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January 7, 2008

Which email client is the reigning king?

by @ 12:52 pm. Filed under email clients, My Opinion, Thunderbird

Question of the day: What is the difference between a duck?

Answer: I just called your mom.

Here’s a prediction for you: Whoever (M$ is not included here) makes the perfect email client, and has the muscle to get a huge install base for it will have unparalleled influence over the way people communicate. You see, email is the new telephone, though it will never replace the telephone. Just like the telephone will never equal talking face-to-face. But see, more people are using email than ever have before. Why do you think spammers keep on their evil deeds? They know and realize the expanding power of email. But back to the topic at hand : the perfect email client.

On September 18, 2007, I wrote a few thoughts about the Top 9 Things Thunderbird Will Need to ‘Make It.’ As far as these things are concerned, I’m still left with a feeling of, “We can put a man on the moon, so why can’t we make a stellar email client?” Determining and declaring the best email client available today is futile and pointless. Why? Because everyone has different needs. What fills my needs the best, you may abhorrently hate. What you may find to be invaluable may be totally useless to me. That said, I wanted to see if I could take a little more of an objective approach to determining the features offered by the most common email clients. This would then give people some small quantification as to how they might find the email client that meets their criteria the best.

This issue keeps surfacing because I am searching for an open source collaboration system that works for me. I have a handful of small requests. Here are the things that I imagine might be useful and important for such a setup:

Large install base – this means a lot of available support from the community. Forums, FAQs, blogs, and howtos are readily available for when you need to learn how to do something with the software.

Easily extendable – it should have an API which people can use to develop plugins or extensions for the software so as to make it more usable for their needs. This also gives the developers of the project an idea as to what is most important for people. If used properly, it can give a kind of ‘suggested development path’ provided by the community.

Synchronization / Collaboration – This one isn’t new. You need to be able to synchronize mail, schedule, tasks, notes, documents, and contacts across multiple installations of the software. It would be wonderful to invite people to appointments and assign tasks to others. How about giving varying degrees of access to my schedule, appointments, and tasks?

Core Functionality – Has to support email, schedule, tasks, notes, contacts and must aggregate my RSS feeds. And not only support them. Each area should be well into mature stages of stability and feature sets. Don’t make me work an eternity to get the thing set up and working.

Speed and Responsiveness – I once got in trouble from a reader when I said that waiting gives me cancer, so I won’t say that. Know that I do get malignant moles removed at least once a month. Do not make me wait.

That said, let’s take a look at the different email clients and what my experience has been with each of them.

Before I begin, I want to explain what UVC is. From the home page, it claims:

“The UVC Collaboration Suite is software that contains all the functionality of a Groupware solution combined with the convenience of an instant messenger. UVC brings together teams of people and allows them to work together seamlessly. Take the leap from traditional desktop contact managers and start experiencing a new level of software freedom.”

It is basically a java-driven multi-platform collaboration tool that is free for individual use, but has widely expandable capabilities for a yearly per-user fee. I’ve used it for around 4 years off and on.

That now said, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Thunderbird, UVC, and Evolution. I would include all of the KMail/KDE tools, but I have not, as yet, done much research on them. If you have links to any great tutorials, howtos, or information pages explaining those capabilities, please let me know.

Pros Cons
Huge install base – ample support Slow – some things take forever
Lots of great add-ons for it – extendable Things don’t always work right
Synchronizes Address Books Has trouble with huge amounts of email
Synchronizes Calendars Must install client to use, data local
Does RSS feeds Takes a lot of system resources
Does email, tasks, calendar, contacts Lots of extra setup to get it working
Absolutely free No memos
Improved task management No ability to synchronize tasks
Imports / Exports well enough  
Functionality not limited  
Able to view appointments, contacts, etc.  
Ability to back up data as necessary  
Pros Cons
Excellent management of tasks Limited capacity – light work only
Allows for almost all needs Even with paid account, limited capacity
Will run from anywhere Takes a lot of system resources
Does email, tasks, calendar, contacts, notes Cannot back up data
Able to send appointments, contacts, etc.

Full functionality requires payment
Able to view appointments, contacts, etc.

Just works – great all-in-one solution

Allows for exports and imports of varying types

Pros Cons
Does email, tasks, calendar, contacts, memos Takes a lot of system resources
Very snappy responsive interface Needs a collaboration server
Handles huge amounts of messages Crashes periodically
Handles memos and tasks very well  
Seems much more enterprise-level  

Is there an open source collaboration server that NATIVELY will work with either Thunderbird or Evolution without too much headache or loss of precious (read non-existant) financial resources?

If there is something that is missing here, give me your feedback. Argue your point well, don’t just put a link to release notes or feature list. Tell me why something is or is not important to you personally.

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