Email clients


Being smarter about how you read your mail. Encryption-supporting clients etc. Less-awful-UI clients.

The classics are Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Evolution etc. The rule for all mail clients is everyone hates them all and no-one has improved substantially over the interface designs on the 90s. Nonetheless all the mediocre options are… there. Somehow still with bugs despite their minimal innovation. Apple Mail is at least well-integrated into the OS if you use macOS.

Note that google mail has obviously done some UX innovation, but I’m not happy with their owning too much info about me, so I will ignore their mail client. It is dead to me.

Also, since I work on macOS, iOs and Linux, I focus on clients that run on those.

Thunderbird

tl;dr: Thunderbird is OK but it does not spark joy.

Thunderbird is the classic Mozilla-backed mail client that I’ve always found aesthetically grating. However, it works flexibly across every mail server I have tried, so it is worth weathering the quirks. Thunderbird even gets CardDAV support and hence contact syncing via plugins, and stories it in its own cross-platform thunderbird database.

The weird foibles are survivable. For example, search for messages is just confusing. There are two boxes, filter and search, with an obscure relationship. What is the difference between filter and search?

The default search is ordered by something called “relevance” which seems in practice to mean “first please show me some arbitrary irrelevant email from last year”. I guess that could mean that it is truly a search by relevance, just in the opposite-to-useful-order. Or that the language model is bad.

There are minor irritations, but I cannot this is a completely functional mail client which handles all the oddball requirements of my various servers without breaking a sweat.

Evolution

tl;dr: Evolution is a well integrated shambles.

Evolution is the GNOME mail client. It supports GPG natively for what that is worth, and has powerful and flexible configuration and good integration into GNOME desktop, and Microsoft Exchange support and icloud support and indeed everything support. That is to say, it is featureful. Evolution supports icloud interoperation and other CardDAV servers.

The UI is somewhat clunky. I often want to view just my flagged messages. It is not obvious how to filter to flagged messages, but the short answer is use a search folder. On my computer this is is… partly functional. I can create search folders, and they workd, but the icons are invisble for some reason so you have to click on empty air and hope.

Ultimately I do not trust it because it seems fragile. It uses a remarkable amount of my CPU time and backend process intermittently leaks memory or cpu in a way that fills me with dread for the code quality. That CPU usage is by a background process that is hard to disable; Even when I am not running the evolution client, a substantial proportion of my battery is going into its obsessive syncing. I found somewhere on the internet that the problem can be improved if I periodically delete ~/.cache/evolution/addressbook. This is insane. Do people use this software and trust it with their data?

Geary

Geary seems to be an attempt to do over and modernise Evolution but I am nervous that it keeps the flakiest part of Evolution, the evolution data server as a backend contacts torage. Nonetheless that probably means it has good system integration, unlike Thunderbird?

Sylpheed/Claws

tl;dr: Too niche to feel safe

Sylpheed is a light, apparently simple mail client that I see recommended where people are complaining about Evolution being slow. Claws is AFAICT a fork and has exactly the same selling points. It seems under-maintained.

Mailspring

tl;dr: This looks good so why have I heard so little about it?

Mailspring is a web-tech-backed GPL3 mail client. It has a freemium feature set for fancy people at USD8/month. The interface design is more modern than most of the options here. Supports gmail/icloud integration.

snap install mailspring

Kube

tl;dr: On the slightly-too-minimal side of admirably minimal.

Kube is a minimalist client built by kolabnow. It supports encryption, and is certainly fast and simple. It doesn’t do certain things one would like, such as multiple mail accounts, or even one mail account with an external address book server. But the simple interface is sooooo soothing.

Other

  • Sparkmailapp is a commercial app that comes recommended as being less of a mess than other mail thingies and for innovating in design and such. macOS and android only.
  • Weird open-source alternative email client mailpile tries to be hackable and secure. Icelandic. AGPL-licensed, which is a mildly irritating licence. Reinventing lots of wheels and full of odd obsolescent dependencies. I like their aspirations, but their github tracker feels amateurish. Watch how they cargo-cult in an unmaintained Bayesian spam filter as essential infrastructure without the ability to maintain it! Thrill to their unclear threat model! Panic as they take years to get prototypes working!
  • gpgtools will upgrade even Apple Mail to be a bit more encryptey.
  • mailvelope is an easy-to-use web-browser extension which brings OpenPGP encryption to webmail services such as Gmail™, Yahoo™ and others. With its unintrusive interface fully integrated into your webmail service, Mailvelope instantly secures your personal and professional email communications.”