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Popcorn tries to be what everyone should want in an email client, and it more or less succeeds, except for a lot of bad programming, all too many cosmetic blemishes, and an arrogance and stubbornness on the part of the authors that largely remains unparalleled among modern PC software developers.

The Ultrafunk site proudly announces that 'all future Popcorn development has been permanently discontinued. Release 1.20 is the last official build that will be made available for the general public, it is based on the latest stable 1.20 beta that was under development,' but there are a number of problems with this. The Ultrafunk site has been saying the same thing for over a year now, all the while it has offered three successive Popcorn updates; and Popcorn has not really found itself yet in any stable release.

The tenet is admirable: an email client that fits on a diskette. Let's ignore the fact that diskettes - and PC diskette bays - are becoming more and more of an endangered species; the point is that the client should be lightweight. At a couple of hundred kilobytes, Popcorn is plenty light, even though proper engineering would make it much lighter still. No local persistent storage is used; no mail is automatically downloaded or deleted at server level; and the email reader is strictly text, so there is no risk of getting infected by the ills and chills spread so ignorantly by Outlook users.

But the program suffers from its poor programming and silly and very easily remedied cosmetic and technical errors. For some odd reason (for no good reason), the authors insist on using different command IDs for the same commands on the toolbar and on the menu, which not only leads to more code and unnecessary code, but to bugs. And again, and only through stubbornness, the authors refuse to handle toolbar and menu maintenance as they know they should - by state inspection rather than inline operation. Successive releases of Popcorn have disabled the toolbar at silly times, leading many to download all their email headers again, and others to cleverly resort to their context menus; successive releases have crashed the program entirely on any attempt to perform a message redirect; the latest release for some wacky indefensible reason takes over painting of non-client areas, meaning your caption bar can end up really looking screwed up; and successive releases have attempted to introduce even more features without addressing the innumerable bugs found in the code already present. Popcorn is a program we'd all love to love, but it's more like a ship without a captain, a vessel on wild waters getting more and more out of control.

The authors of Popcorn refuse to release the source code to the public domain, yet do not want to be paid for the program either. Some people suspect that the reason for this is that Popcorn is an extraction from Mozilla. Whatever - if the authors continue to claim, release after release, that they are never going to update this program ever again, that they are going to ignore all letters sent with bug reports etc, and still go on programming this poor piece of software so poorly, then it is a shameful crime. For it would be so easy to get this program in shape and this ship back on course. The adjustments in code necessary are almost superficial in nature.

Which is not to say this will ever happen, for the authors of Popcorn are singular in their ability to say so much and display such unpleasant arrogance in a single breath of response to any inquiry. They're not professional programmers, they claim, so users shouldn't demand so much of them or their program (despite a web site which deigns to sell explicitly professional software). And anyone thinking of sending detailed explanations of what is wrong with Popcorn can forget it too: although it is extremely easy to see exactly how the faulty code should be rewritten, expect a snarl and a snap instead of a thank you and a product improvement.

The authors of Popcorn know exactly what is wrong with their program, and they know exactly how to fix it too, but they won't. They don't want to give in and admit that someone else was right and they were wrong. Does this sound childish? A good program, or what should be a good program, is at stake here, is it not? Doesn't Popcorn have the potential to be a really great program?

Of course it does. But it's just as obvious that it will never attain this greatness because of character flaws in the software authors.

It's a cryin' shame.

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