The Quest For A Desktop email Client 2017-03-04
Every now and then I get frustrated enough with my email client (currently Thunderbird v3.1.20) that I go looking for a better email client. The trouble is, I can't find anything better. This time I am making a post about it so that next time I try looking for a replacement I'll have this handy list to refer to. For a start, here are my requirements:
- Must run on Windows XP and/or Linux. As awesome as you might think Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 are, I think they suck. Your fancy i7 PC with 8GB of memory might run them fine, but the truth is that you could be doing more with less... you just won't be able to brag to your friends about your giant sized testicles while doing it.
- Must not have software dependencies. As easy as it is to install Visual Studio runtime libraries, six versions of Java, Python, Perl, four versions of Microsoft .NET, and half the Gnome or KDE libs... there is really no reason an application can't be made without those dependencies. And run better.
- Must be able to view HTML messages internally or externally without loading remote content. Most HTML messages can simply be rendered as text and will look fine, but some are just unreadable. I should be able to look at them with some level of formatting without having to provide the tracking info that is associated with loading remote content. I don't care if I have to open the message in an external program, but it should not download remote content.
- Must allow me to select where I want to store my messages. My "Application Data" directory is not encrypted, but my email should be... so let me select the location for it.
- Must allow me to reply from different email addresses. Thunderbird (which I am used to) refers to this as "identities". I do not mean "multiple email accounts" or "multiple users on the same PC", I mean I have a mailbox that has dozens of email addresses and when I reply to a message, my email client should use the correct outgoing email address. To avoid confusion, I'll refer to this as Multi-Address Mailbox.
- Must have functional desktop notifications. One of my main beefs with Thunderbird v3.1.20 is that even though I have setup alerts, they only sometimes activate when new mail arrives. Since people generally love to think that newer versions of software are always better, I will test at least one newer version of TB here.
- Must have IMAP support. The ability to leave messages stored on the server and use IMAP to access them is mandatory. Any client that doesn't support IMAP is very likely to fall short on at least one other requirement anyways.
- Must support SSL/TLS. Plain text interaction with email is just silly, there is simply no need for that.
- Optional calendar feature would be nice, though I have at least one application I can use for this. It would be nice if I could use a single application for both, but email notifications would be a must-have.
- Optional message filtering would be pretty nice to have. I imagine most decent email clients have message filters anyways.
- Optional PGP/GPG encryption would be nice, though I can use GPA to do it manually since I get very little encrypted mail.
Now, there seems to be some email "services" that get you to sign up for an account on their servers, and then they aggregate your mail (and often other things like calendar or social media) through their web site or application. This sounds like a ridiculous idea to me, because it means all your data is essentially available to them for marketing, profiling, and tracking. It puts them in a position where the best way to make money is probably by selling information about you. Why am I including this in a list of email applications? Because some people refer to them as if they really were email applications, and I think it is important to point out that they should be the first ones cut from your list if you are looking for a decent email application. If anyone thinks I am wrong on any of these please let me know and I will attempt to try them again.
- Nylas Mail
Okay, now for the ones I actually tried. Some of these were rather quick and some took a little long to evaluate... my frustration level can sometimes escalate quickly when I feel like things are failing me.
Sorry, Popcorn has no IMAP support.
Postbox requires Windows 7, 4GB of memory and 200MB of drive space.
Hiri requires 64 bit OS, Windows 7, and VS runtime libs.
TouchMail requires Windows 8.
The interface is pretty clunky, all functions (message list, message view, message compose, etc) are all stuck inside the main window. Yes, this means you can not view two messages at the same time unless you manually tile the windows yourself. It does support SSL/TLS but doesn't tell you that you'll need to specify servers as "name.fdqn.tld:port" to make it work. Since I could find no way to use multiple email addresses on the same mailbox, I gave up trying on this one. I also tried v6.x and it unsurprisingly, it looked essentially the same.
Forte Agent v3.3
I downloaded this one because I had read somewhere that v3.3 of Forte Free Agent was the last available "free" version. As it turns out, "inbound email" is a feature only available in the pay version. So this one is not actually an email client... I may try the newest version if they have a trial of some kind.
This one appears to be a 30 day trial with no way to register it. It is able to show HTML messages but has no option to disable remote content when doing so. The message list shows subject and from address as a single field, there may be a way to change this but I didn't see it. It also does not seem to have a way to open messages in their own window (instead it uses an odd "memo" area in a third pane.
eM Client v7
Requires Microsoft .NET - Did not bother to complete install.
Installer was not English and I didn't see any obvious way to make it English. I had heard that this email client has some undesirable "phone home" features that people didn't like and as it turns out, immediately following the install it contacted datacollect.foxmail.com.cn and addrapi.exmail.qq.com, so I dumped this one pretty quick.
It installed but gave a "not a valid Win32 application"
Howard email notifier v1.50
This application is intended to check all kinds of accounts, most of which seem like social media, for new messages. This is simply not a mail client in the conventional sense. Click here to see a screenshot of what I mean.
The only prompt in the installer is to ask you to agree to a license. Absolutely nothing in the installer is configurable, including a desktop icon that is a link to their web site for some other application. On first run it forces you to provide answers to your gender and country as well as assuming you want to sign up for their mailing list by default. When it asked me for an email address and password I fed it fake info and it accessed www.incredibarvuz1.com for some reason. It also tried to contact facebook.com without asking. I can't imagine this is anything but phishware, trackware, and malware.
Their web site doesn't say anywhere that it requires VS runtime libs, but it does. You won't find that out until you run the installer though. Turns out, the freeware version [iScribe] does not support multiple accounts and that to get that feature you need to buy [InScribe] their pay product.
There were a lot of little things that bothered me with this one. For example, you can't customize the toolbars, so I couldn't get rid of the "next" and "previous" buttons which I don't need. It took a really really long time to download all my IMAP folders and messages. Switching between HTML and plain text view is buggy and doesn't always do what you have set it to do. It appears to have a proprietary format for storing mail, which makes future migrations to a different application harder. It opens messages in a new window, but when you reply to a message it closes the original message and opens a new compose window. There were a few other small things I found odd, and while none of them were deal-breakers on their own, the cumulative effect was definitely a deal-breaker.
Free Mail Commander v10.6
Opened the application before the installer closed. Came with a bunch of messages and a non-functional default mail account profile of firstname.lastname@example.org to explain how it works. I ran away from this one in a hurry. Seriously, click on that thumbnail to see the full size image in all its glory.
Couldn't really figure this one out. It didn't even seem have a folder tree. Maybe I didn't give it much of a chance, but it seemed pretty incapable.
Requires Windows 7. I guess I didn't see that when downloading.
A few small strange things, like a dot-deliniated heirarchy instead of a folder structure, and a search bar that can't be hidden. Those were of little concern when I saw that even though it has the option to view HTML formatting, it doesn't actually have the ability to do it. It can open HTML messages in a browser though, which might be okay if there were a way to tell it which external application to use when opening HTML content (so that remote content could be blocked). This one apparently has calendaring and encryption support, so with some work it could maybe be worthwhile, but since it hasn't been updated in almost ten years, I am guessing that ain't happening.
During the install it accessed the following addresses
It also went through all my email trying to find mailing lists, without asking me. It displays dates differently for messages that are sent today, sent less than a month ago, and older than one month... with no way to change that behaviour. It has no way to reorder columns in the message list. I can't find a way to view HTML formatted messages. And it has no way to open messages in their own window. I had really hoped for better from Opera.
When setting up an account it warned me that "IMAP is BETA" and then when trying to check messages it wanted to download and delete all messages by default. This is clearly not how IMAP is meant to be used. I can't possibly use this for fear that it may just delete a pile of my mailbox.
This application only "sort of" supports IMAP. There are a few instructional web pages that explain how to setup an IMAP account in Pegasus, but it doesn't really support it directly. If the author ever updates it to have more complete IMAP support I'll give it another try.
Phoenix Mail v0.93a10
No IMAP support, testing stopped there.
Supports IMAP, but no folders.
Revolver Office v8.6
Turns out this one is 19 Euros per month at a minimum. It also seems pretty slow.
This is a plugin for Firefox. Frankly it gave my Firefox a bit of a heart attack. It was spinning and spinning trying to do something with disk cache it appears. Anyways, it is very limited and is not a full email client.
I really like Sylpheed, I just wish there was a way to view HTML messages without having to download remote content. I tried setting up a portable copy of K-Meleon that doesn't load remote content and I set Sylpheed to use it (External Applications setting) but it still uses the default browser. This one is probably the closest I get to a replacement for Thunderturd.
This one is pretty close to Sylpheed in that it meets pretty well all my needs, but has no ability to view HTML formatted emails (internally or externally). Some folks seem to be under the impression that there is a setting to specify a browser to use for viewing HTML formatted emails, but here (see image) is what my config page looks like.
The Bat! v7.4.14
Putting an exclamation point in the name of the default install directory just rubs me the wrong way. And so does installing a 58MB spell check dictionary by default. The Bat! does not let you manually add a self signed certificate exception unless the name on the cert and the hostname match. While this generally makes sense, it sucks that there is no override for this and explicitly no plans to ever provide such an override. Not providing users with common sense options means this application can not be used.
Requires Microsoft .NET v4 (how portable is that eh?)
Zimbra Desktop v7.x
This was easily the biggest installer I got my hands on, and it requires JRE, so I dumped it.
Well, for anyone crazy enough to read all the way down here... after all this pain I am now running SeaMonkey as both my browser and my email client. I first tried v2.8, but it has a feature/bug that records a list of the https sites you visit that use strict transport security. In short, most encrypted sites you visit will get addedd to the list in your data manager which is (a) annoying to clean up and (b) unnecessary information disclosure. So I next tried the latest version which is 2.46... but I found that a number of plugins are not updated to work with it. So I grabbed 2.40 and settled for the fact that I still can't use Lightning (calendar) with it. I am using WinDates for my calendar instead.
The unfair advantages SeaMonkey had in this were (a) I was already familiar with some of the available plugins and (b) it also has an IRC client built in to it. This meant I could fairly easily get my plugin functions transferred to it and I could dump AdiIRC. This second part worked out really well because AdiIRC was the only application I had left that needed MS .NET2 - so I am probably going to be able to dump the last version of .NET I am still hanging on to. I have been running SeaMonkey for a couple days now and it has been a minor hassle but is working. If it continues to go well I will dump Firefox, Thunderbird, AdiIRC and .NET2 for SeaMonkey and WinDates for good. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
I should note that Chatzilla ain't so great. It is ugly, it is awful to configure, it has some strange default settings, and it sucks to make scripts for. But I just keep telling myself that it doesn't require .NET, and that keeps me dealing with it for now.