Email clients

(Some older thoughts on this on my software/linux page at CPBL unix lessons.)

I imagined that switching from alpine to mutt would solve all my problems, but I have been unable to configure mutt to my liking.

I reach my email from several different GNU/Linux computers, at least one of which is mobile and at least one of which is 64-bit. I need to access my email from each and in a way that keeps my changes and organisation synced across machines. I also need to be able to access all my mail when I’m offline. Lastly, I very much dislike the clunky windowed interfaces of programs like Thunderbird, Gmail, etc.  (Google gears, and therefore GMail offline, is not available/supported for 64-bit right now anyway).

Currently, I use fetchmail and Pine on my laptop and simply ssh to the laptop from wherever I am, accessing my email remotely through a text interface. This is not bad because Pine is  application-savvy: e.g. if I view a url within Pine on a remote machine, it will bring the url up in the Firefox instance that is on my local machine!

However, I don’t want to have to rely on reaching my laptop. Since all of my email is piped through GMail now, the ideal for me would be Pine + offlineimap running on each machine.  The problem is that Pine is stuck and has been for over a year, due to stupid licensing issues, from supporting the maildir format that offlineimap and most sensible interfaces, use.

So, not able to wait any longer, I am sadly switching to Thunderbird with its GMail interface, offline features turned on. There are several problems, however, which can be solved with the following Thunderbird plugins:

  • Gmail IMAP Account Setup Install this add-on before setting up your account; then launch the account wizard: save lots of time and fiddling! I have modified this add-on’s default account settings by adding another (preferred) SMTP outgoing server (UBC interchange, see their instructions) and by turning on the “Make messages available for offline use” and clicking the details button there and checking every single GMail folder make it/them available offline. I looked through the other account settings to make sure I like the look of them.
  • Nostalgy (I’m using this). This makes easy keystrokes for saving/moving messages to a folder (ie applying a gmail tag and archiving them)
  • keyconfig (no longer supported? But I want something like this to finish redefining keys…)
  • Virtual Identity (I’m using this). This makes your replies use a “From” address that corresponds to the address used by the recipient.
  • Sync On Arrival – Why doesn’t Thunderbird do what it promises, and download all messages completely? Well, this is suppose to fix that. Haven’t tried it yet.

Some other options:

  • why can I not just get a compiled version of alpine with the controversial maildir patch? Where are instructions for compiling this for Ubuntu?
  • I imagined that switching from alpine to mutt would solve all my problems, but I have been unable to configure mutt to my liking.
  • What about uw-imapd? If I understand it, the idea is to connect offlineimap and pine by means of a local imap server. This is a bit heavy, since it means installing a whole MTA etc on each local machine? I think this is what I mean:
(I’m using this)
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3 Responses to Email clients

  1. Graham says:

    Hi, a few points on your post.

    It might seem a bit heavy to install imapd, but it’s still my preferred option: *pine works at its best when it’s talking to a fully compliant server, and the experience is better still when that server happens to be local. As I recall, the main reason maildir support never made it into Pine was due to the (alleged) problems with maildir itself (I’ve never used it in anger so can’t comment, but the format received a pretty regular slating from one of the developers).

    Also, imapd (uw-, anyway) doesn’t incur the overhead you might think; it’s very lightweight and, with appropriate xinetd configuration, won’t be running unless something asks for it. Can’t say quite the same for offlineimap, but it’s never caused any trouble. On the other hand, the thought of running multiple offlineimaps on the same source mailboxes scares me a more than a little.

    Finally, unless I’ve misunderstood, I don’t think there’s any reason _someone_ can’t redistribute an alpine binary with maildir patch — so long as the patch license allows it — the old licensing issues which applied to pine and its UW-owned name no longer apply to alpine.

    In any event, the patch has been updated for the latest version of Alpine, lives at and Eduardo Chappa’s very informative site should lead you through the process. Ubuntu should be no different from any other distribution so long as you don’t feel the need to make a .deb package for it.



  2. cpbl says:

    Anyone finding this should know that Chappa’s maildir patch is not included in any distributions because he refuses to allow GNU operating systems to use it.
    This continues to cause trouble for many people over years, now (late 2011). Maybe you can rewrite one?
    Thanks to Graham for his other comments. I would love to have a uw-imapd / offlineimap / alpine setup, but I am *still* short of a description of how to do this on, say, Ubuntu. (I am not smart enough to understand Graham’s When I try to install uw-imapd in Ubuntu, it forces the installation of postfix as a dependency. I don’t think I want postfix (an MTA?) running; I simply want alpine to be able to talk to my maildir folders…
    It feels like years now of lonely frustration trying to get a reasonable and supported mail interface… which I take to mean that my tastes are rather obscure.

  3. Pingback: Using Email at McGill university: Ongoing suffering of an open-source user, year 9 | The Red Pen

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