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April 19, 2009
I’ve used Evolution, the default email client in Ubuntu, for a couple of years to manage numerous mail accounts. In general, I think it’s a great application. But as with everything in life, there’s always room for improvement. Below, I consider the most chronically frustrating and poorly designed aspects of Evolution, and how they could be fixed.
First, though, I should confess that Evolution is the only offline email client I’ve used extensively. This isn’t to say I’ve never given alternatives a try–I have toyed in the past with Outlook, Thunderbird and Eudora, none of which particularly impressed me–but it means my criticisms of Evolution may be skewed by a lack of familiarity with other offline clients.
That said, following is a list of aspects of the Evolution experience that I’d really like to see improved:
Although it seems to improve a bit with each new release of Ubuntu, Evolution’s support for Gmail leaves a lot to be desired. Whether I use POP or IMAP, Evolution has a tendency to hang arbitrarily while trying to download or open Gmail messages. My folders also don’t sync with Gmail’s web client unless I restart Evolution, and Gmail messages that I move to Trash in Evolution seem eventually to find their way back to my inbox with little explanation–they only go away permanently if I delete them using the web interface.
Other users report the same problems. In part, they might be attributable to Gmail’s somewhat nonstandard implementation of mail protocols–and I doubt Google is eager to improve Gmail’s integration into offline clients, since doing so would mean losing revenue from the ads displayed in the web client. Nonetheless, given the popularity of Google mail, the Evolution developers would do well to ensure Gmail and Evolution play nicely.
On a note similar to the one above, there’s still no way (of which I’m aware) to sync Evolution’s calendar feature with Google Calendar directly. It can be done using third-party tools as a proxy, but it would be preferable for Evolution to “just work” in this regard.
Again, some of the blame here certainly lies with Google, but the Evolution developers could do more as well.
I like how Evolution automatically adds entries to my address book when I receive email from new people. It could do a somewhat better job of auto-completing email addresses, however.
For one, the auto-complete feature seems to become a bit laggy when my contact list is long. The whole point of using an offline mail client (at least for me) is that it’s faster and more efficient on system resources than web-based interfaces. When I have to wait a few seconds for Evolution to display the list of auto-complete possibilities, I feel slighted.
Auto-completion would also be more convenient if my most frequent contacts were given precedence. Currently, contacts are ranked according to how long they’ve been in the address book, which rarely correlates with the people I write to most often.
For a long time, I thought the only way to add ‘cc:’ or ‘bcc:’ recipients in Evolution was to click the ‘To:’ button (why is this a button in the first place?) and use a bulky interface for importing recipients from my address book. It took a while to discover that I could make cc: and bcc: fields visible by enabling them under the ‘View’ menu.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the interface for composing messages could be made more intuitive by having the cc: and bcc: fields visible by default, or by allowing users to configure this feature in the ‘Composer Preferences’ dialog.
Although it’s not a problem for me personally, Evolution’s poor support for Microsoft Exchange and migration from Outlook has been a show-stopping problem for many users hoping to switch to Ubuntu. Ubuntu 9.04, which (thanks to the work of Gnome developers) promises full-fledged integration with Exchange servers, purports to remedy this issue, but whether it does so in a truly painless and satisfying manner remains to be seen.
In general, Evolution is a great mail client. But it’s not perfect. In order to make the Ubuntu desktop experience even better, developers would do well to spend some time smoothing over the rough spots in Gnome’s default mail application.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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