Manage your email with GNUMail

One of the most important choices a discerning computer user makes (and since you’re reading this column, you must be discerning) is which email program to adopt. Most Windows users end up blindly using the horrendous Outlook Express or the …

One of the most important choices a discerning computer user
makes (and since you’re reading this column, you must be
discerning) is which email program to adopt. Most "i">Windows users end up blindly using the horrendous
Outlook Express or the literally infectious
Outlook. A Linux
user, on the other hand, is fortunate because there are so many
fine choices for email, ranging from KMail
to Evolution, from "i">Thunderbird to Sylpheed, or even
from pine to mutt. On
Mac OS X world, most folks just use the
program Apple provides: Mail. Mail is
actually a pretty good email program, and — as is expected
from an Apple product — it’s slick, pretty, and easy to
use.

What’s not so widely known, however, is that Mail is
actually a modernization of the original "i">NeXTMail found on the NEXTSTEP
operating system. This isn’t surprising, since NeXT was
founded by Steve Jobs after he was booted from Apple in the 1980s.
Thanks to the fact that the OpenStep
specification is open and available for others to use (hence the
name), open source developers have created a GPL’d program
named GNUMail that is not only similar to Mail in most ways, but
actually surpasses it in a few important areas. It runs on Linux
and other varieties of Unix, including Mac
OS X.

If you use Debian or a Debian-based
distro like Ubuntu, acquiring GNUMail
couldn’t be easier. Just enter sudo apt-get
install gnumail.app
. On a base install of Ubuntu,
you’ll have to install 18 additional packages that provide
needed GNUstep (the open source
implementation of NextStep) libraries and apps. Go ahead and do
so.

If you’re not using something Debian-based, your distro
probably already has pre-compiled packages available. Search for
them and install. If you’re a compile-from-source kinda
person, head over class="story_link">http://www.collaboration-world.com, where
GNUMail is maintained, and download the source from the
“releases” page. If you’re using a Mac,
that’s also where you can find the dmg you’ll need for
installation.

Now that GNUMail is installed, open it, and start playing with
it. If you have problems finding the program, it’s normally
found at /usr/bin/GNUMail. (Those capital
letters are unusual, and it would be nice if the developers avoided
them so the program fit in better with other Linux executable
names.)

The first time you open the program, you’ll be prompted to
configure it. GNUMail supports POP3, IMAP,
and Unix spool files, and encryption can be used when checking your
mail. Authenticated and encrypted SMTP is
also supported, as well as PGP, which are
all great things if you’re a security-conscious
individual.

If you click on the Expert button at the bottom of the
Preferences Panel, several option panels will appear that were
previously hidden. Before choosing Expert mode, your options are
Account, Viewing, Receiving, Compose, Fonts, Colors, and PGP; after
selecting Expert, GNUMail adds Sending (specify your own headers),
MIME (tell GNUMail how to handle certain attachments based on MIME
type), Filtering (create filters based on granular specifications),
and Advanced (set other options, such as threading,
auto-spellcheck, compacting IMAP mailboxes, and more). In
particular, the Advanced tab allows you to tell GNUMail to use
“maildir” format instead of “mbox” for mail
storage. Many people prefer the newer and less corruptible maildir
over mbox, so this is a nice option to have. If you own a Mac, this
is especially sweet, since Apple’s Mail doesn’t give
you the option at all, preferring instead to use a proprietary hack
on the mbox format, the better to work with the system search tool
Spotlight. Proprietary formats are a bad thing, especially with
something as sensitive as email, no matter how much easier it makes
searching.

class="story_image"> "http://www.linux-mag.com/images/2007-01/diy/gnumail.png" class=
"story_image">

Now that GNUMail is configured, it’s time to start using
it. It operates like most email programs, which is good, but there
are a couple of features you may not have seen elsewhere. For
instance, in addition to forwarding an email, you can also redirect
it. If you forward, the email is shown as coming from you; if you
redirect, the email appears to have come from the original sender.
GNUMail also allows you to view the “Raw Source” of the
email message, in case you want to see all the headers and all of
the content, which can come in quite handy when you’re trying
to diagnose a spam or phishing message.

For KDE or GNOME users not used to NeXT-style apps, GNUMail is
going to seem a bit weird at first. Instead of menus along the top
of the program’s window, there is a floating palette with
menus that pop out from the side. It’s there that you go to
find the typical choices of Info, Message, Mailbox, Edit, Find, and
even Quit. In addition, GNUMail is going to seem a bit ugly to
Linux users. The gun-metal gray just doesn’t really fit in
with the browns and oranges of GNOME or the blues of KDE, so
GNUMail tends to stick out like a sore thumb. If you can get past
that, though, you’ll find that it’s an interesting
program with some nice functionality.

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