Death to the three-pane email client!

  Goycoolea 09:38 05 Sep 04
Locked

Hi all.

I was writing a reply in this thread (click here), when I'd finished I realised 3/4 of it was a rant / "my considered and humble opinion" about email clients, and wildly off-topic. I decided to split that bit off and post it here instead. The quotes from mbp that I reply to here come from that thread.

mbp:

"You mean mail Servers rather than Providers of course. As already suggested, Thunderbird! It is flexible and probably a lot more secure than Outlook Express."

You mean mail clients / mail user agents rather than servers. ;) I do like Thunderbird, but it is still just yet-another-three-pane-mail-client. I long for the death of the three-paned mail client, they are so horrible. Have a look at these sorry contenders:

Pocomail (click here), Thunderbird (click here), Kmail (click here), Sylpheed (click here), Calypso click here) Eudora (click here), Foxmail (click here), Becky Internet Mail (click here), Ximian Evolution (click here), Pegasus Mail (click here) The Bat! (click here).

It doesn't really matter which order you open these screenshots in, or even if you bother to check which is which from their titlebars. You don't need to, they all look the same! I suppose choice of a three-pane client comes down to things like quality of the mail filtering, or how well PGP encryption is integrated into the client, because it certainly can't come down to the user interface.

I've been a litte unfair. I used Kmail for half a year when I first started using Linux because it's easy, and I was a bit scared of getting around to learning how to use and configure a proper MUA. Also I used The Bat! (sic) for years under Windows and liked it. The Bat! Mailing List is full of luddites who hate HTML email with a passion, I felt among friends when I used to read and post on it. :) Which leads me to...

mbp:

"In HTML preferably, of course."

In good old plain text, preferably. :) Plain text can be read by anyone on Earth with any kind of device using any kind of mailer.

Anyway, eventually I ditched three-pane clients and installed & configured Mutt (). I've not looked back! I much prefer it - it is a great _mail reader_. By this I mean that it is great for reading email, it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel like every other three-pane graphical mail client.

Mutt's maintainers will never write an editor as good as Vim or Jed, so they haven't tried. You choose your own editor to use with Mutt. Mutt will never filter email as well as procmail, so it doesn't try - use procmail. Spamassassin or Mailfilter does a better job of detecting and filtering spam, so why build that into the mail client? No need to include an HTML rendering engine - pipe that stuff to a browser if you want to read it. Now, you _can_ do stuff like download mail over POP3, and read Usenet news with Mutt, but it's really not recommended as there are better programs for that (fetchmail, slrn...).

Result is a lean, mean MUA that does one thing well, yet is as near to being completely configurable for your own preferences as an email client can be. My Mutt 1.5.6i binary is only 474K. And how many other MUAs can colourise parts of an email message based on a regular expression match?

Dennis

  GANDALF <|:-)> 09:46 05 Sep 04

They are just a way of sending mail and nothing else. You are over-estimating their importance beyond all reasonable belief. PGP encryption is way over the top for home users.

I have this odd feeling that people are getting way too precocious about computing and tending to treat computers as Gods that must be protected at all costs, every spam mail is a personal attack to the heart and they have to be cosseted against all the 'nasties' (great emotive word), rather than machines............Asimov, you were spot on.


G

  Goycoolea 10:09 05 Sep 04

Hang on a mo'...

I'm a home user (I am using a computer at home right now to type this) and I know PGP encryption is not way over the top for me. I take it you send every snail-mail letter in plain English on the back of a postcard, and never use envelopes?

Plus isn't not just about _encryption_ of email, what if you want to verify that a PGP-signed message is from who it says it is? Come on, that's by no means "over the top".

IMO I am not overestimating the importance of a good mail client. I spend most of my time on my machine using three main types of program - I mean, apart from stuff like a kernel, window manager, and other system software. These are, along with what I use:

1. Editor (Vim)
2. Browser (Firefox and Links)
3. Mail client (Mutt)

Given this, the programs I use had better be the best ones available for a given task, and it's not unreasonable to have strong opinions about them.

Kind regards,

Dennis

Ps: my MUA does not "send email", that's one of the points I was making!

  Forum Editor 10:28 05 Sep 04

There's a fashion of paranoia centred around email at the moment, and I for one find it deeply puzzling.

Email is a simple enough concept, it was originally designed to send quick and simple messages from one person to another very rapidly - and it does it extremely well. Nobody ever suggested that the government's secret plans for the next big thing should be sent by email, and anyone who uses it for sending highly confidential information is barking mad. I run an IT consultancy, we're busy, and we send hundreds of emails a week. Anyone who fancies having a read is welcome - the content is mostly trivial "I can't make the meeting on Tuesday at 10, would Wednesday at 11 be OK?" type stuff - fascinating isn't it?

How anyone finds a deep discussion about email clients even marginally interesting is beyond me - you pick your program, based on personal preferences, and that's it - there's no rocket science involved. As for PGP encryption for personal emails.........well, to paraphrase my son "you're having a laugh aren't you?"


"........it's not unreasonable to have strong opinions about them" Well if that's what floats your boat go ahead, but for goodness sake let's maintain a sense of perspective here - it's just email after all.

  Goycoolea 10:43 05 Sep 04

Forum Editor:

"There's a fashion of paranoia centred around email at the moment, and I for one find it deeply puzzling."

There is? Honestly I hadn't noticed.

Forum Editor:

"As for PGP encryption for personal emails.........well, to paraphrase my son "you're having a laugh aren't you?""

I didn't mean that I encrypt all email. I meant that I do have a use for encryption for some personal email, also it's sometimes useful for verifying a PGP-signed plain text email. Come on, I mention PGP _briefly_ in my original post, it's not the whole thrust of my argument.

Dennis

  mbp 10:27 06 Sep 04

Goycoolea: Thanks for the Screenshots. It was interesting to be able to view the different mail clients available (2 would not open). You must have spent a lot of time getting to know the many programs available and know their merits and demirits.

I think that emails have changed the way a lot of us communicate with one another today, especially with family spread all over the globe nowadays. When Facsimile machines first appeared some 40 years or so ago, I thought it was so wonderful, but the prices of those machines meant that it was mainly an Office machine. Now with the PC, and emails being available, the world communication methods have changed. It certainly has removed the monopoly the Royal Mail had on handling mail. Today, I might send about 6 snail mail a year, mainly Birthday greetings, with the exception of Christmas cards of course. I pay all my utility bills via the internet.

Mail clients are just a means to an end. I was lumbered with Outlook Express for years, because it came with the machine. It is solid and reliable, but functional, and it gets a little boring after long usuage, plus its vulnerability to malicious attacks. Out of curiosity, and hyped by browsers in magazines, I tried out Mozilla. I am now mainly using Firefox and Thunderbird. They seem to be efficient, pleasant programs to use, and that is it! I don't need encrypton, I do not have secret lovers on the side, and my bank and internet shops provide all the encrypton that I need.

All I need at the moment is a Free, Easy to use, pleasant to use, relatively safe program and I think I am quite satisfied with Thunderbird, until something else unique comes along. Each one of us may have our own preferences. That's what makes the world go round!

  Goycoolea 12:16 06 Sep 04

"Thanks for the Screenshots. It was interesting to be able to view the different mail clients available (2 would not open). You must have spent a lot of time getting to know the many programs available and know their merits and demirits."

Hi there. Should just point out they're not my screenshots, although over the years I have used all of these clients (except foxmail) in the search for the 'perfect' email client. The thing I found with the three-paned clients is that they all do the same stuff mostly, but inevitably they are missing out on a few features. E.g. The Bat!'s lack of good PGP integration, Pegasus's ugly UI, Kmail's habit of taking over your mail directory and adding loads of extra 'indexes' and stuff.

I deal with a fair volume of email which includes mailing lists, automated email from machines, not to mention communication from real people. There is the occasional bit of PGP signed mail - mainly, I want to be sure that the security update emails from Mandrake and Slackware are from who they say they are - so that's a concern (course, I would rather it was because I were an international man of mystery with a string of supermodel girlfriends...).

A lot of reinventing the wheel seems to go on with the three-pane clients. No three-pane client does it all _well_, that I've found. Likely no-one will soon make a program for downloading mail over POP3 or IMAP better than Eric Raymond's fetchmail program, so why not just use that?

This is why I love mutt, it doesn't try to be anything other than a mail readers. It's small, it's fast, it sticks to accepted Internet standards and file formats and fits in with the Unix philosophy, i.e. one tool does one job well. I don't see why more people don't abandon three-pane clients (this is the essence of my mad rant above).

Cheers,

Dennis

  Taran 12:55 06 Sep 04

Three pane email clients are, for the most part, quite customisable. Go to two pane, or one pane if you like by enabling or disabling the features you ant to use. Not only that but many programs feature themes and/or skins to alter the program appearance, if that's what blows your skirt up. Just like a QWERTY keyboard or the common navigation of most web pages (top and/or left links with main body content) a three pane email client looks like that because that's what offers about the best and most efficient overall use of screen real estate and usefukl, usable user features.

Or you could just use webmail.

Many home users I know of use webmail almost exclusively and very successfully. With webmail you don't have to download mail to your PC, so no spam threats and few virus infections will reach your precious hard drive. Most ISPs offer a webmail option, many of which come with lots of spam and blacklisting tools as well as virus scans and it can be an effective way of controlling what gets in and out without overly taxing your brain.

If three pane email does your head in to that degree why not go to the other extreme and use a text only email client ? They are very, very fast, often more secure (theoretically anyway) but a right royal pain in the rear for day to day use.

For the rcord I have never encrypted a domestic email yet. In fact, I think to date I have sent perhaps six encrypted emails, all of which were for testing purposes. I've never had to use PGP or anything similar for either personal or business use and not one of my clients has even asked me to cater for it. Read into that what you will...


If you come up with a more eficient layout for a visual email client then find a willing programmer to build a working program around your design and market it. I wish you every success with it. Until then I and most others will quite happily continue to use email clients as the general and very efficient communication tools they have evolved into.

In fact I rather like Outlook just the way it is...

  Pesala 22:41 06 Sep 04

click here for a screenshot of one of several possible layouts.

With the message only, as shown here, one can scroll up and down to previous/next emails with the cursor keys.

The third panel of folders or views (click here for a Quick Start guide to M2 explaining how it differs from conventional clients).

You may like it. M2 can receive HTML but does not compose it. It has powerful indexing and search of email, and built-in spell-check.

  Forum Editor 23:54 06 Sep 04

as they say, is the spice of life and of course we're all free to pick and choose the software we use in our daily computing lives.

My daily computing life (when I'm not doing this) is spent advising other people about computing - it's been that way for many years and, Like Taran, I've never encrypted an email in my life. In fact I've never worked with a client on encryption - nobody has ever asked. If anyone did ask I would advise them against using email for highly confidential exchanges, and if all they wanted to do was to validate an email source I would tell them that there are far simpler ways of doing it than PGP encryption. If anyone fancies trying to send me a dodgy email purporting to be a security update from Mandrake or Slackware they're very welcome to try.

I use Microsoft Outlook because it does what I need it to do - it's a one-stop-shop as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to be bothered with 'one tool for one job' philosophies, I have better things to do with my time. I need a tool that will do several jobs very well indeed. I synchronise my Outlook folders to my various personal machines across my network and to my laptop when I'm travelling, and it all works perfectly. Everyone in my office has a slightly different Outlook layout. I've just checked and yes, one person has that three-pane look. In my Forum Editor role I have to use Lotus Notes remotely via the company's Domino mailserver and I'm not comfortable with it - Outlook leaves Notes standing as far as I'm concerned. Having said that, it's no big deal this email thing, and as mpb rightly says - "Each one of us may have our own preferences."

I promise not to try to persuade you to agree with mine.

  Dennis Goycoolea 07:48 08 Sep 04

Forum Editor:

"Like Taran, I've never encrypted an email in my life. [...] If anyone fancies trying to send me a dodgy email purporting to be a security update from Mandrake or Slackware they're very welcome to try."

That's nice, but I should reiterate that I *have* so it must be some use to home users 'cos I am a home user. :) Again, I mentioned PGP support briefly as an example of features that you might want from a three-paned client, it's not the whole thrust of my argument and I don't understand why it's being so emphasised in replies.

Bearing that in mind, seeing as everyone wants to talk about it... for a start, I know a few people who prefer to send and receive encrypted email. If one of them sends me an email I will need to decrypt it, and it would be rude to quote the original email in a unencrypted reply, so I need to encrypt that too. Also PGP-signing (*signing*, not the same as *encrypting*) is useful for verifying a message comes from who it says it does.

I do not encrypt all email and I don't suggest anyone does. I'm happy to send postcards to friends, so why unencrypted email too? Here's an email I sent yesterday:

[snip]
Hi Al,

I am sure there is a link I have to send to you, but I can't remember
what it is. Maybe I mentioned it the other night? Any ideas? :)

Cheers
[snip]

Needless to say I didn't encrypt this! It's not to say PGP has no use, and can't just invite people to send you fake email from Slackware as if it proves that there's no need for PGP signing. It *is* useful - many of us need to know that the security updates mail we receive is genuine. PGP-signed email is an easy and robust way of doing this, I'm sure you can imagine similar situations where a large number of people would receive the same email and may need to verify it is from where it says it is.

Forum Editor:

"I use Microsoft Outlook because it does what I need it to do - it's a one-stop-shop as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to be bothered with 'one tool for one job' philosophies, I have better things to do with my time."

You mean you don't want your existing preconceptions challenged? I don't know what you had in mind to make you say you have "better things to do with your time", but I suppose I should say it's not as if email takes up more of my time because I am using a different system from you. I would go futher, Unix systems are *better* for busy and/or lazy people because it is so easy to automate everything. Going to something more than once? Automate it! :)

Taran:

"If three pane email does your head in to that degree why not go to the other extreme and use a text only email client ? They are very, very fast, often more secure (theoretically anyway) but a right royal pain in the rear for day to day use."

Uh-huh, this is what I'm saying! I must say though that in years of using Mutt I have not found it to be a right royal pain in the rear. I found the three-paned clients to be such a pain because I couldn't make them all do exactly what I wanted, and all of them lacked a feature here-or-there that I wanted.

Pesala:

Thanks - I do like the look of that. I've never really used M2 because I'd already settled into using my current client by the time it arrived, but I'll certainly try it out. What I really want is a graphical client (drag n' drop might come in handy) which behaves like a text-mode client, and is as configurable as Mutt. I don't think such an animal exists, you never know though.

Dennis

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