a multi-university and multi-company consortium, based in Canada. It is run by my long- standing friend of many years, Dr Laura Turbini, formerly one of "the rambling wrecks from Georgia Tech and a heck of an engineer", if I may quote the student song. The CMAP Web site is at: www.cmap.ca/

Plate 1 CMAP home page, showing the simple frames-based layout

The Home Page is neatly lean and mean, so download speeds are good, although I'm personally not very keen on the use of frames. The content is a simple background information, accompanied by a photo of Dr Turbini (Plate 1). In the left hand frame, there is a simple menu. There is one important thing missing from the page and that is an obvious means of knowing where the Centre is, other than a mention of Canada – and there are rather many kilometres between St Johns and Vancouver! However, if you hunt hard, you can find Dr Turbini's e-mail address in tiny print at the bottom of the page, along with that of the webmaster, a Ms Kowalska.

E-mail client No. of votes Percentage
Outlook 13 22.03
Outlook Express 12 20.34
Netscape 2 3.39
Mozilla 9 15.25
Mozilla Thunderbird 5 8.47
Eudora 3 5.08
Pegasus 1 1.69
Opera 5 8.47
TheBat 0 0
Other clients 9 15.25
Total 59 100

Table I

Some of the other pages have sub-menus at the top of the page. For example, the first one, About CMAP, has eight sub-sub-menus, entitled, respectively: Mission; Objectives; Funding; IP Policy; Organisational Structure; Executive Director; Output and Long Term Goal. Each of these leads to a page which gives a wealth of good detail on the subject in question. I think it would be a good idea to quote the mission verbatim:

The mission of the Centre for Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging (CMAP) is to advance international microelectronics assembly and packaging at Canadian universities in partnership with industry through multidisciplinary, innovative research carried out in complementary, state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, producing a new generation of highly qualified scientists and engineers.

I would also like to quote the long term goal:

  • to become the premier international research center in Microelectronics and Photonics Packaging and Assembly in Canada.

  • to contribute to the creation of engineers, scientists and technicians for the electronics industry in Canada.

  • to achieve international recognition for CMAP.

The next menu item is Contact. This gives the full co-ordinates of Dr Turbini, in Toronto, and other personnel.

I am a little upset about the heading Events. This gives a listing of a dozen or so events held over the last three years plus one which will be held in the near future, at the time of writing. If you want to know more about any of the past events, you can click on to a link and the first thing you see are the words, "You are invited to attend...''. I have nothing against the fact that the past events are there; however, I would expect the details to include abstracts of the papers, rather than a programme of something that will happen in the future. If I may make the suggestion, I would strongly recommend that this be corrected, so that surfers can see what did occur, at the time.

Under Membership there are three sub-pages, the first of which lists the five universities and the six industrial members that are co-operating to form the Centre. The second page gives the Membership Benefits, while the third page gives the Membership Fees. For industry, these fees seem rather high, which may explain why only six companies have opted for membership. Having owned a small company myself, even the especially "low" fees for small companies would have been well beyond the reach of my enterprise, reaching well into five figures of Canadian dollars.

The nitty-gritty of the site comes in a page marked Projects. At the time of writing, there are eight ongoing University projects covering a great deal of ground within many aspects of the microelectronics industry. By clicking on the titles, a good technical abstract for each one of them is displayed. In addition, there are two related projects conducted within the University of Toronto but funded by industry. This page is well worth reading in full, if only to show the wide scope and detailed work within the CMAP remit. I believe that most readers will find that at least one of the projects – if not many – will be related to the practical problems that are encountered every day. In fact, this page is a better advertisement for CMAP than the one extolling the virtues of membership benefits.

One of the menu items is entitled Technologies. Except for one detail, this would have been extremely interesting, because the sub-menus are: Assembly Materials; Chip Interconnects; Reliability; Modelling and Simulation; Photonics Interconnects; PWB; Lead-free Solder; Thermal Dissipation; Wafer Level Packaging. So, what is the missing detail? At the time of writing, this page reveals the terse phrase, "Coming very soon."!

Web Links is actually the page devoted to hyperlinking to the sites of eight magazines more or less related to microelectronics. The sad thing is that none of these are to the web site of this journal, Microelectronics International. This seems rather strange, because MI is probably more relevant than some of the ones which are linked and certainly of a much higher academic level.

The next menu item is cryptically called Wow Factor. I didn't know what to expect before I opened it, as the title meant little to me. After I had a look at it, I realised that it consisted of three Web links to sites providing further technical information.

There is then a section for members only. As I couldn't access it, there is no way I can comment on it or discuss its contents. As a suggestion, may I say that I would have preferred it if the full menu of this section were displayed, obviously with the limited access to each item, so as to give a better idea of the contents to casual viewers? This would allow them to judge better whether the membership fees would provide value justifying permission to enter this closed world.

CMAP has aspirations to become international. One can question whether this is justified. In my experience, the relationship between academia and industry is often bound by their proximity. When such a relationship becomes very costly, then the proximity is probably more important than ever. I have little doubt, especially knowing Dr Turbini, that CMAP does everything it claims. Notwithstanding, my feeling is that it would become much more successful at recruiting international members if they had a special charter, at much reduced fees, perhaps with more limited free access to information. Of course, in this day and age, geographical limitations have, to some extent, been eliminated by the Internet. A similar associate membership could also be offered to individuals and companies with fewer than, say, ten employees or with a limited turnover (perhaps it should be mentioned that there is no definition of "large" or "small" companies in the page devoted to membership fees).

Overall, this is an interesting site of an example of the co-operation which often exists between academia and industry. I have seen this kind of organisation in a number of countries, with varying degrees of formality. For the most part they serve a really useful purpose in allowing applied research to be shared, thus avoiding the costly need for each company to "reinvent the wheel". In the case of CMAP, it would seem that the Web site, once it is completed, will become an extremely valuable tool for the industry at large, especially if it strikes a balance between the information which is available to the public at large and that which is restricted to members only.

Brian EllisCyprusb_ellis@protonique.com

Note1 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (1917) Wisteria Lodge.