The Sad State of Email Clients of Linux

I recently upgraded to 64-bit Mint 17 KDE.  While it seems a bit slow on my netbook, that may simply be the notoriously low powered WiFi unit the thing uses to get its 10+ hours of battery life.  This upgrade lead me once again to experiment with email clients.

Let me preface this by saying I was testing with an IMAP account hosted on 1and1.com.  Given all of the traveling I do I have been forced to switch to IMAP from POP3.  The big difference, for those of you who don’t know, is with IMAP all of the email stays on the server.

People try to call it a cloud to make it sound sexy.  Just call it what it is, a mainframe.  In the 70s and 80s we all had various “terminals” to connect with our central computer.  We could be in the building or in another country, but we could connect to the central computer.  Some time later mainframe computing model wasn’t sexy.  Now, we are all using the mainframe again, only the name has changed.

Anyway, back to the experiment.

KMail was the first I tried since it was installed by default.  It works a bit better than the last time I tried it.  Importing addresses from LDIF was a bit of a PITA.  Not much built in help on what to choose or how to really do it.  Definitely continuing in the fine tradition of Linux being “expert friendly.”

Once I figured out how to make KMail use Sent, Draft, Spam and Trash folders on the IMAP server I uncovered a fatal bug.  A bit of searching around proved I am not the only one to hit this bug.  When you delete a message from your inbox it goes away for a few seconds while the server is updated.  It then re-appears all grayed out and inaccessible in your inbox.  When you log into your Web access for IMAP you find the messages appearing in your inbox there with a line through them AND appearing in your trash folder with a line through them.  NOT COOL.  Judging from the messages I read on KDE forums this bug keeps popping up.

I tried evolution.  I used to love evolution but it has been seriously devolving over the past years.  Evolution has become hopelessly tied to the Gnome 3 desktop.  Given the major rift in icky nasty Gnome land known as Gnome2, Gnome3, Unity, Cinamon and Mate; evolution is an ever more isolated product.  No matter how many developers are currently working on evolution I would have to say the product is not maintained.  Most Linux packages try to broaden the number of desktops and operating systems they run on.  Evolution is in a perpetually shrinking world.  After configuring everything evolution didn’t even bother to prompt me for a password so it could never pull down my folders.  What a PITA to really un-install under KDE!

Some people really love Claws-mail.  Some people really love fake meat.  I didn’t use Claws for more than a few hours.  Bad, bad, bad, bad.  Calling any portion of it an “address book” is just plain wrong.  It wouldn’t even import street addresses from the LDIF files.

I installed sylpheed next.  Had high hopes for this package given the number of platforms it runs on.  Once again, a worthless address book.  Does not even have a place for street addresses and phone numbers.

Sadly, I’m back to using Thunderbird.  This is quite possibly the worst email client I have ever been forced to use, but it is the only one which functions on my current desktop AND has an address book which can store street addresses, cell phone numbers, etc.

Of course, if even one of these clients did a half assedly good job of mapping onto the address book of my email account on the IMAP server I could contemplate keeping that information there.  Have to think long and hard about that though.  Believe it or not there are people out there who believe Microsoft operating systems actually have security.  Couldn’t trust putting that kind of information “in a cloud” if it is running a Microsoft OS.  If the cloud was a REAL computer running a REAL operating system (think midrange and mainframe, you know, the kind of systems you never hear about getting penetrated), I would do it in a heart beat.

First Impressions of Zevenos Neptune 3.3 KDE

Zevenos Neptune

 

I must say this is a visually stunning distro. It is an absolute pleasure to look at the screen even during system boot. They really worked on the graphics! Not just the desktop either, the drivers have dramatically improved. I’m using the same 26” AOC monitor which has always been grainy, sluggish, and just plain hard on the eyes; especially when compared to the 24” Viewsonic sitting to its left, but it is a pleasure to use now. The AOC is still dramatically slow at system boot (read that Grub times out before it displays no matter what input you use) and sluggish to come out of sleep mode, but, it is almost a pleasure to look at now. Suffice it to say I’m only buying Viewsonic monitors from now on. I have purchased several different large monitors because they were “lower cost” than a Viewsonic but I have since learned they were simply cheap.

 

Before you install you must export each Evolution mail folder to an MBOX file. You also need to export your contacts to a V-card file. The version of Evolution available for this distro is buggered beyond recognition. Not only will it neither send nor receive email, the backup and restore option has been removed!

 

While we are on the subject of email, I must point out your choices are a bit limited. They bundle Icedove with this distro. Icedove is a Debian version of Thunderbird. Feel free to view it as a fresh coat of pain on a turd. Because it is based on Thunderbird it cannot be better than Thunderbird. Adding insult to injury is the fact KMail will not install yet Kontact and KAddressBook are installed by default and these are what the “Contacts” icon wants to launch, if it could ever start the database. Given the fact KMail is driving users away faster than they can download something else I’m not surprised it doesn’t install. It has felt like it is “abandonware” for years. Users have been begging and pleading for a functional backup/restore facility within it for over a decade and it still hasn’t happened. I can see why there is a new Qt based email client being actively worked on. Claws and the other email clients are simply not adequate.

 

This version of KDE doesn’t automount your partitions. You need to manually add entries to /etc/fstab. Install JED first so you have a worthwhile/useable editor, then do something like this:

 

roland@neptune:~$ ls -al /dev/disk/by-uuid 
total 0 
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 300 Oct 18 19:03 . 
drwxr-xr-x 6 root root 120 Oct 18 19:03 .. 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 163cb343-a46b-40ff-9795-826d137377f6 -> ../../sdc3 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 29BDBABF4EEC29BC -> ../../sdb1 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 11 Oct 18 19:03 2c826f2b-11ff-420d-817d-161f4d772604 -> ../../zram3 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 3988-C1A7 -> ../../sdc5 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 11 Oct 18 19:03 3cd50c5a-0dca-407d-8da1-2febb068080b -> ../../zram0 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 11 Oct 18 19:03 4bf9442e-c154-4f3f-bcf1-4f7a329e283a -> ../../zram1 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 549acee6-af1c-4424-8e05-5a69f6d4d659 -> ../../sdc1 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 11 Oct 18 19:03 8b18b37e-3aa4-49c6-b4d1-a35c361d3415 -> ../../zram2 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 9b36449d-854b-4d96-8bb4-5356d683cede -> ../../sdc7 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 9f57d4cc-30d6-4aba-8acc-3bc488165cb6 -> ../../sdc6 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 11 Oct 18 19:03 bc4a6777-c797-4a86-8dbe-992292923138 -> ../../zram5 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 D7CA-F588 -> ../../sdd1 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 11 Oct 18 19:03 ec7a9cec-fe89-4ca2-aeb7-6663e09239d6 -> ../../zram4 
roland@neptune:~$ ls -al /dev/disk/by-label 
total 0 
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 160 Oct 18 19:03 . 
drwxr-xr-x 6 root root 120 Oct 18 19:03 .. 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 books -> ../../sdc6 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 db_data -> ../../sdc7 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 DRIVE_D -> ../../sdc5 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 esata1 -> ../../sdb1 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 esata_2 -> ../../sdd1 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 18 19:03 NEPTUNE -> ../../sdc3 
roland@neptune:~$ sudo jed /etc/fstab

You will need to add entries which look something like this:

UUID=3988-C1A7 /media/DRIVE_D fat32 defaults,errors=remount-ro 0 0
UUID=9f57d4cc-30d6-4aba-8acc-3bc488165cb6 /media/books ext4 defaults,errors=remount-ro 0 0
UUID=9b36449d-854b-4d96-8bb4-5356d683cede /media/db_data ext3 defaults,errors=remount-ro 0 0
UUID=549acee6-af1c-4424-8e05-5a69f6d4d659 none swap sw 0 0

 

Why? Because neither GParted nor the KDE Partition Manager shipping with this distro currently has the ability to add mountpoints for you. Oh, don’t forget to sudo mkdir /media/whatever before creating the /etc/fstab entries and rebooting. You need the 2 different ls commands so you can match your partition labels to their UUID values.

 

In theory you can use the “Disk Manager” item on the system menu to add the mount points. I didn’t try this. It certainly “looks” like it might work. My real question is why both GParted and the KDE Partition Manager lost an ability they have had for years.

 

My final complaint is that Blogilo will not install due to a packaging error.

 

Package: /var/cache/apt/archives/blogilo_4%3a4.4.11.1+l10n-3+b1_amd64.deb
Error: trying to overwrite '/usr/share/doc/kde/HTML/de/blogilo/index.cache.bz2', which is also in package kde-l10n-de 4:4.9.90-neptune1

 

This distro does not currently have a buzilla bug tracker. What they do have is a user forum with a section set asside for reporting bugs. At first I was a bit put out by this, but I filed my bug reports anyway. I got email responses on a Saturday from the actual distro support people, not just others fumbling around. This is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than Ubuntu and OpenSuSE. We have all filed bug reports with those distros only to have the report rot, then, suddenly, years later we find out someone actually looked at our bug report. How, we get an automated email stating that version is no longer supported so all bugs associated with it are automatically being closed.

It may shock you to read this given what I’ve already typed, but, this version is staying on my desktop. The version of LibreOffice shipping with this distro is actually integrated with KDE, not just a “lip service” integration like other distros. Add to that the fact it is 4.1.2.3 so it is really current. This has also got to be one of the fastest booting distros I’ve ever installed. It has a simple yet elegant K-gear power button display screen which has sections of the power button lighting up as your system starts. I don’t care if it is on a timer or actuall integrated to the startup script. When the button finishes lighting the login screen appears and login actually works…unlike that bug which seems to have been around forever in OpenSuSE KDE desktop.

 

Now all we need is a Qt only based email client which has all of the functionality Evolution used to have, including backup/restore so we can hop to a new distro (or simply copy to our laptop).

Distro Rot

Few things are more annoying in the computer world than trying to keep current on software features while maintaining a stable desktop. It doesn’t matter what OS you are running. Decades ago when I had to maintain a Windows partition because one client wanted me to do testing on it I went through the back-and-forth with Acronis and several other vendors. The Microsoft libraries they were using for development weren’t compatible with the versions which had to be installed for some other thing. Each and every time I got an update it busted my automatic backup and I had to have a differently linked executable sent to me. Built in automatic update feature was a true joy.

 

Lately the Linux world has been hurting big time. Evolution is by far the best all around email client and PIM. For people moving from that icky nasty Windows platform, Evolution is very much like Microsoft Outlook. That said, Evolution is buggy as all Hell. The “stable” versions chosen for Long Term Support (LTS) releases of Ubuntu and other distros are sooooo far behind the community supported versions it isn’t funny. Adding insult to injury the Evolution development community puts on a dramatic set of blinders when it comes to development and testing. It appears the only thing they actually test with is the version of Gnome they choose to like. This may or may not be the current flavor of Gnome. This pretty much means the KDE and other desktop users are left either hanging or installing the bulk of that version of Gnome in order to use it.

 

Putting this in perspective for you: 3.2.3 is the version shipping with Mint 13/Ubuntu 12.04: Current stable and supported version according to package Web site is 3.8.5 while the current development version is 3.9.92. If your email is hosted on an Exchange Web Service, you need the current EWS to make things work well. Things aren’t going to improve here because the boys and girls at Ubuntu chose to make Thunderbird their standard mail package which defies all logic.

 

LibreOffice is another package which tends to kick one in the groin at regular intervals. If some fool sends you a .docx file you most likely need the latest version of LO to open it, especially if you have to save it and return it to them. Earlier versions would let you open, edit, and save, but when you sent it back to the MS user the file would appear “corrupted” to them. You could open and edit it as many times as you liked, but they could never touch it again.

 

Oh, I’m not picking on LO here. Choose your favorite Linux based word processor and the story will be the same. The LTS releases tend to lock you in the past and the “rolling” releases only seem to roll in new kernel and core OS updates, not regular package updates. In particular they need to roll in tested updates for all email, office/word processor, and browsers included in the repositories. This currently doesn’t happen.

 

What most users are forced to do is take the time and the chance of wiping and installing a new release. This is fine for the home hobbyist, but for people who actually need their desktop for something other than porn it’s a big dice toss. Besides being the best email client on Linux, Evolution has a built in backup and restore. When you first start Evolution after a fresh install it will ask you if you want to restore from a backup. This will restore everything except your passwords. Firefox stumbles a bit. You can export or backup your bookmarks, but you cannot backup your Firefox settings complete with site username and password information. That is a major hassle, especially if you are a good little geek using a different account name and/or password for every site. After six plus months of not typing account information in a person tends to forget.

 

A person can “kind of” copy their documents directory, the visible files in their home directory, and their Downloads directory off to a USB drive, wipe, fresh install and restore/import in under an hour. I qualify that because you usually get burned. For Mint 14 and 15 (and I suspect other distros as well) Evolution hasn’t worked with KDE or non-gnome desktops. Evolution does work great in the current release of OS/4, however the XFCE does not support multiple monitors if you want any configuration other than the leftmost monitor as the primary desktop and the bug has been there for quite some time. I really feel sorry for people who made a complete switch to Lotus Symphony from IBM. It had amazing promise when it first came out but now is basically abandoned. The supported Ubuntu version is 8.0.4 and the SuSE version is 10 at least according to the official IBM site and the Ubuntu 12.04 users claiming it won’t install.

 

So, will there ever be a real “rolling distro” which updates the kernel and the major packages on a regular basis?