Software optimize

Claws Mail: What an email client SHOULD be like

Jack Wallen has been around the block with open source applications. And it's not often that one will sneak out of the woodwork and win him over as quickly as Claws Mail did. Can you be persuaded to give up your email client for the powerful, flexible, reliable Claws Mail?

Recently, I did a series of articles covering the Claws Mail email client. When I first started writing them, I figured it would be another one of those applications I would use during the writing and then I would put it away and go back to my usual Thunderbird. I was surprised to find out, after I had completed the series, that I didn't want to go back to Thunderbird. I had found an email client that made Thunderbird look weak, slow, inflexible, and unreliable. In its place was a powerful, flexible, fast, reliable email client that epitomizes what good software should be: Powerful enough to entice power-users, yet easy enough for newbies.

Claws Mail is all of that, but why would you want to switch from your standard email client to Claws mail? Let me see if I can win you over to the dark side.

It's fast: Claws Mail has to be one of the fastest to open applications I have seen in the Linux operating system. In the time it takes Thunderbird to open I can open and already be composing a new email in Claws Mail. It really is that fast. It's flexible: Claws Mail does what you want it to do. If there is a behavior you do not like, you can change it. And you're not limited to the few configurations you have in Thunderbird. Claws Mail has NUMEROUS options that can be tooled precisely to fit your needs. You can even create templates in Claws Mail to handle the formatting of your new mail, replies, and forwards. It's extensible: Claws Mail also has an easy-to-use plugin system that allows you to include many other features. Yes, Thunderbird has add-ons galore, but with Thunderbird you are pretty much limited to dd-ons to extend the features of the email client. With Claws Mail you can use plugins, templates, scripts, actions, pre/post processing rules, filters, you name it. It's reliable: Not only does Claws Mail not crash, it can do such things as create archives of your folders in case of a crash (or in case you want to migrate inboxes from one installation to another.) The archiving feature makes email backup as simple as it gets. Claws Mail also uses the MH inbox format, instead of the older, less reliable mbox format. Interested yet?

If I have piqued your interest you are in luck; installing Claws Mail is simple. All you need to do is open up your Add/Remove Software utility, do a search for "claws," check all of the related software you want to install (there are numerous additional pieces of software you might want), and click Apply to install. Or, if you prefer the command line, you can issue the command:

apt-cache search claws

which will list all of the possible applications you can install.

Once Claws Mail is installed you will most likely spend a good amount of time tinkering with it's many options.

How does it rank among all Linux clients?

I have used the following email clients extensively with the Linux operating system:

  • Thunderbird
  • Evolution
  • Balsa
  • Pine
  • Alpine
  • Mutt
  • Elm
  • KMail

There have been other clients that received just a brief look which aren't really worth inclusion. But of the above list I would easily put Claws Mail at the top for usability, speed, reliability, and flexibility. And I have no doubt that Claws Mail will remain atop that list for a long, long time.

Final thoughts

I would hope that many of you will give Claws Mail a try. I am confident that when you do try this fantastic client, you will most likely not look back to the application you left behind.

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.

50 comments
micha
micha

Nice write-up and *nice* email client. Thanks Jack - you more than piqued my interest. I found claws-mail a pleasure to use with it's speedy response and extensibility. I did notice two shortcomings (in my view). Maybe someone can comment: 1- There is very minimal indication that a message has an attachment. Only the tiny "paper clip" icon and an extra line at the bottom of the message which is a hyperlink to open the attachment. It's a bit too easy to miss. Can this be improved? 2- I need the write both Left to Right and Right to Left (i.e. to enter RTL markers) as in hebrew or arabic. Thunderbird has a fairly good bidi (bi-directional) extension. Any thing similar for claws? Note that hebrew text and mixed text are displayed correctly, from the right, within the email client since it uses gtk's built-in bidi formatting. But when the message gets to the recipient, the formatting is lost since there are no RTL nor LTR markers. Thanks, Micha

sar10538
sar10538

designed for the crippled Gnome desktop...

paul.whipp
paul.whipp

As a computer professional I use more than one computer regularly. I abandoned Outlook, Evolution and Thunderbird in favour of google mail with its offline extension and I would not go back to any desktop based client. Why? I can work with my email on any machine (even if offline on my own machines). Efficient searching - better than any of the plug ins or add ons I tried for the desktop systems (except perhaps the google one for Outlook :) No backup worries - my mail is cached on every machine and stored by google. Multiple accounts handled smoothly. SMTP allows me to use it as a command line mail system from my Linux machines making administration very easy. Its free with a 7gb inbox. Perhaps the Google will turn on me one day and start charging me or deleting my 7 year old sent mail archive but that is not high on my list of worries. Claw has come too late to be of real interest to serious users of email, except for those who are permanently attached to a single PC that is 100% reliable.

eileens_uk
eileens_uk

You said: "All you need to do is open up your Add/Remove Software utility, do a search for "claws," check all of the related software you want to install (there are numerous additional pieces of software you might want), and click Apply to install." I believe you're missing some vital information here. If it's not already on your system how could you possibly do a successful search for "claws," in your Add/Remove Software utility. Can you please explain where you can download this app from? Thanks ~e

art
art

semi useful that you listed the other clients you have tried. I have tried most of the same myself. Would have been more useful if you had ranked them. Then, I could see what your tastes are and get a better idea whether I agree with you.

weshop
weshop

I've been using Claws mail as my mail client for quite some time now (at least two years I think). It's a great program and I'm glad to finally see it (i.e. the developers) get some well deserved praise. There is a html viewer plugin (gtkhtml2) which works great. Claws is highly extensible by design, although I don't know about the Exchange stuff - I don't use or have a need to use Exchange so I've never checked it out. Claws Rocks!!!

benny
benny

I'm going to give it a try. As for HTML, maybe most people still use it, but it is still inherently unsafe for users to send and receive their email in HTML format. Also, when I opened aptitude, one of the first items I saw was an HTML add-on for viewing HTML emails. Really, are knee-jerk reactions supposed to be considered as commentary?

paul_a_bennett
paul_a_bennett

Having read the unmitigatedly positive article about Claws E-mail, I thought I would install it on my Ubuntu system and give it a try. The article's author is correct in that it is Claws is fast. However, he failed to mention that it may be fast because it omits the display of HTML mail from its feature list. This is a significant omission as most e-mail, these days, comes as HTML mail. The TechRepublic e-mail promoting the author's article is a prime example. It is now clear to me why I had never heard of Claws before: it isn't quite ready for the mainstream. That's unfortunate, as is the loss of time expended on this red herring.

edmicman1
edmicman1

Wait, people still use a desktop client? I know my stuff's in the hands of someone else, but I'm ok with that. The gmail website is the same at home and at work, and I no longer have to deal with one interface in one location, and a different one in another. Or the same app, using IMAP, but keeping prefs and whatnot in sync between locations.

Justin James
Justin James

For better or for worse, Exchange integration is a mandatory item in many, if not most, business environments. How does Claws do in that environment? Do you need to use POP3 or IMAP4, and lose the MAPI integration? Can it use the RPC over HTTPS (aka "Outlook Anywhere")? These are important things that need to be answered when considering it for business usage. J.Ja

rlbern
rlbern

Why does a Windows user have to waste time navigating to and reading this article to the 12th line before discovering that this is a Linux application?

christopher.ramey
christopher.ramey

What, no links? No pictures? I know I can Google it, but why would you put an article out and not have any links to the product? Mr. author here needs to go back to writing class.

tor
tor

Hey Jack, this claws is a bum tip if ever there was one. Yep it installed easily (one option only) but uninstalls only using synaptic because there are hidden associations. Why uninstall, you ask? 1. it won't import from Thunderbird unless you spend time looking for the appropriate add-on which wasn't apparent which one to use 2. it won't spam filter unles you spend time looking for the appropriate add-on ... 3. it won't ... unless ... add-on ... Yep, it works fast getting mail. Yep, it springs into action pretty fast compared to tbird Yep, it has a crappy screen set up which you can change ... I guess you got to find some add-on, but I didn't look. So where's the advantage in setting it up and spending loads of valuable time looking for and setting up add-ons, back and forth, back and forth, endlessly. I didn't try (too discouraged) to set up multiple accounts with multiple servers ... more add-ons required for this too I expect. Generally, it might be better for Jack but it is a nuisance for me.

sleech
sleech

I can't see why you are hyping this so much and unfavourably comparing Thunderbird againt it. From what I can see, Claws Mail does nothing that Thunderbird can't do. The foregrounding of the "we don't do HTML email" issue only highlights a lack in Claws Mail's features which the general user (as opposed to technical people) does want and gets in Thunderbird. All in all, this article is a bad sales pitch for yet another non-Microsoft mail client

Mr_Tech
Mr_Tech

I recently switched from Outlook Express to Thunderbird and I find Thunderbird as a very reliable and feature packed email client. Claws Mail is probably good and probably it is what you say it is but I just settled to Thunderbird and I am very happy with it. Looks good, it is reliable (so far) and it starts up quick + its ability to identify spam email is a bonus.

jackie40d
jackie40d

Did not look that good and lacked the junk in thunderbird which I am accustomed to using . .

jackie40d
jackie40d

Naw I want to be able to read it WHEN I want to ! So all my E-mail goes to my laptop If I wanted to let 1/2 the world read my E-Mail I might use google

rhomp2002
rhomp2002

I prefer to have my emails away from storage out on websites other than my own.

jlwallen
jlwallen

if you are using Linux you just open up either Synaptic (using Ubuntu or another debian-based distribution) or gpk-application (using Fedora), do a search for "claws" (no quotes) and you will see all of the application you need to install. if you're using windows you would need to go to this page: http://www.claws-mail.org/win32/index.php which will explain everything.

jackie40d
jackie40d

No way I went back to my Thunderbird after trying it ( Claws ) out

jackie40d
jackie40d

Means I can delete it I guess its got 47 additions for it when added into Linux( Ubuntu 9.04 ) and tons of tools files and pluggin files I will turn it on and try it for one of my E-mails

Justin James
Justin James

... because we don't want our sensitive business data sitting on someone else servers, who knows where, in a situation that allows everyone under the sun from any IP address to try to login, password guess, or (like happened to Twitter employees recently), guessing the "security questions" like "where were you born?" and getting the password. J.Ja

Barklessdog
Barklessdog

Ouch - hate that for you. You might move ahead to a much more flexible and extensible application such as Icewarp (formally Merak Mail). It so easy "even a cave man can use it". Heck for me it has to be because I'm click below a Cro-magnon.

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

That's why I said 'other' as the most important feature. Basically unless the client has Exchange compatibility it won't be used by most companies and will remain a bit-player, used by Linux-only businesses (how many of those are there really) and individuals. Which is fine, but it won't help Linux win market share which I guess is the ultimate aim of most Linux advocates (I accept not all). Claws sounds like a great standalone app but I would guess that most users would trade 90% of the features Jack mentions just to be able to integrate with Exchange calendaring functionality. If the developers achieve that, then you have a story.

shakie
shakie

Umm Maybe you should read the first line, in bold it says, LINUX and open source.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

Why would a Windows user be surprised to find an article in the Linux and Open Source section is about a Linux program?

NCWeber
NCWeber

It probably would have helped if he didn't add Windows to the tag list as well.

RipVan
RipVan

but mine was marked "Linux and Open Source." I know that stories sometimes span multiple newsletters, so maybe that explains it. Even so, I still think that most IT people read something like this and wonder "Gee, sounds like something I might like to try, is it OS centric or can I try it on all of my machines...?"

jdclyde
jdclyde

There is more out there than just Windows, regardless of your assumption all articles NOT otherwise labeled would be.

Jaqui
Jaqui

Why does a Linux user have to waste time navigating to and reading this article to the 12th line before discovering that this is a Windows application? works on most content for windows apps. try being a bit more polite, or all windows articles can get this comment, courtesy of YOU, R. Bernstein

jlwallen
jlwallen

Interesting thing about taking screen shots of an email client - you have to avoid showing all those names and email addresses. If I were to take a screen shot of my email client in pretty much any state except the preferences window I will be including names and/or email addresses that I will have to blank out. To that end I wind up avoiding screen shots of email clients UNLESS it is a tutorial at which point I will use a fresh installation. The exclusion of links was just an oversight. Here is the link to the main Claws Mail site: http://www.claws-mail.org and here are screen shots from the same site: http://www.claws-mail.org/screenshots.php?section=general

NCWeber
NCWeber

He's counting on you knowing that if you can download it through Synaptic or apt-get, you don't need links. It's already on your Linux machine.

jlwallen
jlwallen

with thunderbird pretty much every feature you want has to have an add on. encryption? you need enigmail. and you don't really have to spend too much time looking. you click on the Plugins entry in Configuration and then load or unload the plugins you don't want. of course it does help to install much of the extras from within synaptic (or apt-get) and, for the most part, the plugins are all pretty self explanatory.

Mr_Tech
Mr_Tech

I personally cannot express how much I love Thunderbird. I cannot believe I was using Outlook Express for such a long time. I switched to Thunderbird after MS decided to cut support for OE in Windows 7 and not just that, but add a .mbox extension to a Thunderbird file (mail folder) and you can import it into Sylpheed. This means Thunderbird email is Unix compatible. It imported all of the OE email folders and made my task of moving to Linux easier.

lviljoen
lviljoen

Why no mention of Zimbra? I have to say, hardly any facts, no real meat to this article.

ideason88
ideason88

I think Jack has brought to the table a viable option that is still under development on the windows OS, and may prove useful. But why in the world do I see posts trying to defend MS and say that Outlook is free? Outlook is not really free - it's just part of the bundle you pay for when you opt for using proprietary MS software. Leave the defense of MS to their lawyers!

Justin James
Justin James

... are all things that Outlook does anyways. The only feature listed that Outlook does not already have, is startup speed. And in my experience, Outlook startup speed is more affected by having a monster PST or OST than anything else. Since Office comes with Outlook, and nearly every business needs Outlook, it is almost impossible to justify replacing what is already a "free" email client ("free" with the purchase of Word and Excel) with another one, regardless of feature set. J.Ja

Barklessdog
Barklessdog

What are the shortcomings in Evolution that are overcome with Claws Mail?

terry
terry

It installs bare bones. OK It is up and running quickly, but, frankly that is not major. But where are the integrated Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, Notes..............? In the Plugins I did not see any Contacts. Did I miss something? The review really is not very comprehensive. After reading the review I thought "that sounds interesting" but in reality it is very under-done and lacks finish. Say all the bad things you like about Outlook it is complete. Yes! It has been around a long time with only cosmetic changes. Why? Because it does everything you need and does it all well. OK Outlook is slow to start after a long period of inactivity (the server needs to re-activate Exchange as that service is auto stopped during inactivity) but that is a SMALL price to pay for so much functionality, and it does start very quickly when the server process is active. If you add all the plugins you need is it still quick to load? Don't know & I am not interested. On my Ubuntu workstation I am using Evolution. It fills the bill quite nicely, far better that Claws which lasted just 60 minutes on the workstation. The uninstall was also messy although easy (I am very new to Linux)

Yonah
Yonah

Thankfully, the old worn out Outlook Express was replaced by Windows Live Mail. I dumped Thunderbird in favor of WLM because I hated OE with a passion and I was tired of using an email client that looked like it was frozen in 1998. Claws looks like it goes back even further.

slidesinger
slidesinger

I have a new client, an average of one a week, that is a new non ms client. The reason is simple: tco We provide a package with a total cost of $100 per node per year, a figure which includes all management and administrative costs. We do that by adopting a server side computing model that includes claws-mail and open office. You can say that most businesses use MS Office, but all that takes is 51%. MS Office is forced as a monopoly in schools because teachers feel that "they will need to know it to get a job." What is the real market share for MS Office? Who really knows. I still have to buy my laptops with windows and blow it away to get good specs, so MS counts me as a win and I have not used windows or MS apps since 1998, even though I buy a new laptop every year. And I have a goal, to provide superior apps to every one of my clients. For years that meant windows, that is no longer the case.

Justin James
Justin James

For *business IT*, the vast, vast majority of the shops out there have Windows on the desktop, regardless of what you have on the backend. And in *business IT*, a huge number of shops have Windows (and Exchange) on the backend. I'm not "waving the Microsoft flag". I am stating the simple facts of reality. If an application does not work in a business environment, then it doesn't work in a business environment. So yeah, talking about apt-get is all well and good, but it is irrelevant to a business environment. For a substantial portion of business environments, Exchange integration is a must. Period. Frankly, I am not a huge fan of Exchange. I've dealing with an Exchange server for a year now, and a while ago I had to deal with another one. It is a miserable application to install, it takes weeks to shake down all of the bugs and issues with it. By comparison, both Zimbra and Scallix installed nicely for me, with little issue. The only thing worse than dealing with Exchange's install is qmail (that's a fate worse than death, never again with I do that). At the same time, once you get Exchange up and running, it is extremely robust and loaded with the features that many organizations find indispensable. So Exchange is a business reality. I've been trying to get off of Windows for personal usage for probably 5 years now. At least once a year, I'll put every major Linux distro through its paces, and give FreeBSD a whirl as a desktop OS, and the last few go arounds I gave OpenSolaris a shot too. I've been running FreeBSD on a server at home for around 5 years now. I wrote apps on VMS and Unix long before Windows. I grew up about Wang and VAX equipment. I am hardly a Microsoft fanboy, although I will freely admit that working with their products puts the roof over my head. J.Ja

kotoku
kotoku

I don't know why one should be debating the quality of a windozz app in a linux tech forum. This is a non issue. A piece of linux software is evaluated. Just go check it out and if and when you like it use it end of story. What's all this crowing about Exchange and how its the dominant app. Go to your deb base linux install command line and be super user, type apt-get or use synaptic and search claws and see all the plugins. If you find it and like it use it, and stop waving an MS app flag.

Justin James
Justin James

I never said Outlook was free. I said that it was "free". World of difference. I thought I had made it clear enough, but I'll rephrase. Except for a handful of companies out there, every business is going to buy Office. They need Word and Excel. As a result, they re going to get Outlook as well, regardless of whether or not they specifically wanted it. They didn't pay money for the purpose of purchasing Outlook, it was in the bundle, and they would have paid for Office even if it wasn't. For all intents and purposes, Outlook comes at *no additional cost* to them. Thus, while it is technically something that you pay for, it is "free" in the minds of businesses. And in terms of defending Microsoft... the day that anyone (open source or not) produces a fully Exchange compatable email client that also supports RPC over HTTP (Outlook Anywhere) is the day that Outlook has a serious competitor for business usage. Until then, it's not a reality. Sure, some businesses are using POP3 or IMAP4 servers in the backend (and many small businesses use a hosted email provider using POP3 or IMAP4). But Exchange really dominates business usage, and that makes Outlook a necessity, regardless of your feelings for it. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Yeah, I forgot to mention that. I start Outlook once a month... after my reboot from patching. If I was a mobile user, I would care more. Just like I don't care about my PC's boot speed, because it only happens once a month. J.Ja

Evenstar-Tech-Svcs
Evenstar-Tech-Svcs

I suppose mobile users might need a real speedy startup, but most desktop users in a business environment start up in the morning and head for the coffee pot. After that, who cares about it? I even leave my home systems clients up all the time ... startup speed is way down the list of requirements for me.

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

Not sure I agree with you on that - like you say, you can only look at Outlook as free if you are getting it as part of MS Office. However I would argue that for most users the only real reason to buy MS Office is for Outlook as you can get most of the other functionality properly for free with OpenOffice or various other free suites. Therefore if someone can get Claws or another email client to work with Exchange and fully incorporate it into OpenOffice or similar, THEN you have a proper, realistic, free MS Office replacement suite. Then - and only then - you can start dreaming about Linux taking over the desktop.

jlwallen
jlwallen

evolution is a dog compared to claws mail. if you're looking for speed there is no comparison. and whereas i have had evolution come crashing down on me numerous times, claws mail has not had a single crash. evolution is also not nearly as extensible as Claws Mail. you can not extend evolution beyond it's built-in capacity unless you are compiling from source and roll in various extras. now - standing in evolutions' corner for a moment: evolution has made the integration pretty amazing. if you use any of the GNOME panel applets for email you'll know what i mean. claws mail does not enjoy such integration. evolution also enjoys Exchange support whereas Claws Mail does not.