graphical email clients
The Grumpy Editor's
was published almost exactly four years ago.
At that time, your editor was looking for a client which could replace an
MH-based setup which, for all its age, provided a degree of speed and
flexibility which was hard to match. Your editor gets a lot of mail - even
before lists like linux-kernel are factored in - so there is a real need
for a mail client which can process messages without adding even a few
seconds of overhead. At that time, none of the clients reviewed were up to
the task; it seems that developers of graphical clients value a number of
features above speed and flexibility.
That review mentioned a client called sylpheed-claws; at that time, this
client was being managed as a sort of development branch for sylpheed, with
every intent of getting changes back into that system. Since then,
sylpheed-claws has evolved into a full fork intended to create an
independent application; it's new name is Claws Mail. In 2004, your editor had
found sylpheed-claws to be an unstable platform at best; in 2008, it seemed
like time to go back and see what the developers had accomplished in the
last four years. To that end, Claws Mail 3.4.0 was installed and put
through its paces.
The good news is that this client has, indeed, stabilized over time. Your
editor was unable to make it crash - always a nice feature in a mail
client. Many of the features which were under development four years ago
are now stable and supported - and, generally, well documented. Claws Mail
has come a long way.
The Claws Mail developers emphasize configurability, so there's a wide
variety of options to wander through. The layout of the window is highly
configurable, allowing the user to make the best use of the available
screen space. Most aspects of the client's behavior can be tweaked. For
somebody who is willing to wander through a long series of configuration
screens, Claws Mail offers the ability to adapt the client to just about
any set of needs.
Dealing with email is a keyboard-intensive activity. One of your editor's
biggest complaints with graphical clients has been the need to switch
constantly between the keyboard and the mouse - a transition which breaks
focus and steals
time. Claws Mail has improved things in this regard, in that a wide
variety of actions can be handled without the mouse. And, unlike some
other graphical clients, changing the keyboard bindings is easily done.
For some simple operations - plowing through a mail folder, reading and
deleting messages - Claws Mail can be visibly slow. Working over IMAP does
not help, of course, but it is slower than with, for example, Thunderbird.
In addition, by default, Claws Mail will not display a message which
becomes selected as the result of, say, deleting the message before it. So
the cycle of deleting a message and viewing the next one requires two
keystrokes or clicks. That particular problem can be configured away, of
course. Much of the remaining slowness can be mitigated by turning off the
"execute moves and deletes immediately" option - a change which also makes
it easier to recover from overzealous "delete finger" reflexes.
One common bit of workflow for your editor involves feeding a message to an
external program. As a general rule, graphical mail clients do not make
this possible, though this feature is almost universal in non-graphical
clients. Claws Mail includes the concept of "actions," which are,
essentially, external programs which act on messages. This feature
almost solves the problem; actions can be set up with quite a bit of
flexibility, and they can be bound to keystrokes. But there is no
equivalent to the "|" operation provided by textual clients, meaning that
it's not possible to pipe a message into an arbitrary command. Claws
Mail only passes through the mail headers which are visible on the screen -
and there appears to be no way to configure that behavior.
HTML mail appears to be an unfortunate fact of life on the contemporary
net. Claws Mail will render such mail as text by default; there are also a
couple of plugins which can render HTML mail as intended by its sender. It
warmed your editor's heart to note that Claws Mail (unlike certain other
clients) does not send HTML mail by default. In fact, it lacks the ability
to send HTML mail at all. These developers seem to have their priorities
in the right place.
Offline operation is another nice feature in a mail client. Claws mail has
such a feature, but your editor was only able to get it partially working.
The client can gather up mail for offline reading, but changes and sending
of mail lead to a series of "I can't do this" dialogs. Some more
configuration (e.g. setting up a local drafts folder) helps in this regard,
but this area looks a bit like a work in progress.
There's no end of other features, of course. Claws mail supports encrypted
mail, spelling checking, filtering of messages on arrival (with an
optional Perl plugin for those especially complicated filtering jobs), a
mail template facility, color-labeling of mail, tagging, scoring, watching
of threads, and more. There are plugins which will turn on a laptop LED
when mail arrives, strip attachments, view PDF files, track RSS feeds, deal
with vCalendar messages, etc. There is a complex search mechanism which
can do a lot more than just string matches. It is, in summary, a highly
capable tool with more features than just about anybody is likely to use.
So has your editor made the change? Not yet. Ways around some of the speed
issues will have to be found, and it may be necessary to write a plugin to
make Claws Mail work with some LWN processes. A few other details need to
be made to work correctly. But it can be said that Claws Mail has gotten
closer than any other graphical mail client that your editor has tried to
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