Linux

E-mail: Beyond Outlook

During this Guild Meeting, Jack Wallen took us places we never knew e-mail could go. From fetchmail to KMail, we've got you covered.

On April 21st Jack Wallen took us places we never knew e-mail existed. From Fetch to Kmail, we’ve got you covered.If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

On April 21st Jack Wallen took us places we never knew e-mail existed. From Fetch to Kmail, we’ve got you covered. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Welcome to the Guild Meeting!
MODERATOR: Welcome to today's Guild Meeting! This is our second special, by-popular-demand meeting of the month during this time slot, so come one, come all!

Jack Wallen, Jr. is very pleased to have joined the TechRepublic staff as editor in chief of Linux content. Jack was thrown out of the "Window" back in 1995, when he grew tired of the "blue screen of death" and realized that "computing does not equal rebooting." Prior to Jack's headfirst dive into the computer industry, he was a professional actor with film, TV, and Broadway credits. Now, Jack is content with his new position of Linux Evangelist. Ladies and gentlemen—the poster boy for the Linux.

JACK WALLEN: This afternoon, I’m going to try to convert you all to Linux! Good afternoon, ladies and gents!

JCARLISLE: Hi, Jack! What's a good e-mail client to use to share Outlook calendaring information?

JACK WALLEN: I knew that would be the first topic to come up. In fact, I could have bet the bank on that one! :-)

JCARLISLE: Cool; does that mean I win the prize automatically?

JACK WALLEN: Currently there is one (yes, only one) application that is being written that is going to integrate with Outlook and that is Evolution. Evolution is coming from the gang at helixcode led by Miguel di Icaza. Some of Evolution’s better features are: support for all standards such as IMAP, POP3 and MIME, as well as it will be able to use virtual folders. And will be able to use/display text, HTML, images and simple data types as well as handle complex data types which will be handled by plug-in components.

Connecting to Exchange
JCARLISLE: Will it connect to an Exchange server as well? I mean natively, without configuring the server for POP or IMAP support?

NCADLE: Why would I want to use anything but Outlook? It works well for me.

JACK WALLEN: Yes, it will connect to an exchange server. Its calendar will also be able to play well with the MS calendar app.

Why would you want to use anything but Outlook? Well, that is a good question, and I will answer it with a good answer. The main reason is because by not using an app on the MS platform, you are ensuring yourself more stability and reliability as well as security. We all know that Outlook is very insecure. ANY administrator can come through and read your mail.

MICHAELRAMM: And it is a HUGE memory hog!

JACK WALLEN: By using the Linux clients, you ensure yourself that much more security and stability.

JCARLISLE: Changing the client won’t change their ability to do that though, will it?

JACK WALLEN: Well, you can configure Linux mail clients to do much more than you can with Outlook. And you won't have to worry about the "default" settings biting you where it counts.

JCARLISLE: An Exchange administrator can still see the e-mail no matter what client you're using anyway, can’t he, because the messages are all stored on the server?

JACK WALLEN: What I mean by that is that typically MS products are configured (out of the box) to do things like 'leave mail on server'. Linux, on the other hand, does not default to that setting.

No. With most e-mail clients you can configure them to delete the mail from the server on retrieval. And if you're smart, you'll have your mail client checking frequently.

JCARLISLE: That kind of defeats synchronization if you move from desktop to desktop, doesn’t it?

fetchmail
JACK WALLEN: I have fetchmail checking every 30 seconds. That way I know mail is not sitting on the server for prying eyes. Well, there are ways around that as well. (Sync that is.) If you really need to keep your mail in sync, I would consider using sendmail. Sendmail is the UNIX equiv of Exchange and won't do heinous things like add 4.7K attachments to e-mail just to ensure it goes where it needs to go. Who in this meeting actually uses Linux in any way?

HMORRIS: Nobody uses Linux. They just play with it.

JACK WALLEN: And of those who do, what are you using for your e-mail client? Most people have a tendency to fall back on what is familiar, so most Linux users are using Netscape's e-mail client.

I see we have a heckler, eh? Come on Cletus! You’ll walk over, but you'll limp back! ;-) Netscape's e-mail client is, at best, so-so.

JCARLISLE: That's true for all of the platforms it runs on.

JACK WALLEN: The reasons for this are many, but pretty much all stem from the poor stability that comes with NS.

JCARLISLE: How does Netscape 6's e-mail client look?

JACK WALLEN: Now NS 6.0 might change that. Only time will tell. There are however, many, many, many more GUI e-mail clients for Linux. NS 6.0 e-mail client actually looks like a hybrid of MS e-mail and NS e-mail. Although 6 is just in beta. it is pretty solid, but that's partially because it has the Mozilla (and 14 milestone releases) behind it.

Show me the benefits
JCARLISLE: Does it provide any benefits over other Linux GUI clients?

JACK WALLEN: NS 6 should seriously be a big player for Linux. Does NS 6.0 provide benefits over the other GUI clients? I'd say it provides a few. Yes.

JCARLISLE: Yup for an E-mail client, I mean.

JACK WALLEN: Primarily, its code base is much larger; therefore, the amount of features it will handle will be much greater. Not only that, but NS 6.0 will be a much more standardized client for e-mail, more akin to what Windows users are used to.

JCARLISLE: Sounds like NS is becoming like MS—bloated with features you'll never use.

JACK WALLEN: Plus it will rely heavily on XML, which is a much more extensible language. Yes, it is. But one thing you have to think about with the browser war (and both camps are seriously guilty of this) is that they are adding new features on top of applications that are already buggy.

JACK WALLEN: If either one would consider making a milestone release that FIXED bugs instead of created them.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.
JCARLISLE: What about Opera? It's supposed to be lean and mean. Does it run on Linux and have a good e-mail client?

JACK WALLEN: Opera is lean and mean! It only has a 5-MB footprint and is fast! But it's not nearly as feature-rich as people have become accustomed to.

Let’s talk PINE. My old trusted friend PINE! In order to get PINE to download your e-mail, you need to run a daemon called fetchmail. Fetchmail basically goes out and 'fetches' your mail and then uses procmail as the local mail delivery system. We configure fetchmail in the ~/.fetchmailrc file and give it 0710 permissions (with chmod 0710 .fetchmailrc). A sample .fetchmailrc file would look like: poll mail.server.com user jlwallen password kingchump is jlwallen here. And that's it! To run the app, you run this at the command line: fetchmail. If you want to run it in the background, you run it with the -d (daemon) switch like so: fetchmail -d 30. The 30 would be every 30 seconds. You can make it poll as frequently as you want.

JCARLISLE: If many clients poll every 30 seconds, will that create a lot of network traffic?

JACK WALLEN: Oh, yes it will, and it will create some pretty hefty log files as well, so I don't recommend setting up all your clients to do so.

JCARLISLE: What's the sweet spot for checking e-mail then? Five minutes? One minute?

JACK WALLEN: A safer configuration would be five minutes, but you have to remember that fetchmail needs that time in seconds. So fetchmail -d 300 would be every five minutes. What you want to avoid is causing undo stress on an Exchange server. You could always test its stability by setting up three of four or five Linux clients running fetchmail to check every second. Sendmail could handle that easily. Exchange might cry a bit, and then you'll have to burp it and change its diapers.

JCARLISLE: What will fetchmail do with rich text formatting?

JACK WALLEN: The fetchmail/procmail system can be used in conjunction with many other e-mail clients as well. Fetchmail doesn't do anything to the formatting. That’s all dependant on the e-mail client. PINE does not read rtf. PINE is asci only. You'd have to use Balsa or Netscape e-mail or Evolution (when it comes out) to read rtf e-mail. Of course, the idea of using rtf for e-mail sends shivers down my spine

Give me a time here
JCARLISLE: E-mail SHOULD be ASCII; you're right there. What's the time frame for Evolution?

JACK WALLEN: They are hoping by the end of the year. You can go to www.helixcode.com and read more about it. The way I see it is this: there are a lot of places on this planet that don't get "dial up as much as you like for 19.95." Because of this, software companies should be taking them into consideration and not default to such things as rtf or html e-mail. This is only adding size to the e-mail. Exchange is notorious for that!

HMORRIS: I know that some mailers, particularly old ones, can't handle binary files. What if I want to mail someone a file that's been compressed with gzip (which produces a binary file), and I don't know what mailer the recipient is using. How could they convert the compressed file to ASCII?

JACK WALLEN: Well, PINE allows the attachment of any type of files. If you are not wanting to attach 'in line,' you can use pretty much any Linux mail client to send attachments. If you are sending this attachment as an attachment, it shouldn't be changed. HOWEVER, Exchange does this. I deal with this issue every day. Exchange turns all attachments into the MS-TNEF format, which is an MS proprietary format. Without a compatible e-mail client, you will not be able to see this attachment. Fortunately, the open source community is to the rescue. There is an application (can be found at http://www.freshmeat.net/) called tnef that handles this and reconverts the file to its original format. This is a practice that I personally think should be stopped. MS is only causing headaches for many, many people by using this proprietary format. Not only that, but it's just more proof in the pudding that the DOJ is just in saying they are a Monopoly.

JCARLISLE: Proprietary things don’t cause headaches for Microsoft stock. Embrace and extend.

JACK WALLEN: No they don't, and that's what it's all about.

Converting a binary file
HMORRIS: What about using uuencode to convert a binary file to ASCII? Would it make sense to use uuencode on a file before compressing it?

JACK WALLEN: Fortunately the Linux/Open source community has proven itself adept at adapting. Yes, it does, and Linux also plays well with uuencode. The command is (to encode) uuencode and to decode is uudecode. Of course, getting everyone to play with uuencode would be a nightmare! It’s like getting everyone you e-mail to start using your PGP key! Speaking of which ... PGP is very good food! I highly recommend it to everyone. If you are, in fact, worried about those admins being able to log into the Exchange server and read your confidential ... encrypt it!

JCARLISLE: The Lotus Notes e-mail client supports built-in encryption; do any of the Linux clients have that built-in or do you have to use PGP up front?

JACK WALLEN: It's perfectly legal and fun to boot! There are some that actually can have it built-in. It’s not quite the same. For instance, PGP4PINE is available, but you have to roll it into PINE. Once you've rolled it in, it works just like you would think it should. Balsa also works with GPGP (GNOMEPGP)

JACK WALLEN: So, yeah, many of the Linux mail clients integrate with PGP.

JCARLISLE: There were some PGP cracks available a few years back. Did they fix the holes in PGP?

JACK WALLEN: I would suggest, highly in fact, that if you are going to use PGP in Linux, make sure you DON'T use version 5! It really messed things up. PGP 6 is pretty solid. With PGP 6, you are able to encrypt your keys to a much higher level. So much, in fact, that if you go too high it takes FOREVER to en/decrypt a message. But, man, is it locked down tight! ;-)

Compatibility
JCARLISLE: Are the versions backward compatible? Like will V5 keys work with things encrypted with 6? Or vice versa?

JACK WALLEN: All but 5. Five is nasty! It basically changed the way the command structure is laid out. The keys will work, though. Just not the calling of the app.

JCARLISLE: Most Windows clients can access and pull down mail from multiple servers at once. I’m guessing that’s no big deal with most Linux clients, right?

JACK WALLEN: No big deal! All you have to do is have multiple entries in your fetchmailrc file; you can poll as many servers as you want! And with procmail, direct them to whatever mailbox you wish.

JCARLISLE: How reliable is regular Windoze Outlook running in a VMWare session?

JACK WALLEN: It's so much more flexible than anything windows could dream of doing. It's like having a client and a server in one. It's just like running it in its native environment; only when windows crashes, your machine won't come down with it.

JCARLISLE: The VMWare session will be the only thing that locks up, right?

JACK WALLEN: Yes, it will. And you can simply click your little kill button and make it go away. Blam! Buh! Bye, MS.

JCARLISLE: If it were that easy in real life!

JACK WALLEN: It is ... in Linux. That’s the beauty of such things as Vmware ... they make using MS products safe

JCARLISLE: So, you recommend fetchmail as an e-mail client in general, but to wait for Evolution if you want to do most of the things that Outlook does out of the box, right?

JACK WALLEN: Fetchmail isn't an e-mail client but a daemon that pulls mail from a server and then uses procmail to deliver it to an inbox. That’s what I currently recommend as a mail system on a Linux box simply because it is so easy to set up.

NCADLE: Can you recommend any Web sites that we could visit for more information on these products?

JACK WALLEN: And, yes. When Evolution comes out, you can bet I’ll be on that bandwagon! Miguel is doing some incredible things with GNOME and helixcode!

Yes, I can. If you want to learn about anything I’ve spoken about, you can go to

http://howto.tucows.com.

JCARLISLE: Are there already some e-mail Drill Downs on TechProGuild? Or will you be writing some soon?

JACK WALLEN: Well, looks like it's time to close this baby for the day! I hope you've all enjoyed your stay, and jcarlisle you are the daily winner! If you'll send your contact information (e-mail and snail mail) to jharvey@techrepublic.com, you'll receive a copy of Red Hat 6.2 from Pogo computers!

NCADLE: So soon?

JACK WALLEN: I wrote a drill down on PINE a while back, and I think it included info on using fetchmail and procmail. You can find it in the Linux Drill Down index.

JCARLISLE: Cool! Thanks a lot, Jack! And thanks for the great information, too!

JACK WALLEN: And if you have any further questions, feel free to send 'em to jwallen@techrepublic.com. Have a great day, everyone! Hope you all enjoyed. Come back next week. Tuesdays and Thursdays 9 P.M. EST! Take care, all.

 
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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