Software

SolutionBase: Evolve your e-mail past Outlook

Evolution is aptly named; it truly is the evolution of the Linux groupware client. Although Evolution isn't the easiest to update, it is one of the best company-wide or individual solutions to meet your groupware needs. Jack Wallen shows you what Evolution has to offer.

Years ago, I stood stalwart beside the Pine text-based e-mail client, purely because it was simple, reliable, and indefatigably Linux. I honestly never thought another e-mail client could ever take me away from using the charming, old-school Pine. Over time, of course, e-mails have become more complex: After being barraged with HTML-based e-mail, I realized change was imminent, so I began my search for a new e-mail client.

The search ultimately led me to Evolution, a full-featured Outlook-killer for Linux. This application will ease anyone's fear of the Linux desktop experience: It feels familiar, it's simple to use, and it's as feature-rich as anything Microsoft or Apple has put out to date. Without further adieu, let's dig into this robust client and see what it has to offer.

Why Evolve?

There are a number of reasons Evolution would be attractive to home and office users. Here is the short list:

  • No viruses
  • Junk filtering
  • Web calendar
  • Multiple account setup
  • Palm support
  • Superior searching
  • Desktop integration
  • Exchange integration

I probably could have stopped at "No viruses" and many would already have raised their eyebrows. But I figured since there were so many other benefits, I'd list them anyway.

Evolution has as many features as Outlook:

  • E-mail
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • To-do list
  • Memos

Additionally, it has the Connector, which allows Evolution to connect to Exchange servers.

Getting and installing Evolution

Most Linux applications allow many paths to installation. You could opt to use rpm, apt, apt-get, dpackage, adept, synaptic, yum, yumex, yumi, or source. However, for some reason, Novell has opted to leave Evolution out of the yum repositories. Even during installation with apt-get (on a Kubuntu-installed iBook), I had to insert the installation CD — proving that Evolution isn't even on the apt repositories. Therefore, the best means of getting the latest Evolution is either by compiling it from source or installing the latest release from your favorite distribution.

Getting to know you

When you first fire up Evolution, you'll have to walk through some very simple configurations in order to set up an e-mail account. There are no surprises here; just standard operating procedure when setting up e-mail (server types, user names, location, reply-to, organization, etc.). Once you're finished with the rudimentary setup, what you see might surprise you. It looks much like Outlook, as shown in Figure A; it even works like Outlook. For those of you who have never used Linux before, you may be surprised at how easy the user interface is to use.

Figure A

Evolution defaults to the mail client upon opening.

So you have Evolution up and running; now what? Let's take a look around the e-mail client to see what it can do.

E-mail

The basic functionality of Evolution's e-mail client is similar to that of most all groupware applications; Open, Delete, Reply, Reply-to-all, and Add Sender To Addressbook are just some of the options that make it similar to any other Outlook-like client.

So where do the differences begin? Fortunately, they are few and far between. The single feature to require a learning curve is the Junk Filters And Rules, which allow the user to create filters and rules that act upon an incoming e-mail, depending on conditions created by the user.

Junk filters are simple: an e-mail comes in as Junk, the user highlights the e-mail, and then presses the Junk button. The e-mail is then automatically moved to the Junk folder (at least in the latest releases). Sometimes, however, the Evolution Junk button is simply not enough; there are those e-mails that will easily slip through the cracks. For those instances — and many others — there are rules.

A rule is simply an action Evolution takes on an incoming e-mail based on user-defined configurations. There are two ways to create rules. The first is to highlight the e-mail, right-click the e-mail (from the top e-mail list pane), and select Create Rule From Message. You'll then see a sub-menu, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Not only can you create a rule, but you can create a search as well.

Rules can be created by subject, sender, or recipient. Once you select the type of rule you want to create, you'll see a new window, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

You can add multiple variables to each rule.

As you can see, the rule would be created from the sender. You can alter the criteria for this sender. From the first drop-down (labeled as Sender), change the type from Sender to Recipient. You can also get more specific.

For example, suppose you get a lot of e-mail from the domain yahoo.com and the vast majority of these e-mails are spam, but the Junk filter isn't catching them. You can choose to create a rule for this by applying the following to the "If" pane:

  • Sender: Selected from drop-down
  • Contains: Selected from drop-down
  • Yahoo.com: Written in the text box

Next, drop down to the "Then" pane and set:

  • Move To Folder: Selected from drop-down

Before you can select the Yahoo folder from the Evolution directory, you have to create that folder. To do so, press the Click Here To Select A Folder button and then press the New button. You'll see a screen like that shown in Figure D.

Figure D

You cannot select where the new folder is to be created yet.

The Create New Folder window will open, as shown in Figure E. The name Yahoo will be entered and the location On This Computer will be selected. Now press the Create button, and the new folder will appear.

Figure E

You can create this new folder as a sub-folder if you choose.

Press OK and the folder will be selected. The new Rule is complete. As you can see in Figure F, the only remaining step is to press OK.

Figure F

You can add more variables to your rule before you finish.

If your e-mail inbox is as inundated as mine, you will find that creating rules will help you go from chaos to order.

Let's take a look at some of the other Evolution features.

Calendar

The Evolution calendar, shown in Figure G, looks and acts like nearly every groupware calendar available. It is as feature-rich and simple to use as Outlook.

Figure G

To access the calendar, press the Calendar button or [Ctrl][3].

Adding new events to the calendar is fairly standard: Either double-click the time or press the New button.

You can also publish your calendar and make it available to other users. To do this, select the Edit menu and then select Preferences. The window shown in Figure H will open; here, you can press the Calendaring And Tasks button, and then select the Calendar Publishing tab.

Figure H

From this section, you can also edit your Free/Busy time.

Press the Add button to begin adding a new location to publish your calendar. You can publish your calendar via SSH, WebDAV, FTP, Windows share, or Custom.

Now select the Publishing Location tab; here, you're going to specify the type of publishing you will do. Figure I shows a WebDAV-type calendar configuration.

Figure I

If you choose to not have the system remember the password, you'll have to enter the password before the calendar is published.

Address book

Like any good groupware address book, you can import your existing contacts into Evolution. To do this, select File and then Import. Press the Forward button and select the type of importer to run. Evolution has two types of importers: an importer for other clients and an importer for a single file. The single file is probably the one you need. The next window allows you to select the file and the file type, as shown in Figure J.

Figure J

Press the File button to locate the file to import.

The last step is to configure the local location of the file; then, simply press the Import button. To add a new address, right-click the address within an e-mail and select Add To Address Book.

Miscellaneous

One of the nicer but lesser known elements of Evolution is the ability to move an e-mail over to a task. Suppose you get an e-mail from a co-worker requiring you to take care of a task; you can right-click the e-mail (in the upper preview pane) and select Convert To Task, as shown in Figure K.

Figure K

You will have to select where you want the task published to; either locally or on the Web.

Once you have converted an e-mail to a task, the e-mail remains in your Inbox. In the Task tool, the converted e-mail will appear with the e-mail subject as the task name, and the body of the e-mail as the description.

Synchronization with Evolution isn't really worth the trouble; should you need to synch with a PDA, you're better off using a program like J-Pilot.

Connecting to Microsoft Exchange

In many organizations, one of the barriers to using Linux on the desktop is the need to be able to connect to a Microsoft Exchange e-mail server. Since Exchange uses a proprietary protocol to communicate with e-mail clients, it's nearly impossible to connect to an Exchange server without Microsoft's help. Fortunately, Novell remedied part of this problem in Evolution by using the Exchange Connector.

It's not an elegant solution: In order for the Evolution Exchange Connector to work, your Exchange server must be running Outlook Web Access. In case you're not familiar with it, this service runs on an Exchange server to allow users to get their e-mail using a Web browser. Check with the person who runs your Exchange server to see if they've implemented OWA.

If OWA is supported on the Exchange server, the rest is easy. On your Evolution client, just create a new account; as the type of account, you need to select the server type as Microsoft Exchange, as shown in Figure L.

Figure L

You will need to be able to authenticate to your Outlook Web Access (OWA).

Beyond that, connecting to an Exchange server via Evolution is as simple as setting up a standard account. You can optionally configure your GAL/Active Directory settings, which is the local configuration you would use to setup Outlook on-site. This is optional, and used for company calendar and contacts.

Final thoughts

Evolution is aptly named; it truly is the evolution of the Linux groupware client. The e-mail application is one of the best and the rest of the suite stands up to its competition soundly. Although Evolution isn't the easiest to update, it is one of the best company-wide or individual solutions to meet your groupware needs.

About Jack Wallen

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 jackwallen.com.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox