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 their email client is dead to me. Shameless clones of the google email experience are of interest, however.

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


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 stores the data in its own cross-platform thunderbird database.

The weird foibles are many. For example, search for messages is 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 ordered by relevance, just in the opposite-to-useful-order. Or that the language model is bad.

There are other minor irritations to numerous to recount really, but all survivable. This is a completely functional mail client which handles all the oddball requirements of my various servers without breaking a sweat, if it nonetheless fails to spark joy.


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.

Quibble: the icloud integration reuires you to also set up icloud mail, rather than using it purely for contact sync, which is a minor bit of arsing about for no reason, although totally survivable.

The app mostly does what it says and I'm quite happy with it. Sometimes it freezes and implodes, but does not seem to have lots data that way yet.

snap install mailspring


tl;dr: Upgrades some bad parts of evolution, although not all.

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 storage. Nonetheless that probably means it has good system integration, unlike Thunderbird?


tl;dr: Evolution is GNOME’s 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 worked, but the icons are invisible 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. Moreover the backend process eds or Evolution data store 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 goes into its obsessive syncing. I found somewhere on the internet that the problem can be improved if I periodically delete ~/.cache/evolution/addressbook. The need for such a weird hack is a red flag.


tl;dr: Artisinal email with hand-polished genuine polished wood and leather upholstery. I am afraid to check email thought I might scratch the finish.

Sylpheed is a light, apparently simple mail client that I see recommended where people are complaining about Evolution being slow. It seems to be intermittently maintained, using antiquated technology. Claws is AFAICT a fork and has exactly the same selling points except more modern and frequent development. Developer activity for the latter is slow but steady.


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, it’s a tranquil shibui meditation in there.


tl;dr: Can’t afford the import duties across linux dektop environments.

The KDE client is kmail. Although I am not ideologically opposed to KDE any more than I am to GNOME, it is just messy when you try to install big foundational apps from both KDE and GNOME, so I have not installed this particular one and thus cannot vouch for it.


  • Mailbird an a friendly email client (Commercial, Mac/Windows)
  • Polymail (Commercial, mac/windows/ios/maybe android) is an email client that promises AI automation nonsense.
  • 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.”

On client-side spam filtering

Bogofilter and Spamassassin are two eminent spam filters that may be shared by various of these mail clients, including evolution and claws. If you are hedging your bets on mail clients this is useful.

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