The sorry state of mail user agents

I’ve been moaning on and off about how much e-mail clients, or more specifically – “personal information managers” – simply suck. All of them – there isn’t one client software that is useful in all aspects.

I mean – if you are a simple e-mail user: have one account with which you send a few emails, receive a few e-mails and sometimes forward something to your list of friends – then you have several good options including a few web-mail systems.

If, on the other hand, you are more serious in your communication requirements and you need to:

  • Work with multiple e-mail accounts and manage them separately but with the option of moving stuff between accounts.
  • Connect with MS-Exchange (still most companies in Israel use MS-Exchange for their groupware backend)
  • Work with multiple mailing lists with different policies and different internal filing requirements
  • Keep all your past communications for reference
  • Inter-operate with multiple shared calendaring systems, and specifically with other people’s calendars in a heterogeneous environment (some people do not believe there are e-mail clients other then MS-Outlook)
  • Do all this on multiple computers so that e-mail, address books, calendars and what-not are transparently available on all computers
  • Use Linux as your computing platform of choice.

Then you are basically out of luck. The Linux requirement is not that of a problem really (contrary to what many people keep saying when they nag me about moving to MS-Outlook) as the situation isn’t really better in Windows or Mac except that you can’t get Evolution to work there and theoretically Evolution could provide what I need.

Currently I use Evolution as my main PIM solution, and while on paper it has everything I need, in practice it gives me more frustration then any other computing system I used ever.

For first thing – if you want to work with MS-Exchange as a server (and in my company I’m forced to do so), then its unstable as nothing you’ve ever seen out of beta in the last 10 years. The old OWA method requires a separate process that tends to crash a lot, leaving you without access to your e-mail, address book and calendar until your do the “force-shutdown” rain dance, and even if it doesn’t crash it still manages to give you grief with the “Formatting Message” bug. The new MAPI method, while understandably immature and a pre-release preview is crashy to the point of absurdity – sometimes you can’t even get into the main window before it crashes. The Fedora 13 bug list for Evolution crashes gets longer by the day (I do feel sorry for Matthew Barnes that has to deal with all this) and I do not believe these are very complex issues: its a segmentation fault, for crying out loud. I can’t believe that at this point – the year 2010 – we still have software that segfaults with invalid memory access on a daily basis! Don’t people check their pointers before dereferencing them?

And don’t start with me about shared calendars! The weird thing is that if you want your Evolution client to use a shared calendar system1, you have the option of MS-Exchange support, and.. well, that’s it.   Its not like there aren’t other shared calendar systems in the world (for example – Zimbra and Zarafa to name a couple. Interesting how both start with “Z”), is it just that if you aren’t a corporate Exchange user then you aren’t really someone interesting to Evolution developers ?!?.

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  1. i.e. a calendar system that allows several people to manage their own calendar and share free/busy information transparently without requiring everyone to register to everyone else’s calendar []

3 Responses to “The sorry state of mail user agents”

  1. importing outlook pst files in evolution in Fedora 13 ( Goddard) | Amit Agarwal:

    […] The sorry state of mail user agents ( […]

  2. Assi:

    Have you tried using the likewise software ( ) to connect your linux to the MS domain – that might actually solve some of the issues evolution has in connecting to the exchange server ?

    since it will work as a “native” AD client , some of the errors generated due to the MAPI/AD combination might resolve to provide a smoother experience .

  3. Oded:

    As far as I know, isn’t likewise an authentication/identify service for Linux that integrates with PAM and NSS?

    I don’t see how that could help me with the MAPI situation – with MAPI the client can authenticate directly with the Exchange server. I don’t know how the AD kerberized single-sign-on helps with MAPI, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be needed. Besides – it works, its just extremely crashy. The Fedora bug list currently clocks in at 155 active crash reports (which are just people who went to the bother of setting up a Bugzilla account and submit reports – I for one don’t do that anymore because its annoying).

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