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Ask HN: Open-source alternatives of Gmail?
75 points by _mnjb on Oct 20, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments
I've been planning to switch to an open-source alternative of Gmail. Any suggestions/experiences/thoughts?

AFAICT the best alternative, interface-wise, is Roundcube, and it doesn't seem particularly exciting (it's also written in PHP... which doesn't necessarily have to count against it, but makes me a little wary).

I've foolishly started to build my own, which at some point may become good enough to open source (I certainly don't want to commercialize it).

Roundcube it is. If one is looking for threading and the more advanced options available in Gmail there's not much of an alternative as it stands right now.

Interestingly, I remember in 2006 Roundcube was already being touted as a gmail lookalike. Back when being able to move your emails from one folder to another using drag-n-drop in the browser made you feel /slick/ :)


Looks like pretty straightforward PHP4. I wouldn't really hold that against it unless you plan to do development with it.

Roundcube is by far the most clean, intuitive and beautiful opensource webmail client out there.

> it's also written in PHP... which doesn't necessarily have to count against it, but makes me a little wary

why that?

Because it's PHP. Duh.


The quality of the code in your average PHP project is... less than stellar. Low quality code typically results in exploitable bugs (XSS, CSRF, SQL injection, remote code execution, local filesystem access, etc.).

I went looking for something suitable a while back, but I didn't find anything. The search is nice, but I'm really more interested in the mail interface. The features I use:

Sending and receiving (duh)

delayed mail (in case I make a mistake... And I will!)

filtering (and tags/folders)

keyboard shortcuts

simple search, with folder/tag support

browser-based, so I can access it anywhere

Google were smart when they implemented tags. I've used them immensely (several tags per e-mail). Most (?) IMAP servers doesn't support tags, that makes migrating from Gmail a hard decision for me right now.

Dovecot supports tags.

Dovecot supports it, but are there any good, stable IMAP clients that work with it?

Thunderbird good enough?

(Although I usually kill the default tags that Thunderbird still includes as a hangover from the original Thunderbird release because that way I get useful tag names in the Maildir should I ever need to hack on them directly.)

> Thunderbird good enough?

Oh man. As a longtime Thunderbird user, I have to say, that's a loaded question. :)

I didn't realize Thunderbird supported Dovecot's tagging abilities. Is that something I need to enable? How do I use it? I've been using TB for years because it's the only IMAP client that does things the way I want (other than Mutt), but I didn't realize I could have arbitrary tagging with it.

Just right-click on an email and go to "Tag...". You might want to delete the default tags (which originate with TB 1.0) and create your own new ones from scratch.

Oh, I've been using those default labels/tags for a long time already to mark emails for follow up and so forth. If I'm looking to use those tags to organize my email instead of folders, is there a way for Thunderbird to display a tag hierarchy instead of or along side all my existing folders?

The only real interface is to create search folders that search by Tag on the server. Dovecot indexes everything behind the scenes, so it's reasonably fast.

Sadly, a full on "here's a hierarchy of tags, just display mail by tag" mail reader doesn't exist to my knowledge outside of GMail itself :(

Thunderbird hits every one of wccrawford's items, except it's not itself web based.

I use Thunderbird with a cheap fastmail.fm account. You can access your fastmail account from anywhere with their web interface. You can access it from any imap client.

It all works good enough for me. Not fantastic, but good enough.

Pine (or Alpine) ;)

I love nearly everything about Pine, but I wish that Dovecot's IMAP searching was faster.

Mutt supports IMAP, too.


Alternative to what? Hosted email? Or the web interface? If the latter: http://roundcube.net/ It access email through imap - so you still need a good mailbox server.

The best list I've seen: http://www.noupe.com/ajax/10-ajax-webmail-clients.html

But none really compare too favorably with Gmail. Zimbra was looking good before it went to yahoo and then VMware.

> Zimbra was looking good before it went to yahoo and then VMware.

Can you elaborate?

I can.

The problem with Zimbra is that it tries to mimick Outolook on the web, not to be actual webmail.

If you like Outlook, you'll feel at home, but compared with Gmail it just feels to old school.

And it is slow, even inside a LAN.

AtMail Open seems nice?

problem with most webmail apps seems that they want to be desktop apps for some reason and completely miss the point imho

It looks fairly bland and aged (and especially bad when compared to screenshots of the commercial AtMail webmail client).

I actually see two problems with switching off gmail (which I'm starting to think about doing, as google keeps getting evil-er).

One is how nice it is to have ubiquitous web-mail, integration with my Android, etc. Some of these problems I think I can solve with my own brain-sweat, and obviously this thread might help.

But the other is spam. Before gmail, I hated spam. After switching to gmail (I guess about 5 years ago), I gradually lost my memory of spam ; I get less than one piece of spam per month. Is spam gone these days? Are there good open-source low-maintenance solutions?

My spamassassin lets very little spam through. Zero maintenance, but I took some time to tweak it.

SUP is supposedly modeled after Gmail, if you enjoy the benefits of text tools. I myself am using mutt.

http://notmuchmail.org/ is a good alternative to Sup, but neither of these are webmail.

I really like http://www-uxsup.csx.cam.ac.uk/~dpc22/prayer/ (prayer webmail).

It's very much hitting the basic, fast spot though, rather than the gmail style.

SquirrelMail (is open source) and has some nice paid themes http://nutsmail.com/

Nutsmail have done a pretty impressive modification of the original Squirrelmail to include clean, good looking themes and plugins, all nicely packaged. Thanks for the link!

We really like Group Office, whilst it doesn't have the class of Gmail, or the search prowess it works really well for small teams.

If you are taking about using something like Sup then I think there is too much faff should you ever decide to migrate away from it. Whilst it looks and works great it is useless for interoperability with your phone etc..

Hula had shown a lot of promise, but it withered away: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hula_(software)

It was forked though as Bongo: http://bongo-project.org/Main_Page

Hula was killed off by Novell when it sold Netmail to Messaging Architects.

We did fork the code and have moved on quite a bit we are in dire need of front end developers to help make a great frontend for a fantastic backend system. if anyone is interested in helping out please come by the IRC channel or the mail list


For those that are interested the IRC channel is #bongo on irc.oftc.net

We have some bindings to allow for webui development we have a complete PHP one which we used to plug roundcube's interface onto our backend. The others are in different stages of completion, there is the start of a mono binding and a ruby one so any help with these parts would be greatly appreciated.

I find the problem with most of the open source UI's out there is the lack of good search capabilities. It is just so easy to open up gmail and search for a document. Everything else that uses imap seems slow and old.

I have recently switched from Roundcube to Squirrelmail - the former worked annoyingly slow for me. I only had to tweak the source code a bit to get rid of these _ugly_ iframe borders.

I don't use web interface too much though.

I seriously cannot believe that something that looks like it was designed for Netscape Navigator still exists. There must be a need for it over everything else, I'd love to know where it's still used.

Or there's very little need for it, which is why nobody has made anything better since.

according to @teyc's comment, nutsmail sells templates for it.

It's my own hobby vps, so I could use telnet there if I felt like it. I think if I've made a screenshot of it it might make people's eyes bleed, since I've modified the minimal theme which came with it a little to fit my taste. :)

I don't see the web interface too often anyway.

Is this a styling objecting? I don't think these issues are trivial exactly, but if the deployers cared, it would not be too difficult to beautify.

Universities often use Squirrelmail. The most recent instance I saw was for Potsdam.

Some of us favor the old web 1.0 interface. It's clean and simple and it renders fast.

Have you checked RoundCube out? It's a modern and open source self hosted email client - http://roundcube.net/

Thunderbird is getting pretty darn good lately.

Now that Firefox mobile is getting good too, maybe Thunderbird mobile will start to happen in 2012?

If something that is hosted by a 3rd party 'in the cloud' is open source, does it really help? Since someone else is still managing your data.

You don't think he's planning to host it himself in the cloud? Quite a few platforms make this easy enough, if not very cheap.

If it's open source, you can (presumably) download it yourself and host it yourself.

(I know technically with most FLOSS licences you don't need to share the code unless you distribute it, but it would completely miss the point to call it open source and not distribute the code)

I don't understand. Wasn't this an iPad/Windows email client that went open source?

The OP is looking for a webmail, open source solution similar to Gmail.

Any AGPL webmail clients like gmail? I prefer Free Software to Open Source

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