Panther’s Mail: Sending mail idiocy not completely gone

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 18th, 2003 • 1:30 am

I just had a problem that unfortunately contradicts my initial impression about improvements made to the way Mail handles errors while connecting to an SMTP server in order to send a mail message.

Here’s the situation. I was composing a reply to someone’s message when Mail started checking my mail in all my accounts. In one of my accounts, I had an email message with a large attachment (over 1 MB) that needed to be downloaded. So I let Mail do its thing and download the message with the attachment, slowly but surely. (I could follow the progress in the Activity Viewer window.)

While this was happening, I finished composing my reply and clicked on “Send”. Mail attempted to contact the default SMTP server for the account that I was sending this particular reply from. First disappointment: Because of the bandwidth-hogging mail downloading process, the connection to the SMTP server failed. Until now, it seemed to me that Mail had got better at handling situations with limited bandwidth available and was able to take its time to establish a connection with an SMTP server even while a file downloading process was taking place elsewhere. This seems to be the case when the file downloading process is taking place in an application other than Mail itself, but unfortunately if the bandwidth-hogging process is in Mail itself, there appears to be a problem.

So I got this modal error dialog box asking me what to do. I suggested to Mail that it try sending the message in question through another SMTP server for which I have password authentication on. Second disappointment: After a few seconds (while the file downloading process was still taking place), I got another error message saying that… my password was incorrect!

Mail was back to its old tricks, then. I don’t know enough about the underlying technology used for mail sending and receiving, but it is downright infuriating for the end user to be told that his password is incorrect when it’s perfectly correct! I tried reentering the (correct) password, and it still didn’t work. Same error message again about my password being incorrect.

But wait! It gets worse. I decided to choose “Cancel” in that error dialog — which effectively means that the still-not-sent message stays in the “Out” box waiting for the next occasion to get out. (Don’t ask me when that might be.) I waited until the downloading process was finally over, so that my network traffic would be back down to normal and I would be able to finally send the message.

I went to the “Out” box, opened the message, and clicked on “Send”. It still gave me the error message about the password being incorrect! At that stage, I was swearing loudly at the thing. I decided that something was obviously wrong with Mail and that there was no point in trying to figure out what. I quit Mail altogether, and relaunched it. Within a few seconds, the message stuck in the “Out” box was sent and gone!

So obviously my password was not incorrect. And obviously even once the bandwidth had become available again, Mail was still saying that the password was incorrect when it wasn’t. I suspect that, once such an error occurs, Mail does not even attempt to connect to the SMTP server to authenticate the password. It just assumes that, since the error occurred once, the password is and will remain wrong until the user manually re-enters it. And even then, I’m not sure that it would work. I strongly suspect that the only way to get Mail to authenticate properly again is to do what I do, i.e. quit and relaunch the application. Somehow doing this “clears up” something and gets things working again.

But it’s simply unacceptable, not only that Mail gives an incorrect error message that might lead you to believe that your password is wrong when it isn’t, but that Mail isn’t even able to recover from such an incorrect error and get things going again!

Sheesh! It’s a good thing it doesn’t happen too often any more. Otherwise, it would be grounds for divorce at this stage.

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