Evolution: A New Outlook for Linux

For as much time as you probably spend in an email client, you should be using an app with the features that help you get your work done and plays well with other (possibly proprietary) applications. Evolution fits that bill.

Internet browsers, email clients, and word processors are the most widely used desktop applications — and of those three, you probably keep your email client open all day long while you work. Email takes the place of physical postal mail, face-to-face conversations, memos, traditional calendars, to do lists, sticky notes, and telephone calls. We take email so much for granted in contemporary life that, when it fails, the panic that ensues is often as bad as any natural disaster. Nothing generates more calls to ISPs, voicemails to IT staff, or prayers to the gods like an email outage.

However, you won’t need divine intervention to enjoy the latest (2.x) release of Evolution. You already have it if you’re using the GNOME Desktop. Evolution is an advanced email client sporting features only found in commercial email applications like Novell’s GroupWise or Microsoft’s Outlook.

Getting Started

Getting started with Evolution is easy. Locate its icon under Applications, Internet. When you launch it the first time, the Evolution Setup Assistant guides you through the process of setting up an email account.

1. Click Forward on the Welcome Screen.

2. Enter your Full Name, Email Address in the given fields, and click Forward. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Identity Information
Figure 1: Identity Information

3. Select a Server Type from the list as shown in the list below.

  • Hula
  • IMAP
  • Microsoft Exchange
  • Novell GroupWise
  • POP
  • USENET News
  • Local Delivery
  • MH-format mail directories
  • Maildir-format mail directories
  • Standard Unix mbox spool directory
  • Standard Unix mbox spool file

4. Fill-in your Server info, Username, Security level, and Authentication Type as shown in Figure 2. Click Forward.

Figure 2: Receiving Email Options
Figure 2: Receiving Email Options

5. Continue editing your Receiving Mail Options by selecting automatic mail checking, the interval, and options for storing your messages locally or leaving them on the remote system. Click Forward.

6. Next, configure your outgoing email options (Figure 3) by selecting your Server Type (Sendmail or SMTP).

7. Enter the name or IP address of your outgoing mail server, Security info, Authentication choices, and Username. Click Forward. Some ISPs require that you use your entire email address as your username, (hess.ken@gmail.com, for example).

Figure 3: Sending Email Options
Figure 3: Sending Email Options

8. Enter a friendly name for your email account and click Forward. This is handy if you setup more than one account in Evolution.

9. Select your Time Zone from the dropdown list or use the clickable map, and then click Forward.

10. Click Apply on the final screen to accept your settings and create your new mail account.

Once you complete the Setup Assistant, Evolution opens, prompts you for newly created account password, and then presents you with the Evolution interface and any new mail from your account.

If you’ve ever used Microsoft Outlook or Novell’s GroupWise, you’ll immediately feel comfortable with Evolution. Evolution uses familiar menu entries, icons, panes, folders, and shortcuts to make the transition from other email clients as painless as possible. Figure 4 is a shot of Evolution just after opening for my new account with 3 new emails.

Figure 4: The Main Evolution Interface
Figure 4: The Main Evolution Interface

Advanced Setup

Should you need to change any preferences from your initial setup, you’ll find Evolution’s configuration options under Edit, Preferences from the main screen. Here, you’ll find pages that allow you to change almost every aspect of your Evolution mail experience.

If you made any errors during your initial account setup or need to change setup information, select Mail Accounts, Edit to launch the Account Editor as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Evolution Account Editor
Figure 5: Evolution Account Editor

Using the Account Editor, you can change all the information you entered in the Evolution Setup Assistant. Additionally, you can add a signature, change some default behaviors, and add security to your email.

The other major customization page is the Mail Preferences option accessed from Evolution Preferences. Mail Preferences includes; General options, HTML Mail, Colors, Headers, Junk Mail and Filter preferences, Automatic Contacts, and Calendar and Tasks. There is also a Calendar and Tasks page under Evolution Preferences for finer grained control of those behaviors and presentation.

Features

Evolution’s advanced features and near universal compatibility set it apart from its free email client peers. Most impressive is its ability to connect to a Microsoft Exchange Server via the Outlook Web Access (OWA) URL. The OWA URL is the same address to which you point a browser to use Outlook mail via a web browser.

This single connectivity feature brings Desktop Linux into a very competitive situation with Microsoft Windows. The ability for a Linux email application to connect to, and use, Exchange is a major step towards adopting Linux in enterprises where Windows dominates the Desktop. Similarly, GroupWise Server connectivity further establishes Linux as a viable Desktop Operating System option.

Email with shared calendaring and tasks have long been a point of contention where Linux adoption was considered. Evolution makes it possible. Consult the Evolution User’s Guide for a tutorial on converting from Outlook to Evolution.

Features

Desktop Integration

Gnome applications also integrate with Evolution by using the evolution-data-server. You’ll find your appointments and tasks in the gnome-panel calendar applet. Evolution allows synchronization of your Pidgin buddies into your email contacts. View your Planner files in Evolution as task lists.

Intelligent Bayesian-based Junk Mail Control and Filtering Rules
Junk mail filters and controls allow you filter your mail before you ever see it but also to mark unwanted mail as junk.

Advanced Search Capability
Smarter email searching and collation tools help you find and separate messages quickly based on a number of criteria. Evolution also automatically indexes messages for faster search and retrieval.

Web Calendar Support
Evolution provides built-in support (via an EPlugin) for Web Calendars (local, network, or Internet).

Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise Support and Multiple Account Management
Support for Exchange and GroupWise is built-in to Evolution providing all options and behaviors expected from a commercial and proprietary email client. You may integrate all your email accounts into Evolution: POP, Exchange, Hula, GroupWise, and so on so that Evolution is the only mail client you’ll ever need to open.

LDAP Compatible

Evolution is LDAP compatible and is easy to configure for LDAP Server use. To add a new Address Book, select File, New, Address Book from Evolution’s main menu. Evolution presents you with a dialog that prompts you for the location and address of the LDAP Server, login, and encryption information.

PDA Support
Some limited PDA synchronization is possible through the integrated Gnome Pilot applet.

EPlugins

First introduced in Evolution 2.2x, EPlugins lend unlimited extensibility to Evolution. EPlugins are language neutral, modular extensions that require minimal code and hassle for implementation. Find the HTML version of the EPlugin Manual. You can create your own EPlugin using the Manual for guidance. Currently, there are EPlugins for Backup and Restore, Automatic Contacts, Hula Support, Mail-to-Task, Web Calendars, Weather Calendars, and many more.

The EPlugin architecture makes it easier for anyone to extend Evolution in creative ways. You need not be part of the Evolution Development Team to contribute directly to the project.

Summary

Evolution is now part of my standard repertoire of Linux apps. I consider it a crossover application because of its interoperability with anything Windows-related. It doesn’t bother me that Linux and Open Source developers are trying to provide this kind of crossover to Linux users — in fact, I think it comes at a time when businesses need it most. Leveraging as much free software as possible is going to be the norm in the coming months and years as we all attempt to strangle more life and functionality from shrinking funds.

Applications that play nice with Microsoft, and other proprietary software vendors, have a better chance at corporate adoption and survival than those that don’t. Like it or not, attitudes change very slowly in corporations — almost as if by evolution.

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