I recently had a tech support query regarding the Windows 10 Mail application – the same may apply to Windows 11 as well. The user’s ISP was making a change to their mail service, and this required the user to change the SMTP/IMAP/POP configuration that their mail client uses. This sounds like the kind of change that should be fairly straightforward, but Windows Mail makes it very frustrating, due to what I assume must be an unconsidered edge case in automated testing. Any decent QA engineer would find this almost instantly… which implies….. anyway…

The user had tried to make the change to their configuration, by going into Settings / Email & app accounts, then choosing their email account, and clicking Manage. All good so far.

At the next popup, you’ll see the account name, with a section ‘Change mailbox sync settings’, under which is a link ‘Options for syncing your content’. It’s this that you’d click, then make changes.

So you do this, make the changes – in this case, changing the IMAP/POP port, and enabling SSL – click Done, then Save.

The Mail application then tries to sync, and this is where the problem lies. If you have got the settings wrong, bad luck – the application sticks in some bad state, where it can’t sync, is stuck in sync progress, and the ‘Options for syncing your content’ link is greyed out, ie disabled.

You’ve inadvertantly broken your config, and now cannot fix it.

I spent quite some time trying to get back into the configuration that the user had mistakenly changed, but was frustrated at every attempt. I restarted the application. It immediately tried to sync, and the link was disabled. I restarted Windows. Same situation: disabled. I googled, but the suggestions found were unscientific, to say the least.

Upon clicking the ‘Sync Error’ icon, I was given the option to re-enter the user’s mail password. This was not what I wanted to do – since the user had not remembered it. Exiting that dialog, I could try to Manage the Account again, but the link I needed was still disabled.

Thinking of possible heuristics & strategies for getting tech working again, I considered how this dialog may have been written (this is pure speculation). When displayed, if the sync status is ‘in progress’, disable the link, since it’d be hard to manage changing configuration state when that state is being used. So, how to prevent the sync status from being initialised, since it goes ‘in progress’ immediately on startup?

Disconnect the computer from the network, reboot, and try again.

Bingo! In the absence of a network connection, Mail doesn’t try to sync on startup, so the status is ‘uninitialised’ – and the link is enabled. I clicked it, corrected the configuration, re-connected to the network, rebooted, and it’s now working.

I also installed and set up Thunderbird, for a quality solution.