Monday, August 17, 2009
My Email/Office Problems on the Mac
As some of you may have heard, I bought myself a Mac a little while back. I mainly did this because I wanted to do some iPhone development (and still do). Secondly, I did it because I am a UI guy, and as such I thought I’d probably get a lot of good ideas from the Mac. I expected an awesome UI experience that “just works”. That did not work out that way, and to be perfectly honest, some of the UI things on the Mac are just so plain dumb and bad, it is outrageous. But that shall be the topic of a different post. Today, I want to tell you about my Office and email problems and what the exact details are behind them, so you may be able to avoid them yourself.
The basic setup is that I bought Microsoft Office for the Mac. The main reason for this is that I wanted to have a real Exchange client. I know that there are other email applications, but it is important to me that I simply access Exchange natively from whatever email app I use on the Mac, just like I do on Windows, the Web, or on Mobile Devices (including the iPhone). It would not be acceptable to me to have an email client that did a POP download into a local store so I would then have a copy of that email. I wouldn’t want to mark an email as read on the Mac and then go back to Outlook on Windows and still see the message as unread. I also wouldn’t want to file a message into a folder on the Mac and then not have that reflected in Exchange. Similarly, I would not want to send a message from the Mac and then not have that show up in my Sent Items in Windows.
Note that I am the first to admit that I am not a Mac specialist. There are tons of things I do not know about the Mac. I have asked several people for other Mac email options and they all say “I use xxx…” or “I use yyy…” and people claim to access Exchange with those tools. But when we start looking at the details, it always turned out that they are not using Exchange in the typical Exchange way, thus not fulfilling the criteria listed above, which makes the solution unacceptable to me. Perhaps there are ways to get around this and none of the people I know understand those ways (and if you have an idea how to do this, please post a comment here, as I would be really eager to learn it), but I simply have not been able to find a way. (And please don’t post anything that says “switch away from Exchange” as I have no interest in that and Exchange has served us very well otherwise…).
So here is what happened with my Email store: The other day, I open up Entourage (or more accurately, I am bringing my Mac out of sleep mode with Entourage already running). After a few moments, I am shown an error message that says something along the lines of “your Office database is corrupt and needs to be rebuilt”. OK, so far so good. I wasn’t overly concerned and clicked “OK”. Now, the Mac went into 15+ hours of rebuilding its database, at the end of which, it all seemed to be OK. It took a long time, but no errors occurred or anything like that. However, as it turned out, during this process, the Mac eliminated a bunch of folders from my mail store. Apparently, the corruption must have been such that the local offline cache lost those folders. That in itself should not be a big problem, one would think. After all, those folders still exist in Exchange and it should be straightforward to simply sync them back down. But alas, that assumption is wrong! Instead, Entourage apparently decided to remove those folders from the Exchange store completely. (This btw also happened for a few messages, such as my inbox items for the last 2 weeks I still had to reply to, and not just entire folders). Those messages and folders are not in deleted items, and I cannot find them with any of the other message restore tricks I am aware of. They are simply gone without a trace! (Note: This has now happened twice to me… but the first time I wasn’t quite sure why it had happened).
Frankly, this is unacceptable. When was the last time you lost data in that fashion on any other platform? Even cell phones and other mobile devices do not fail at such a pathetic level. This is 2009 for crying out loud! Data loss like this just simply cannot happen anymore. And what makes all of this worse is that it is random stuff that has been removed. I have no way of restoring things from a backup, because there is newer stuff mixed in, and I do not even know all the things I lost in the first place. This is worse than losing my entire mailbox. It totally sucks!
And this is not the only way I have lost data on my Mac. Just 2 days ago, Word for the Mac crashed 3 times in a single day (!!!) and not just did the app crash, but it corrupted my document on every occasion. (We did I even give it a chance to do it 2 more times after it crashed once? Because I only had the Mac with me and needed to get work done). I lost several hours of work just that afternoon alone.
Now before any zealots give me a hard time about this “being no surprise since this was crappy Microsoft software”: The same crap happens with other apps on the Mac too. I had Finder crash on me. I had Xcode crash on me and lose changes. I had Skype crash on me as well. And none of this is acceptable. When was the last time your Windows PC crashed? I have never seen a blue screen of death on Windows 7 and I am not even sure I have ever seen one on Vista. I don’t even remember the last time Word crashed on me. It certainly hasn’t happened in the last 5 years. And I sure have not had any file corruptions from an Office app crashing this millennium. And when you really think about it: Why would you?!? Just because an app comes to a screeching halt (“crashes”), why would it corrupt the file at hand? Losing unchanged work, that I understand. But corrupting previously saved stuff?
Needless to say, I am very disappointed with all this. I am now using my Mac only to browse the web and to use TweetDeck for Twitter. I guess at the end of the day, that is what many consumers do, so maybe that is an explanation of why they seem to like their Macs… :-(
In any event: If your Mac ever wants to rebuild an Office database: Stop it! Pull the plug or do whatever it takes so it can’t. Delete your files and start over. Even if you have a few unsent messages or something. That will be much preferable over what happened to me.
Update: Here is a link with some more information and potential solutions: http://www.macwindows.com/Handling-Entourage-2008-database-corruption.html
Posted @ 4:46 AM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)