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I’ll stick with Thunderbird still

Even though it hasn’t been an year yet that I moved to KDE, after spending a long time with GNOME 2, XFCE and then Cinnamon, over the past month or so I looked at how much of non-KDE software I could ditch this time around.

The first software I ditched was Pidgin — while the default use of GnuTLS caused some trouble KTP works quite decently. Okay some features are not fully implemented, but the basic chat works, and that’s enough for me — it’s not like I used much more than that on Pidgin either.

Unfortunately, when yesterday I decided to check whether it was possible to ditch Thunderbird for KMail, things didn’t turn out as nice. Yes, the client improved a truckload since what we had at KDE 3 time — but no, it didn’t improve enough for make it usable for me.

The obvious problem zeroth is the dependencies: to install KMail you need to build (but don’t need to enable) the “semantic desktop” — that is, Nepomuk and the content indexing. In particular it brings in Soprano and Virtuoso that have been among the least usable components when KDE4 was launched (at least Strigi is gone with 4.10; we’ll see what the future brings us). So after a night rebuilding part of the system to make sure that the flags are enabled and the packages in place, today I could try KMail.

First problem — at the first run it suggested importing data from Thunderbird — unfortunately it completely stuck there, and after over half an hour it went nowhere. No logs, no diagnostic, just stuck. I decided to ignore it and create the account manually. While KMail tried to find automatically which mail servers to use, it failed badly – I guess it tried to look for some or something, which does not exist – even though Thunderbird can correctly guess that my mail servers are Google’s.

Second problem — the wizard does not make it easy to set up a new identity, which makes it tempting to add the accounts manually, but since you got three different entries that you have to add (Identity, Sending account, Receiving account), adding them in the wrong order gets you to revisit the settings quite a few times. For the curious, the order is sending, identity, receiving.

Third problem — KMail does not implement the Special Folder extension defined in RFC 6154 which GMail makes good use of (it actually implements it both with the standard extension and their own). This means that KMail will store all messages locally (drafts, sent, trash, …) unless you manually set them up. Unlike what somebody have told me, this means that the extension is completely unimplemented, not implemented only partially. I’m not surprised that it’s not implemented, by the way, due to the fact that the folders are declared in two different settings (the identity and the account).

Fourth problem — speaking about GMail, there is no direct way to handle the “archive” action, which is almost a necessity if you want to use it. While this started with GMail and as an almost exclusive to that particular service, nowadays many other services, including standalone software such as Kerio, provide the same workflow; the folder used for archiving is, once again, provided with the special-use notes discussed earlier. Even though the developers do not use GMail themselves, it feels wrong that it’s not implemented.

Fifth problem — while at it, let’s talk a moment about the IDLE command implementation (one of the extensions needed for Push IMAP). As Wikipedia says, KMail implements support for it since version 4.7 — unfortunately, it’s not using it in every case, but only if you disable the “check every X minutes” option — if that is enabled, then the IDLE command is not used. Don’t tell me it’s obvious, because even though it makes sense under some point of views, I wasn’t the only one that was tricked by that. Especially since I read that setting first as “disable if you only want manual check for new mail” — Thunderbird indeed uses IDLE even if you set the scheduled check every few minutes.

Sixth problem — there is no whitelist for remote content on HTML emails. GMail, both web and on the clients, Android and iOS, supports a complete whitelist, separate from everything else. Thunderbird supports a whitelist by adding the sender to the contacts’ list (which is honestly bothersome when adding mailing lists, like in my case). As far as I could tell, there is no way to have such a whitelist on KMail. You either got the protection enabled, or you got it disabled.

The last problem is the trickiest, and it’s hard to tell if it’s a problem at all. When I went to configure the OpenPGP key to use, it wouldn’t show me anything to select at all. I tried for the good part of an hour trying to get it to select my key, and it failed badly. When I installed Kleopatra it worked just fine; on the other hand, Pesa and other devs pointed out that it works for them just fine without Kleopatra installed.

So, what is the resolution at this point, for me? Well, I guess I’ll have to open a few bug feature requests on KDE’s Bugzilla, if I feel like it, and then I might hope for version 4.11 or 4.12 to have something that is more usable than Thunderbird. As it is, that’s not the case.

There are a bunch of minor nuisance and other things that require me to get used to them, such as the (in my view too big) folder icons (even if you change the size of the font, the size of the icon does not change), and the placement of the buttons which required me to get used to it on Thunderbird as well. But these are only minor annoyances.

What I really need for KMail to become my client is a tighter integration with GMail. It might not suit the ideals as much as one might prefer, but it is one of the most used email providers in the world nowadays, and it would go a long way for user friendliness to work nicely with it instead of making it difficult.

Comments 8
  1. The autodetection for setting up an mail account relies on AutoMX which makes use of the ‘autoconfig’ subdomain of your mailserver (see also section 4:…. But I feel like KMail’s implementation is actually a bit buggy… it only worked in a few cases for me.Regarding the OpenPGP issue: make sure to have set the trustlevel of your own key to “Ultimately”, otherwise it won’t show up in the key selection.

  2. I’m amused the fact that Mozilla considers Thunderbird “done”, and every other Linux client is still trying to catch up.

  3. Nice review, I hope someone listens 🙂 I was a big KMail fan some years ago, but now I’m also using TB (for quite some time), if I’m not on Android anyway, where I use AquaMail.While you’re looking at mail clients, have a look at trojita! It’s nowhere near feature-complete, but the bare basics are covered, and it’s really fast, and therefore a great experience. It also fits to KDE better than TB, since it’s Qt-based.

  4. Mozilla might not be too far off for the moment. Of course changes will happen that will require them to handle them or perish, but for now they probably _are_ the best out there.I have looked at trojita and I guess most things it does better than KMail but it still lacks the options to follow GMail’s workflow (archive, mark as spam).Elias… oh god… what the heck is that AutoMX? There is already a way to autodiscover the servers for a given service at a domain, are there not?<typo:code> 86400 IN SRV 10 60 8140 86400 IN SRV 10 20 8140</typo:code>Why on earth would I want to run a full blown webapp to tell my mail client where to find the right servers?…And finally yes, I do ultimately trust my own key. And I had gpg-agent running already. So I have no idea why I needed Kleopatra to get them to show up.

  5. I was a KMail user for many years, but I ditched it for Thunderbird when KDE 4 came out and it totally fubared itself several times.

  6. I’m ditching TB – it’s too broken for me.First of all, it eats ~1.4GB RAM right now. That’s obscene. Add to that that the whole GUI stalls for about 10 seconds every time it checks emails, and if it sees more than zero emails it takes about 30 seconds to process them. On startup it takes a minimum of 300 seconds to become responsive. (Yes. Literally 5 minutes @ 100% CPU …)Add to that that every version rearranges the UI and other “smart” things … well … I don’t really want a new email client GUI every 90 days.Random failures with PGP, very useful.Random crashes and hangs.KMail might have some warts, but as far as I’m concerned it’s so much better than TB that it’s not even a competition :

  7. I’m still hoping for more options and more innovation in email clients. They are not so cool as they used to be with most users having switched to webmail. They are not as easily monetized as web browsers either, so development interest is not very high.

  8. I don’t care for gmail at all, I use my own service (exim4 with sa-exim and dovecot with sieve on a rented virtual server), but still: thanks for the hint concerning IMAP idle. This is in fact NOT obvious at all and I had it configured the wrong way (check every n minutes, but of cours i WANT my client to use the “idle” command). Really a stupid choice, even if it MAKES sense once you think about it.But apart from that, I like kontact very much, not just because it’s better integrated in my desktop than thunderbird, but also because (yeah, beat me) I’m a bit pampered by MS Outlook at work (which does a GREAT job for most tasks, it’s just a lousy email client) and kontact comes at least close to this, allowing the view on contacts and schedule consistent with my mobile phone.

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