Using Thunderbird for University of Phoenix Newsgroups

Thanks to the folks at My Blog Log, I now have access to some very basic statistics about my blog. I can see the last ten searches or links that led visitors to my blog. I noticed that yesterday, somebody was searching for some keywords involving Thunderbird and the University of Phoenix’s newsgroups. I have some experience with this, so I thought I would write a brief post with advice.

I am no fan of Microsoft’s Outlook Express. I do use Outlook as my mail client, not so much because it’s the best out there, but because it is the best integrated PIM (Personal Information Manager) that will interface with my Pocket PC. Outlook Express was originally (as I recall) delivered under Windows 98 as a built-in mail client. At the time, I preferred Netscape’s mail client, which I used heavily for many years.

The University of Phoenix requires students to use Outlook Express, which is about the only product they officially support. Their tech support will also support Mozilla’s Thunderbird. Because I don’t like a lot of the UI and operation of Outlook Express, I have tried many other options, but I always end up back at Outlook Express. OE doesn’t do a good job, but it does what I want slightly better. I don’t like the fact that every time Outlook Express runs, it has to call up Windows Messenger no matter how hard I try to uninstall or disable that useless program. Microsoft may run a monopoly on operating systems and office suites, but they have a long way to go to write a decent IM client.

I have configured Thunderbird 1.5 for the University of Phoenix’s newsgroups on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. That is the biggest advantage to Thunderbird; cross-platform capability. That’s one of the things I love about Firefox as well. With Del.icio.us bookmarks and Google Notebook, I can work as effectively on any computer I happen to use. When I found that Thunderbird 2.0 is out, I decided to try it as well.

Two of the biggest problems that I have with Thunderbird involve my own workflow habits. Outlook Express allows the user to not have any message marked as read until the user is done with the message. I haven’t found a way to do this with Thunderbird, but I have found a decent workaround: I set the "Mark message as read after…" timeout to 10,000 seconds. This is an idiosyncrasy that I picked up from the influence of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, although it is not exactly orthodox GTD because I don’t always act on the message the first time I read it. I don’t mark a message as read in email or my UOP newsgroups until any action associated with that message is completed, whether that action is read, respond, or follow up on a comment or link contained in that message. If a message is marked as not read, that is my visual cue to do something with the message. This way, if the instructor asks a question deep in a thread or a student makes a post I want to follow up on, I can find it again because that is the message I haven’t marked as read. This morning I discovered another work around that was holding me back from Thunderbird: marking a message as read. In Outlook Express, you can right-click and select, "Mark as read" or press the k key. You can also hit the context menu key (right of the space bar between Alt and CTRL) and k. In Thunderbird, the context menu requires the user to go to one level deeper in the menu, as in Mark -> As Read. I just discovered this morning that pressing the m key with a message highlighted will mark the message as read.

Another nag I have with Thunderbird is that I constantly get a pop-up alert saying "An NNTP (News) error occurred: No Permission". It gets to be a pain, and I don’t get this with Outlook Express. I have no idea how to overcome this error. I’ve tried changing my time-out, but that doesn’t seem to help.

I also tried Windows Live Messenger Desktop Beta, which seems to be the replacement for Outlook Express on Windows XP. I found it to be too unstable for use. I liked the UI, however, and when the finished product is released I may use it. Windows Mail, which is included in Windows Vista, did a great job with my UOP newsgroups as well. I would recommend it for you Vista users. I have no idea if UOP supports Windows Mail yet. I don’t think they support Internet Explorer 7 either. As I wrote in a previous entry, the UOP seriously needs to  be brought into the 21st Century.

Thunderbird configures easily enough. I found it much easier to configure T-bird than to manually configure Outlook Express. UOP does offer an automatic newsgroup configuration script in their online classroom, but that script will only work in Internet Exploder 6. Once I upgraded to IE7 beta 2, I had to learn how to manually set up my newsgroups. If you already have Outlook Express set up, Thunderbird will automatically detect and import your IMAP email account from UOP.

Assuming that you have to configure Thunderbird for UOP access yourself, here is a brief procedure:

  1. 1. Open Tools =>; Account Settings
  2. 2. Name your account anything you wish. Put in your name and UOP email addresses in the appropriate fields.
  3. 3. Click Server Settings. Enter the server name as emailxx.phoenix.edu, xx being whatever server you happen to be on. Enter your username in this format: ols\username.
  4. 4. Select Add Account. This will be a newsgroup account. Fill in the requested information.
  5. 5. Under Server Settings, make sure that SSL is enabled and the server is set to port 563.
  6. 6. Outgoing server should be emailout.phoenix.edu, port 465.

When connecting, enter your ols\username and password, tell Thunderbird to remember, and go to town. Thunderbird 1.5 never seemed to remember my username and password, but it looks like Thunderbird 2.0 will, so I may be using this from now on.

Now to get newsgroups, click on File => Subscribe. Select whatever you named your UOP Newsgroup account from the drop down menu (mine is named Flexnet). Under "Show items that contain:", enter a search term for your class or program. I typically search under XBIT, which gives me the newsgroups for my program.

I wrote the subscribe procedure after several nights of my youngest not sleeping, so if it needs to be overhauled or clarified feel free to leave me constructive comments and I will revise it accordingly to make it easier for others to follow.

This procedure should work the same on Linux and Mac OS X.

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