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Ask HN: Which email software do you use on Linux?
62 points by TekMol on Sept 27, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 100 comments
I have been happily using Thunderbird for years now. But for some reason it get's slower and slower to start it. Even though all my email accounts are IMAP. And I set it up to not query them on startup. So startup should be immediately. But it takes 8 seconds.

So I am playing with the idea to switch.

What do you guys use?

I keep trying them all - and I keep hating my answer. I've been trying to like Evolution since 2000, this year I've tried all the flavours of mutt/neomutt and combinations of things like offlineimap. I've tried KMail, Geary, Outlook in Wine.... It's just Thunderbird.

Thunderbird is the only thing that works. It's not awesome, but it can keep up with my 5 email accounts that get checked in parallel.

Claws Mail [1]. I used it since when it was called Sylpheed (later Sylpheed Claws), and wouldn't swap it with anything else. Features aside, it's rock solid, small and fast, truly fast: I can search my entire mail db since like 1997 and find an indexed word in a sender/recipient/subject in a fraction of second, or a word in the body in more time.

[1] https://www.claws-mail.org/

The site hasn't been upgraded for a while and looks dated, but the software itself is very actively maintained. Currently using 3.17.4, which was released at the end of July. There is also a port to Windows, which I used in a place where Outlook was having problems, after importing all its data (through an FOSS utility called "readpst"). The operator dropped his jaw looking at the difference in speed as apparently long searches in the message base were among his duties.

I advise you to load plugins provided by claws mail such as the PGP related ones, vCalendar, SpamAssassin and obviously the Notification plugin.

Thanks for this.

The least worst choice, for me, is Gmail on a web browser. Switched over from Thunderbird and prior to that Evolution after many years of using both.

Don't misunderstand. I do NOT want to use Gmail, and there are a lot of things about it that fall short... but nothing else has given me such pain-free integration with calendar, contact, and office apps, on my desktop, my laptop, and my phone.

I'm also keeping an eye on ownCloud, which seems to be on its way to become a viable alternative.

If you think GMail is pain free you'd be even more pleased with Fastmail. I simply cannot self host my mail/contacts/calendar because nothing that exists -- free or not -- can compete with the usability and available power user features of Fastmail.

Thanks, I'll take a look. FYI, I used Fastmail many years ago (back when Jeremy Howard ran it, well before its sale to Opera), but haven't taken a look at it recently.

Fastmail is no longer owned by Opera, it was spun off in 2013.

Bought back by the original team, if I recall correctly

I used mutt for years, but then wrote an alternative with integrated lua scripting:

* https://lumail.org/

* https://github.com/lumail/lumail/

Since large parts of it are configured in Lua it suits my needs perfectly. Recently I've been considering a third and final rewrite of a console-based mail-client. But I find it hard to be too enthusiastic..

I've been using mu4e and thoroughly enjoying it. The HTML support is a bit wonky (or perhaps more accurately, HTML emails themselves are usually wonky), but most of the HTML mail I get is trash anyway. Combined with org-mode, I find it pretty slick.

Mu4e has a handy shortcut to open any html mail in a bcowser. I'm wondering whether it shouldn't be possible to use a GTK web view to display HTML mail.

I considered mu4e, are you concerned with security at all? I feel like an email client would be risky in emacs for some reason

My biggest concern would be image files getting parsed by native libs. There's also some version or hack of mu4e that uses the gnus rendering engine, that I've turned on, and I can't remember the default rendering engine's behavior (maybe it just does text?), but I'd turn off image rendering and then feel comfortable.

IMNSHO, it gets slower because your inboxes get bigger. I moved ooold mail to "archive-20xx" folders, and it gets snappier again. Perhaps do the cleanup-compact dance, too?

(So far, I haven't found anything that I would like more - even though TB does have its share of bugs, warts, and UX issues. Opera's mail client was great while it lasted.)

    it gets slower because your inboxes get bigger
I am pretty much an inbox-zero person. None of my inboxes have more then 5 messages in them.

Or do you mean folders in general, like "sent" and "trash" etc?

Hmm, no, I meant in-box specifically, as I have encountered that previously. But your suggestion could be applicable, yes.


In my not so humble opinion

Emacs is the answer; what was the question again?

It's nothing specifically to do with the Kernel pr operating system. I use Gnus after starting with RMAIL on SunOS and using VM for some time. I often use it in tty mode, typically with emacsclient. It would work OK with relatively recent Exchange IMAP at work if it wasn't for the VPN required to access it. Gnus is obviously good for mail lists via Gmane's NNTP.

At what point does emacs cease to be a text editor and become an entire operating system in a terminal or X11?

Emacs is not an operating system. It is a high bandwidth peripheral that connects your brain to the operating system using lisp.

When you learn enough elisp to start calling external programs. Magit is a good place to start.

Neomutt is good but it can be a pain to configure without a script. I recommend people who want to use Neomutt for the first time use this wizard https://github.com/LukeSmithxyz/mutt-wizard

I justed started using mutt configured using this wizard since I have to use exchage/outlook for work which still has a really buggy web UI. So far it's working a lot better than when I've previously tried to manually set up mutt.


Thunderbird, Evolution and another clients UI looks like designed 10-15 years ago.

if it is a good design, this is a positive feature.. constantly breaking a good UI just to be hip and cool is not. I'm not against new designs if they bring improvements to the table, but mindless bandwagon jumping is a waste of time.

I consider that a good thing, personally, but (at least with Thunderbird), you can always use a different skin.

Unfortunately, Geary doesn't seem to support POP3, which might matter for some.

Just wait till you see Emacs plus Gnus!

Yes, and that's good? UI designed 10-15 years ago is actual usable desktop UI back when desktop was the number one way to do personal computing.

Or what exactly is bad with e.g. Thunderbird's UI? As far as I'm concerned, I'd be happy if it stayed that way for 30 more years.

Geary reminds me of the reddit redesign or some other UI that Apple or Google would create. Information density and convenience where obviously sacrificed for someones idea of aesthetic.

They removed button labels for no apparent reason other than to confuse you with duplicate icons as far as I can see in the screenshot. Looks like it takes at least 2 clicks to sort emails. I'd bet that probably the most annoying thing though is the lack of features and options.

It looks really nice though and if it fits your needs, I'm sure it's great. But those of us who like desktop software and not things like Gmail probably won't.

Everyone has their own preference. I just kinda like the idea of more lightweight software. Thunderbird is based on a lot of old Mozilla code, if it were redone solely off of Servo that would be something, servo for message rendering but the rest of the UI can be native or just similar and not too JS heavy if the UI is some Servo HTML UI.

Evolution because with the evolution-ews package it can talk to exchange via exchange web services, it's reliable unlike the IMAP access to exchange that our external IT provider messes up constantly somehow.

I use Thunderbird with 10 imap-accounts. Takes about 3s to start, with one mail account being checked on initialization.

I've pondered a move to mutt, but it's a bit of a pain to configure to "get it right" to fit my workflow and nitpicks.

I use Claws Mail, and have been using it for 10 years. It is fast and can handle a lot of email. It has many options and integraes nicely into the XFCE desktop. It is a fork of Sylpheed, and I assume the two have diverted quite a bit.

What's it really worth?

  8 sec/load / 3600 sec/hour = 0.002 hours/load
If switching takes one hour [1]. Assuming you wait for Thunderbird to start 500 times, there's roughly equal time cost. Restarting Linux once a week at 50 work weeks per year amortizes one hour of switching cost out over ten years. [2] Ten hours spent switching puts the break even well into the twenty-second century. Automating Thunderbird initialization via your boot, session or login scripts is likely to take less time and produce fewer bugs/glitches/incompatibilities than switching email applications. Manual startup will always require more of a users time than automation. [3] [4]

[1]: It won't because monitoring this thread and investigating alternatives and setting up the new software will take several hours.

[2]: Of course some people restart their OS more frequently. That more strongly suggests integrating email startup into a boot/session/login script.

[3]: Personally, I find automation is often more satisfying than switching from one manual process to another manual process. In part because the problem just gets done. But that's me.

If switching takes one hour, then ROI will be positive after less then two months. I start Thunderbird about 10 times per day. After two months that is:

    8s * 10times * 30days * 2months
    = 4800 seconds
    = 1.3 hours.

Curious about the causes of frequent restarts.

I open applications only when I use them. And close them afterwards. I also turn off my machine when I don't use it.

Thanks for the explanation. I use a similar method: putting applications on their own 'virtual desktop' to create a similar experience. I run Thunderbird in it's own visual workspace and only see my mail when I deliberately switch to that workspace...and I've turned off all Thunderbird's notifications. It works for me because my machine is not resource constrained to a point leaving most applications running is likely to slow other workloads.

"Virtual Desktops" lets me handle my issues with application clutter the same way for every application...social media like HN get their own visual workspaces too. I use the tiling window manager Xmonad. After the learning curve it became easier to use than my distro's (Ubuntu) virtual desktops interface.

Of course all that required changing the way I work. Then again, I guess switching applications would require changing the way I work too.

Good luck.

Used to use neomutt on Debian. Still use it on OpenBSD. Have it set up to convert weird file formats to text automatically which ends up covering most of the stuff I get. Few emails actually need docx, html, etc formating so it is not much of a bother to just save any that do and use the appropriate program. Much more convenient than having to deal with random spawned programs for everything.

Could you share you for files and/or setup. I used neomutt on Debian but am not pleased with the friction html mails cause me.

Contents of my .mailcap file:

    image/*;                sxiv %s
    application/pdf;        xpdf %s
    text/html;              lynx %s; description=HTML Text; nametemplate=%s.html
    video/mp4;              mplayer %s
    audio/x-wav;            mplayer %s
    application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document; docx2txt <%s|fold -s|less
    application/vnd.oasis.opendocument.text; odt2txt %s|less
    audio/mpeg;            mplayer %s
There is a key macro you can do to spawn something like a firefox session instead of lynx but I have not had to bother yet.

Mail spring is great. Easily handles multiple emails and in addition to traditional imap will user the google api integration for your google mail accounts. You can mix and match account types with one view into all your mail. Or filter your views easily. The click and open tracking can be turned off so it is optional and is not even available in the free version.

I use a modified nodejs-imapnotify to watch for incoming mail using IMAP IDLE and automatically run mbsync[1] to sync it to my maildirs in ~/mail/. Then, I use mu4e to view them and compose mail.

I've been wanting to try out nmh[2] for a more CLI experience, but the book[3] seems kind of big and daunting.

[1] http://isync.sourceforge.net/

[2] https://www.nongnu.org/nmh/

[3] https://rand-mh.sourceforge.io/book/

I moved from Mailspring to Thunderbird because it was possible to integrate message filters with desktop notifications (via FiltaQuilla, which hasn't been updated to T68 yet), so I was getting notifications only when message was coming from certain email addresses or had certain keywords. Then I just got used to this program. To my eye, Thunderbird got a lot better in the last few months - faster startup (though still a bit slow, but I'm restarting it maybe once a week), better responsiveness, no "action interrupted" popup when using it while a folder is compacting. Search is still meh, though.

I use Claws Mail. It can handle loads of mail with a multigygabyte inbox, it's fast and very stable. Recommended.

I use Rainloop web-mail (https://www.rainloop.net/) on a remote machine.

Integrates seamlessly great into all of my environments.

> I use Rainloop web-mail (https://www.rainloop.net/) on a remote machine.

> Integrates seamlessly great into all of my environments.

How have you set this up? I looked at this solution briefly and toyed with the idea of writing a dockerfile at the very least. Also, are you on the community version?

Mutt is good enough for what I need. I'm on OpenBSD, not Linux, but the recommendation still applies.

I use sylpheed; so far it loads like a bullet with 3 IMAP email accounts.

We have Thunderbird on all our machines; three different operating systems, but a majority are Linux Mint. Startup on Linux is 3s to 6s depending on the machine. All machines have mulitple accounts, from two to six, some use IMAP4 and some use POP3.

At various times we've tested other clients, but Thunderbird is the only one that has all the features we want. These include complex filtering, calendaring (external and our own iCal server) and productivity add-ons.

At the end of every year we archive all mail that's more than a year old into a new Thunderbird profile, so there's now a list of historic profiles for some accounts going back twelve years. That does make searches for specific messages a hassle, but these are thankfully rare, and it means the current profile is relatively trivial for backups and history is available to all machines via our local server.

Thnderbird with Enigmail. Though I gather there may be some implementation weaknesses with engimail but, as of right now, I'm not doing anything where I'm too concerned about key or message integrity. If that changes I'll probably revoke the key and move to something else.

Thunderbird works quickly for me even with multiple IMAP accounts, much faster than any webmail solution.

Try compacting your folders:


I use Gnus in Emacs and fall back to the Gmail web client for a few things.


Just use anything command line, I personally stick to Mutt.

Check it out or neomutt or even Alpine if your taste suits that.

I switched from Thunderbird to just the Gmail web interface. TB was too slow (esp switching between tabs), and like most open-source email clients, just couldn't manage Gmail's labels elegantly (e.g. search should only search "All Mail"). Also seemed to use 30+ % CPU all the time (on a laptop, so power impact not acceptable). I gave it a go over a few weeks but just went to having Chrome open all the time in one workspace with Gmail and Calendar.

It's a shame but I've done the same.

Went from pine/mutt because HTML is annoying and HTML is everywhere. Then from TB to pure Gmail because labels are weird, general slowness, etc.

I know Gmail is a slow-ish SPA but.. whatever. Properly formatted plain text emails are not appreciated as they used to. I guess I caved in.

I have a couple of years of archive, but Thunderbird starts in about 2 seconds for me. Do you have an SSD? If not, you should invest in one.

What do you all use for Office365? I tried the thunderbird o365 plugin but it failed to send and was requesting 2fa every time I restarted

Oooh, I'd be curious to hear people's opinions here. I'm on GSuite (using a combo of gmail via web browser and Thunderbird on local desktop), but really wanting to go elsewhere like Fastmail...But fastmail is just a tad too pricey for me and my family (when adding in all family members)...So I was considering to go to office365 - that is, add on the plan which includes email/exchange online, whatever its called now. This is not ideal, but because i'm already paying an annual subscription for my family to use the office 365 stack (word, excel, and especially the tons of storage on onedrive)...i'm begrudgingly likely going to use their email product. But, what do people use for office 365 mail on linux?

fwiw, I don’t think they use standard IMAP which I’ve found limiting.

I don’t particularly like the product and have spent a considerable amount of time avoiding it where I can, but I don’t make the decisions around it.

The best solution I’ve found has been outlook in a windows vm

The webmail version because literally nothing else works. Not mail spring. Not thunderbird. Not imap. Fucking shittiest email I've ever had the displeasure of using. And when you email from the web interface each email takes ten seconds to send. Garbage. I try to check and use it as few times as possible. Sometimes I forget. That's a productive day. Piece of shit. I can't believe they pay money for this garbage. It also doesn't work on other platforms like android or Mac. It used to. Not to mention it requires weak passwords since it botches the password change constantly.

I use Thunderbird with O365 without any issues at all.

Evolution with the EWS plugin.

mutt + offlineimap with EDITOR=emacsclient, but also gmail

At work I also use mutt instead of outlook for some tasks, as outlook is very poor.

Is there an e-mail app out there that integrates nicely with Google Calendar and looks nice as well?

Thunderbird does integrate with GC, however, the quality is arguable. For my use case is good enough, however, for wide adoption, YMMV depending on the expectations.

Evolution does, whether or not you think it looks nice is subjective. I like it, it's utilitarian; especially with 'plaintext only' enabled.

I just login to my email service provider on a browser to check my email. During work I keep a tab open and it gives me alert when emails come in.

Are there any advantages that email clients such as thunderbird can offer me?

> I just login to my email service provider on a browser to check my email. During work I keep a tab open and it gives me alert when emails come in.

> Are there any advantages that email clients such as thunderbird can offer me?

Offline access/search is a big one.

I used to use Thunderbird on my work laptops, but currently it's been easier to just use Rambox to wrap the Gmail web interface.

At home I typically use Claws or Alpine.

After a long while I started reusing KMail (I'm using KDE on Debian boxes mostly) I would recommend it in a heartbeat if you are already using KDE.

I had to stop using KMail years ago because its IMAP support was thoroughly broken. Has that been fixed?

Me too actually. But things have changed.

Mailpile (it's open source) - https://www.mailpile.is/

I use mu4e + offlineimap with emacs. I highly recommend taking the 1-2 hours to set it up if you're an emacs user. Well worth it.

If you like CLI MUAs, give https://aerc-mail.org/ a look..

I use Thunderbird on both Linux and Windows. I'm very happy with it, but I haven't experienced the symptoms you describe.

I used to use alpine, but after it was abandoned I realized the only place I could find the source was on my personal laptop.

I’ve since switched to mutt.

Evolution because it works with Exchange and integrates with Gnome notifications. Not a very modern UI, though.

I use Mailspring mostly for aesthetic reasons.

"Activity tracking is built into Mailspring so you get notified as soon as contacts read your messages and can follow up appropriately."

"How contacts engage with your content gives you insight into what's working and what's not. Mailspring can notify you when your links are clicked so you know what's generating interest."

That's something I would actively avoid or circumvent if I discovered it. Do you tell people who you email about this, or hope they don't notice (or care)?

I disabled that feature entirely.

Just took a look at the screenshots, looks nice.

It does look nice, but I hate electron apps.

Mailspring. Excellent, except it doesn't have Outlook Calendar integration.

evolution is very usable imo, geary looks nicer but tends to crash more. mailmate for mac!

Evolution doesn't seem to have rules that move messages automatically unless I've overlooked it. Other than that I like it.

My browser. And if I want to do multiple emails, Gmail on my phone unfortunately

KMail. Startup is immediate even with > 200K mails in multiple accounts.

Same here. The fastest and the most feature packed.

thunderbird is good if you don't have to search through your past messages, is slow and often get a lot of false positive. never experienced a slow start though, sorry.

Still using thunderbird. And this guy eats lots of memory!!!

Any browser!

True at this point I find clients not offering much more than what I get from a browser.

But as far as clients go, Thunderbird works pretty well for me.

You can use Claws Mail

evolution since it supports exchange


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