Evolution – The Default Email Client for Ubuntu

Just as I’ve spent a lot of time at this humble WordPress address finding the perfect PIM 2.0 client, my previous blog had a fair amount of space devoted to traditional offline email clients. I’ve got email archives dating back some thirteen years, and I’ve moved them between various apps on OS X and Windows before finally settling on Thunderbird.

The original plan for my spiffy new Eee PC netbook was to dump my email archives on it, but the bundled email client for most Ubuntu-based Linux distributions is Evolution, an app I’ve never tried before.

Since there are barely any reviews of Evolution out there (that I could find, anyway), here’s a quick look…

Evoluion Mail Directory

Finding your mail files in Evolution is pretty straightforward if you know where to look. The default path is:


In the “mail” folder you’ll find bog-standard .mbox files which you can import into any other email app worth its salt. Evolution also has a nifty backup and restore feature that will compress your data (email + addresses, calendars, contacts, notes & to-dos) into a handy (for Linux users) .tar.gzip file — and restore a full data set from the same file.

As for the actual interface, here’s how it looks in Easy Peasy 1.1:

Evolution Mail Interface

IMHO it’s not quite as efficient as Thunderbird (seen below, running in Xubuntu 9.04) in its use of screen real estate, which can be fairly critical if you’re reading your email on a 9-inch netbook screen:

Thunderbird Vertical View

Another thing I don’t like about Evolution is that there’s no obvious mailbox maintenance utility as there is in Thunderbird. When you’ve got email archives dating back to 1996 keeping them from getting corrupted is a pretty big deal!

But the deal-breaker for me came not from Evolution itself, but from SyncEvolution, a SyncML client written for it. Specifically:

The order of email addresses and phone numbers in the Evolution GUI is not preserved.

While this is actually a reported bug for ScheduleWorld.com only, I found it to be a problem with my own hosted SyncML service Memotoo, uh… too.

If you’re wondering why this is a critical issue, have you ever sent a text message to someone’s home or business line by mistake? Either it won’t get delivered at all, or — in the case of my carrier — will cost you extra and embarrass the hell out of you.

Evolution will also sync data to a Microsoft Exchange Server, but I didn’t bother testing that functionality, as the whole point of my move to Linux is to get away from proprietary software.

If you use Exchange at work and Linux at home, or if all you need is an offline PIM suite and email client then Evolution should suit you fine. Me, I’m sticking with Thunderbird and keeping my PIM data in the cloud.

The Quest for PIM 2.0: Plaxo 3.0

Online PIM purveyors Plaxo used to have a pretty bad reputation for spamming people from your uploaded address book and pressuring them to join the service. I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case, as I’ve been testing Plaxo for a few weeks now and have yet to receive a single complaint about it from any of my five hundred-plus contacts. With their new “3.0” service I can’t quite say that Plaxo meets the gold standard for “everything available on every device”, but it does look like they are the best of what’s out there if you’re not an ideal candidate for Microsoft Exchange.

For a quick overview of the service I’ll refer you to this online demo:

One big plus for Plaxo on the Mac is that I can use it to sync my Apple Address book and local copy of Thunderbird. You wouldn’t think this would be such a big deal but the two apps use completely different file formats, yet somehow Plaxo is able to seemlessly read and write between them.

Another benefit of using Plaxo comes from their partnership with LinkedIn (aka Facebook for business-types). If you’re on Facebook then you’ll already know that its value correlates directly to how many of your friends are there. It’s the same deal with Plaxo and LinkedIn — whenever my colleagues there update their contact info the changes propagate through Plaxo to the Address Book on my Mac, and I know enough folks who are listed on one or the other to make it worthwhile.

Where Plaxo stumbles is with its lack of support for iCal tasks. It might actually be due to Nokia’s own SyncML implementation; I know from previous PIM 2.0 tests that my events and to-dos are lumped together in the same database on my phone… But if Apple’s calendaring app can read them, surely Plaxo can too?

Oh, and about Plaxo Pulse… It’s this new whiz-bang feature where you can dump all your RSS feeds onto one page for all your friends to follow, but there are lots of other sites jumping on the same bandwagon. More on that in another post…

The Quest for PIM 2.0: An Unfortunate Exchange

mail2web Live

(In case you’re wondering, that calendar entry relates to a previous post…)

If you’re one of the vast majority of computer users running some version of Windows you’ve probably at least heard of Microsoft Exchange. If you don’t know exactly what it is, think of it as an online version of Outlook.

Just like Outlook, Exchange can sync your PIM data to a Windows Mobile device, or a BlackBerry, or just about any other PDA or smartphone on the market. But unlike Outlook, Exchange can sync you up over the internet, push email to your device in real time and let you share events and such with users on the same Exchange Server. Oh, and it also connects seamlessly to your copy of Outlook should you need to work offline and/or sync up your handheld in the same way.

Near as I can tell Exchange is pretty much ubiquitous in the corporate world, and therein lies the problem. You Mac zealots out there can raise your pitchforks and light your torches now, because just as you’d expect Microsoft has once again punished us for choosing OS X.

Exchange Public Folders

Sure, they’ve recently updated the Mac version of MS Office to run natively on Intel-based Apple machines, and Entourage — the bundled clone of Outlook — does indeed connect to an Exchange Server… But only up to a point. I stopped using Entourage myself ages ago, but both MacWorld and Wikipedia report that the app is unable to synchronize tasks or personal folders with Exchange.

To make matters worse, the Exchange web client (or Outlook Web Access, just to confuse you more) isn’t 100% functional in anything but Internet Explorer on Windows — but really, if you can’t sync half of your crap to Exchange in the first place you won’t care about browser compatibility and will have already moved on to something else.

Enlightened users of Linux proper apparently have full integration with Exchange thanks to Novell Evolution — there’s even a Mac version available for download, although it’s two years old and looks like it’s an unsupported release.

For ninety percent of the computing world Microsoft Exchange is the perfect PIM 2.0 candidate, but because it doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of “everything available on every device” this Mac snob can’t in good conscience give it a passing grade.

First Bell, Now Telus?!

Telus Mobility's $15/unlimited plan

The title of this post is the same as a thread I started over on the HowardForums — and once again, thanks to Elias for the heads-up!

It seems that Telus Mobility has launched their own pre-emptive strike against the coming JesusPhone… Their unlimited data plan is email and IM-only (according to their site, anyway) and is more than twice as much as Bell’s mobile browsing bomb, but interestingly they will allow you to use the plan with a BlackBerry — traditionally a “power” device targeted at the business crowd.

The specifics of both the Bell and Telus plans are still being widely contested on all fronts, but things are definitely looking up from last April when I was paying Fido a whopping $40/month for a mere 7MB of BlackBerry email!

I predict that Rogers will shortly be forced to play its hand and officially announce before Christmas that the JesusPhone is coming in early 2008. Still, its going to be a tough holiday season for employees of Rogers stores:

Potential Buyer: What are you offering that matches the cheap unlimited data plans available from Bell and Telus?

Rogers-type Person: We’re going to be the exclusive provider of Apple’s iPhone in the new year, with a special unlimited data plan and visual voicemail!

Potential Buyer: Yes, but Bell and Telus are offering their unlimited plans right now on any handset…

Rogers-type Person: Um, we’re getting the iPhone…

For me the best part about all of this is seeing the public at large starting to get the power of mobility. The “I just need to make calls” mentality is slowly fading into the background, and the perceived value of having the internet in your pocket is definitely on the rise.

If you’re finding yourself behind the curve the CBC ran an exhaustive feature on the mobile landscape last week on their technology site — or you can just browse around the pages here and get up to speed…


Bell Sympatico Blocking POP Access?!!

Bell Canada logo

There will absolutely be no link love for Bell here if this story is true…

Longtime commenter and real-world Neutrino colleague Ed Miller told me over dinner last night that Bell Sympatico is no longer offering email access through traditional POP mail servers. Instead, Sympatico users must log in at the MSN/Sympatico web portal and read their email there.

This is so beyond retarded that I’m actually having trouble believing it… Ed also tells me that while Sympatico will happily aggregate your email from other POP and web accounts, there is no available utility to export your messages to a local archive.

This effectively means that Bell owns your email. Which is just… Wrong.

Can anyone else corroborate this? Ed, I’m not calling you a liar or anything, and given my own experience with Bell over the years I wouldn’t put it past them to pull such a stunt.

I just can’t believe that anyone would stand for it!