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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.

Thunderbird
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  
UVC
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

 
Evolution
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.

14 Responses to “Which email client is the reigning king?”

  1. Jared Smith Says:

    What’s the difference between a duck? One of it’s feet are both the same! 🙂

  2. Louie Says:

    Ive had that email mid life crisis you are going through a few years back. In the Windows world I use to swear on using Courier/Calypso email client now free from rosecitysoftware.com. I was even in talks with the coders from kmail with promising promises, but after a while I moved on as nothing was transpiring.

    Without giving you my email life story, I am now using Thunderbird IMAP talking to my Zimbra server. I have been pretty happy with the Zimbra Ajax client and using Thunderbird at the office. Yeah I use a separate rss client (aggregate) for my daily news. My combination may not fit what you are looking for above, but I feel at home on my systems and my Exchange converted customers (about 60) love Zimbra also. They’ve been so happy with the Zimbra client that they do not use Outlook anymore. Others use Thunderbird(IMAP) that seem to work well with road warriors using laptops.

    Anyway, I just thought I’d chime in to your discussion.. Happy 2008

  3. Bill Says:

    Did I miss something? There’s only 3 Linux email clients? Or only 3 that will run on Suse ? Or ?

  4. Scott Morris Says:

    Jared, that rules. Great answer. I will remember that one. Thanks for the visit.

  5. Scott Morris Says:

    Louie,
    Thanks for the suggestion. A few months back at my place of employment, we tried out Zimbra. I liked it, though it didn’t offer a native connector for Thunderbird and/or Evolution. I did really like the slick Ajax interface. I guess if I couldn’t find something that integrated directly with Thunderbird or Evolution, I could likely work ok with that. Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. Scott Morris Says:

    Bill,
    There are 3 that I am currently considering. 🙂 If you have an experience with something else that does collaboration natively, please let me know. Even if it does all the things I mention above on a local basis (but can connect to some kind of collaboration server), please let me know. For example, I know that KDEPim also sports much of this functionality. I’m just not familiar enough with it. Please, someone who is, fill us in! In any case, thanks for stopping by!

  7. Kennon Says:

    Some people will squeal when I suggest this because it is not GPL yet but GroupWise does everything Exchange does (and more) and runs on Linux (both server and client) and had two native Linux clients to choose from. It is not the answer if you are looking for free, but if Open Source is not a pre-req and you have a modest budget it is easily the most powerful and secure Linux based collaboration suite in the world.

  8. Scott Morris Says:

    Kennon,
    I wish I had *any* budget, but when I was working at Novell, I actually used the Linux GroupWise clients you speak of. I was actually pleasantly surprised with my experience with them. Thanks for the suggestion, and thanks for the visit.

  9. Aaron Says:

    “You see, email is the new telephone”

    Hmm. Have to say that I disagree with you here. Email is too slow. More and more old people are using it while less and less young people are. Text messaging, Twitter, IM and other immediate presence messaging is becoming commonplace, with email going the way of the dodo. Don’t believe me? Ask a kid in high school how many text messages he sends vs how many emails he sends. How many social network accounts he has vs email accounts. While we are discovering the web in new ways to get things done, email was the new thing on the block in the 90s. Twitter, Pownce, IM, text messaging, etc. are the new thing now.

  10. Scott Morris Says:

    Aaron,
    Hey, bro. Glad to see you. From a social stand point, i.e., to communicate with friends and family, I absolutely stand on your side of the fence. I had more in mind the corporate atmosphere which very much resists anything that resembles loss of productivity. They banned IM clients for the first several years that they were around, finally giving in to allow communication between telecommuting employees, customer service personnel and employees, etc. I think that email is still the killer app for corporate communication. IM and such does in fact rule the roost for communication amongst family and friends.

  11. Eugene Liedel Says:

    Re: GroupWise
    Remember you can use the client for free. the backend is not. of course that still leaves you in the same boat looking for a backend.

  12. Dan Says:

    With the rise in web based email, and hosted solutions like Google Apps, this question is fast becoming moot. I like the GMail interface better than any desktop based solution other than Outlook, and it’s gaining fast.

  13. ikaruga Says:

    Just my two cents:
    You wrote that one of the requirements is that it must be “Easily extendable.” — I’m assuming that you want to find a lot of great plugins/extensions for it that add missing/desired features — in other words, that make it customizable. The problem with that approach is that you never know what you’re going to get. The quality of independently written plugins can be really bad. For example, Drupal… (Yeah, a lot of them are great but for the specific need the programmer had in mind.)

    I’m also looking for server/client solution for *personal* use. Unlike what @Dan@ says above… I don’t trust google or yahoo with my personal data.

  14. Scott Morris Says:

    ikaruga,
    Yeah, you are right with the extendability issue. That is something that you would watch for. Having that capability, though, to extend the software does allow for the good programmers to provide quality, helpful plugins. While some extensions are not done well, the possibility exists that some are also done very well, and are very helpful. Good thing to be aware of, though.

    I also don’t trust google or yahoo with personal data. It says right in the user agreements that they own the data that is on their servers.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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