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The Evolution continues

More on what life is like with Ximian Evolution

(LinuxWorld) -- A couple of weeks ago I wrote about moving from Sylpheed (a wonderful e-mail client) to Evolution. I promised then that I would follow up after I had had a chance to put a few more miles on Evo. This week's column keeps that promise. First, I want to go off-topic for two other items.

I asked readers for help last week in configuring Sorcerer on my Sony notebook computer so that at boot time, dhcp would be running before network initialization. I received many helpful responses -- thanks to you all. The best suggestion came from Sean P. He suggested the following, and it works great:

  1. Edit /etc/pcmcia/network.opts to change DHCP to "Y" and to remove all static network addresses.
  2. Remove the S30/K30 network symbolic links from rc3.d and rc5.d.
  3. Create a symbolic link in /sbin pointing to the dhcpcd that lives in /usr/sbin.
  4. Type "/sbin/dhcpcd -k" followed by "/sbin/dhcpcd" from the command line.
  5. Reboot

The second item I want to touch on is the recent commentary about desktop Linux desktop by David Coursey on ZDNet. With typical braggadocio, the partisan pundit pronounced desktop Linux a failed cause. Then he begged the Linux faithful not to respond to his claim. At first, I thought Coursey was being outrageous only to troll. But since then I've remembered a poem by Stevie Smith about a misunderstood swimmer who was "drowning not waving." Remembering that poem, I realized that Coursey is not trolling. His flailing about is identical to that of a man who has just realized that his desktop platform bears a striking resemblance to the Titanic.

Back to the (R)evolution

After a couple of weeks of constant usage it is even clearer to me today than when I wrote the first column that while both Evolution and Sylpheed are GUI clients, each are seeking a different audience. If it is sheer speed, power, and reliability you want then Sylpheed is the choice for you. If you want ease of use and an almost seamless bridge between Windows clients like Outlook and e-mail Linux-style, then Evolution meets your needs better.

Speaking of wanting to be like Microsoft Outlook, I got quite a scare last week when I learned how Microsoft has Outlook clients and Exchange servers working together when sending encrypted mail. It turns out that if you are using an Outlook mail client with any popular mainstream encryption package, like PGP or Sphinx, and are connected to an Exchange server, everything is sent in plain text. This is not exactly what I would call trustworthy computing. Microsoft and security are once more seen to be like oil and water.

Microsoft explains (see the URL in resources below) that they do it this way because of customer requests to speed up mail processing. I can't believe, however, than any Windows users have asked that the speed increase come at the price of their loss of privacy. Nevertheless, my fear was that Evolution, since it aims to be an Outlook replacement, would behave in the same way when working with Ximian Connector. Connector is a proprietary product due from Ximian shortly which makes Evolution appear to Microsoft Exchange 2000 servers as if they are MS Outlook clients. I've been reassured by Ximian that such is not the case. If you choose to encrypt mail with Evolution, it leaves your box encrypted whether you are talking to a POP, IMAP, or Exchange server.

I thought I found a bug in Evolution, but I was wrong. After having used a Ximian Connector beta to interact with an Exchange server, I removed all the Exchange-based mail folders. When I tried to use the "Add Sender to Address Book" feature, a small window appeared proclaiming that it was "Querying Address Book." The window never went away and the address never was added. After checking with Ximian, I found that I needed to remove Connector completely from my system. Once I did, the "Add Sender" function worked flawlessly.

Overall, I've been pleased with Evolution. It's just easy to use. No doubt that it's not as fast as Sylpheed, though. At least in some comparisons. More troubling to me than the issue of speed is the fact that I've had several crashes/hangs with Evolution. All of them have occurred while I am updating my mail settings. My suspicion is that the update code is not playing nice with other threads that might need access to those settings. Being in the middle of an update, for example, while an automatic fetching of mail from a remote server occurs. Once it trashed my account settings completely. Other times it is all there, including the changes, when I restart Evolution, but simply are stuck in place when I clicked to apply the changes. If you find yourself in the same situation, be sure to do a killev command at a command line to get a clean restart.

Watching the Sylpheed mailing list during this period has been interesting and profitable. Only one or two on the list took it personally, the rest took the mature view of "different strokes for different folks." I noticed Hiroyuki Yamamoto -- Sylpheed's creator -- planned to consider adding an option to remember the PGP (or GPG) passphrase for the duration of the session. That ease of use was one of the important things that lured me to Evolution. As far as inline image handling, he wasn't so optimistic. Evidently making images appear automagically is not a trivial exercise.

It was also on the Sylpheed mailing list that I learned my GPG signature that I was happily attaching to every message I sent was not validated. Werner Koch, the GPG guru and ex-Evolution developer, commented on the list that Evolution was not properly implementing RFC 3156. I managed to get the Evolution developer who wrote the signing code and Koch into an e-mail discussion on the problem, and consequently I understand a new version of Evolution is in CVS right now with a fix. When it hits the street, Sylpheed and all the rest will be able to validate signed mail sent by Evolution.

The speed of Evolution

One reader of my original column on Evolution wrote in to describe the virtual folder feature in glowing terms. I've since had the opportunity to play with virtual folders a bit and I admit I'm impressed. In fact, that feature alone is making me reconsider which of the two is faster (at least for some tasks).

I've noted how Sylpheed is faster than Evolution. Certainly when you have to wait a couple of seconds for a message to be marked as viewed when you are trying to wade through a high-volume mailing list, you notice the difference. In Sylpheed, itÕs almost instantaneous. However, there are things to measure other than single-message process time.

When you search 6,000 messages for a certain string contained in the message body, Evolution flies while Sylpheed crawls. Using Evolution's virtual folder feature, I searched 6,000 messages for "patch-penguin." It completed in less than 2 seconds. The same search took about 20 seconds in Sylpheed. Just marking all those messages as read or unread at once shows another instance of Evolution being much faster -- about 10X on my box.

The reason probably relates to the file format each employs. Evolution uses mbox format, where all the messages in a folder are stored in a single file. Sylpheed uses the MH file format. Each has it advantages that show up in faster reading/viewing/marking of individual messages by Sylpheed and faster sorting/searching/marking of large groups of messages in Evolution. Virtual folders further accentuate Evolution's advantage in fast searches by doing everything in memory rather than disk.

How does all this add up for me? I'm going to stay with Evolution for now. Beyond that, I won't commit. How can I? As a GNU/Linux user, I am in the wonderful position of not just having choices, but having excellent choices. In the case of e-mail clients, there are several. I like Sylpheed and Evolution especially, but you might find your needs best met with something else. (For example, fellow LinuxWorld columnist Nick Petreley considers mutt his best friend.) Ain't it great? We don't all have to dress alike or march in unison, either.

The relentless improvements of Sylpheed, Evolution, and dozens of other desktop apps stand in stark contrast to the pronouncements of the death of desktop Linux. They also help explain the increasing insecurity and anxiety of certain members of the tres duh press. Take it from me, my dweebs. Based on first-hand experience, in spite of the howling, the revolution continues unabated.

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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