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:

/home/(user)/.evolution/

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.

PIM 2.0: Fun with Funambol

Making a clean break from vufone, my last-reviewed PIM 2.0 suite, I’m now going to show you what a web sync app looks like when it conforms to open standards. It’s called Funambol.

Now I’m probably going to get myself in trouble here for speaking out of my own ass, so kindly correct if I get this wrong. But best as I can tell, Funambol is actually a platform upon which at least three separate products are built:

  1. The Carrier Edition – for service providers, portals, carriers and device makers
  2. The Community Edition – an open source sync solution for devices connected to Linux and Windows servers. (This, by the way is where I’m stumped. By “server” do they mean a computer, a web server or both?)
  3. The myFUNAMBOL portal – an ad-supported introduction to the Funambol platform. I think.

That last one is what we’ll be looking at today. myFUNAMBOL also includes push email — that’s where the ads come in — but I’ll be reviewing just the sync part.

Funambol syncML Server

Here’s what Funambol looks like installed on my E71. You’ll find it in the Sync Folder of your S60 handset.

I should point out that it’s not actually an installed app, per se, but rather a bunch of settings for connecting to a standard SyncML server.

What Funambol syncs

At present, the myFUNAMBOL portal will sync with your handset’s calendar and contacts only…

What Funambol won't sync

… Though as you can see, SyncML can also support the syncing of notes, texts and bookmarks from your web browser.

Syncing happens over-the-air via whichever data connection your phone supports, and your data ends up here, on the myFUNAMBOL web portal.

myFUNAMBOL Portal

Kudos to the Funambol team for correctly choosing the white-coloured handset as their default E71 icon. 😉

Another nice touch is that you can make a Skype call to any of your contacts just by clicking on the phone number. I had no idea about this until I found my cursor hovering over an entry quite by accident.

Unfortunately this is where the love ends for me and myFUNAMBOL. Like vufone there is no way to export your PIM data to a desktop computer file. Such a feature will be important to you if, like me, you’re running Linux on your desktop computer and wish to bypass local sync entirely, but still want to back up your data.

Of course, myFUNAMBOL may well be just a technology demo and this is probably where the Community Edition of Funambol steps in — I just need someone to explain it to me…