Email Application Hell

English / Writing

Working in a hosting industry as a customer service rep, you’ll find that 8 out of 10 issues reported has to do with emails.

Take a look at a person with zero computing experience, and ask yourself, if they want a website, where they should go to.

You might think a drag and drop site builder is a good idea. Something where they can just add or remove website components like Lego, where even if things can go wrong, dealing with the aftermath is as easy as re-adding the block.

But look at the typical guide of setting up IMAP/POP3/SMTP client, and there are simply too many pitfalls where the drop is quite deep.

On the face of it, it’s easy enough. You just need to know the incoming/outgoing mail server, their ports, your username and password. In theory, this looks really easy, especially to someone with years of computer experience.

But no. Your client want to set up an email on iPhone, and your server requires outgoing mail authentication? Don’t worry, Apple made sure you’ll always have a job as Tech Support by putting ‘(optional)’ on both fields for outgoing mail server.

The server uses full email address as the username? Wait, is it username or email address then? Email applications don’t use similar term, so get ready for the users entering just the username part of the email address, making sure that their IP keeps getting blocked on the server for wrong login details.

What the hell is “Secure Password Authentication”, and should the client have it enabled? Don’t worry, your opinion and your server capability to support it is not relevant, client will enable it anyway, because it’s “secure”, right?

The password is wrong/mistyped/not even filled, and your server is set up to block an IP after a certain amount of login attempt failed. Client is screaming and trying to ask them to retype the password is hard, as they’re sure they got it right. At this point, you ask them to just reset the password.

Congratulations, you have created an even bigger problem. You managed to get the client to update one email application password on one device, but not the other 3, which is sharing the IP and will now forever create an IP block loop unless you whitelist their IP or get them to somehow go through each and update every single device.

These are just small details that made up most of the errors when dealing with email application setup.

Even with Webmail, For cPanel Mail specifically, i lost count of the amount of client that’s confused about their default webmail setup.

Doesn’t believe me? Here’s what happened when you login to your cPanel webmail for the first time:

What is this grey screen and what should i do?

Okay, i clicked the got it button. Now what should i do? Which of these three foreign name and logo should i choose, and what made them difference? Can’t you just pick for me?

(At this stage, lots of clients actually just scroll down, possibly due to decision fatigue, and just assume that they must do something, other than actually clicking the icon, or “set as default”, “whatever that means”)

Okay i clicked Horde/Roundcube/Squirrel mail. Why is this so hard?

As a bonus, let’s say you forgot your password for cPanel based webmail, and you wanted to reset your password. Well what do you know, there is a reset password link in the login form:

What the user doesn’t know is that reset password will never actually reset his email password as it will reset a completely different password entirely.

Of course, i’m exaggerating. It really isn’t that bad, just require a bit of patience.

But looking at the state of everything that has to do with email reminded me quite a bit that this is truly the dinosaur of the internet. The UI might have been handcrafted by a 23 year old hipster from Portland who exclusively eats Soylent, but the back end and its ecosystem still feels very 1993.

The Author

I write stuff, A recovering RSS feed addicts.