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Starting over with Evolution

What life is like living with Ximian Evolution.

(LinuxWorld) -- I change some things reluctantly, and my e-mail client is one of them. In fact, I switch distributions regularly so that I keep a well-rounded view of Linux. Without a doubt, I would rather move from Mandrake to Debian (or vice versa) than to mess with my e-mail setup. This week I'll tell you why I am getting ready to make that move and migrate from Sylpheed to Evolution.

Ximian's PR firm nagged me for a month or so to look at the beta version of Connector, Ximian's soon-to-be-released commercial offering that allows Evolution clients to interact with Microsoft Exchange 2000. With Connector in place, Evolution users appear to the server to be just another Microsoft Outlook client. Users can schedule meetings, consult contact lists, share calendars, and do everything else Outlook users do.

I dragged my feet a bit at trying it out, but finally I caved in. I downloaded the latest Evolution snapshot and the beta version of Connector. Since I don't have (or need) access to a Microsoft Exchange 2000 server, there wasn't much I could do with it. Ximian hooked me up with a demo account on an internal server at their headquarters. Yes, I could make appointments. Yes, I had access to the contact lists and could add, change, and delete entries. Yes, this will be very cool for the folks that can now use a Linux desktop in their work environment that couldn't before. I'm happy for all of that, and I hope it brings thousands of new users to Linux. For me it's not really such a big deal because I am already free of the malignant monopoly.

Why am I giving up my faithful, trusted Sylpheed? Many little reasons. The first is because Evolution is a little friendlier when it comes to displaying digital images. This is important to me because I have a digital camera, and a granddaughter. I also subscribe to a couple of mailing lists that carry many photographs.

With Sylpheed, I usually have to scroll down through the small window showing the multiple message parts in order to see whether there are any photos attached. If there are, I can click on them and the image will appear in a new window. In Evolution, no scrolling is required. Most image attachments are displayed at the bottom of the message window without any action on my part. If they don't appear automagically, as was the case with the message shown below which I sent to my Evolution account from Sylpheed, there is a handy icon to click on to make it appear. Chalk up one for Evolution for ease of use.

Evolution message/photo display

Another reason is the ease of using Gnu Privacy Guard with Evolution. Sylpheed supports PGP/GnuPG so that you can sign, encrypt, or decrypt mail. However, it requires that you change a few configuration options at compile time to get that functionality. Once you have Sylpheed correctly configured and compiled, it's a bit of a pain to use if you want to sign all your outgoing mail. That's because you're asked to enter your passphrase each time you send mail.

My first use of GnuPG with Evolution was a breeze. I entered my Key ID in the security settings for the account and clicked on "Sign all mail sent from this account." When it asked for my passphrase, there was an option to check that would remember the passphrase for the remainder of the session. I hacked an earlier version of Sylpheed last year to provide this same feature, but I haven't kept it up to date with later versions. In short, it took me about 10 seconds to configure Evolution security exactly the way I wanted it. Score another big win for ease of use.

Leaving my current email files behind is simply not an option. The problem is that Evolution uses the mbox file format and Sylpheed uses MH. Evolution offers only two import options: mbox or Netscape/Mozilla style mail. I was doing a half-hearted Google search for MH to mbox file conversion when I noticed the Sylpheed user's manual listed among the results. Lo and behold, I found that Sylpheed provides an export feature that will turn its single-message file format into an mbox file.

I pointed Sylpheed at a folder (subdirectory) of the Mail directory that holds messages from the local LUG mailing list. I gave it a name for the mbox style file and then clicked OK. In a second, Sylpheed had converted created a single file from the several thousand messages at hand. Back to Evolution. Using File->Import, I pointed it at the newly created mbox file. Evolution let me choose the destination from any of its existing folders. It also gave me the option of creating a new folder to house the mail. I chose a new folder and started the importing.

It took at least 10 seconds to import the mail, maybe longer. I have no doubt that speed of execution is one thing I will lose in moving from Sylpheed to Evolution. I just hope the difference in speed overall is not as drastic as the difference in the times required to export the mail from Sylpheed and import it into Evolution.

I have approximately 100 folders and sub-folders set up in Sylpheed, so getting the mail tossed to the correct folder requires a lot of rules for filtering. Sylpheed allows me to construct the rules, but it takes a little time to do so. Sometimes I forget the final step, which is not at all intuitive, and the new rule or the change to the existing rule doesn't take. That's annoying.

So far, creating filtering rules for Evolution has been a snap. I right-click on the message in the inbox, select "Create rule from message" from the drop down menu, then click on "Filter on Recipients." This brings up a dialog that allows me to fine tune the recipient I want to key the action on, and to select what I want to do with the message after it's selected. One neat thing in the process is that I can add a new folder during the dialog if it doesn't already exist. That's another big timesaver.

One chore associated with the migration from Sylpheed to Evolution, which looks like it will have to be done the hard way, is reentering all the data in the address book. At least I haven't found a way around that yet. Sylpheed uses XML for its address book and Evolution keeps its addresses in a .db file.

I am not down on Sylpheed; in fact, I am a big fan. I think it is an excellent e-mail application: fast, reliable, and not hard to look at. However, Evolution has tempted me with its ease of use. Sylpheed makes my computer faster with tight code. Evolution makes me faster with its user-friendly design. The only unknown at this point is the question of reliability, and the only way for me to find the answer to that question is to try it. I'll keep you posted.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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