Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

DesktopBSD day 19 – Evolution

“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” wrote Rudyard Kipling. Fortunately Bob Dylan also sings to us that “the times they are a-changin”, which means that divides can be crossed with the right kind of bridges. In this case, East is KDE and West is GNOME (or the other way around). Under Ubuntu I haven’t experienced any problems with running KDE applications on GNOME or vice versa as all underlying dependencies are taken care of. No doubt it means a less leaner install base and does it cause quite a few headaches for the distro maintainers, but for me -as end-user- it provides the maximum freedom to use the applications I want to use and not find myself locked into specific subsets.

Yesterday I wrote about Kontact as personal information manager and concluded that it is almost sufficient for desktop users. Kontact makes sense for the KDE desktop. However, the real powerhorse for PIM in the open source world is Evolution. Indeed, a GNOME application and it didn’t look pretty on the DesktopBSD KDE desktop (no icons). I am not going to describe how I fixed this problem (I didn’t, I just switched to the GNOME desktop to write this article), but simply look into Evolution a bit deeper and answer the same question as with Kontact: “Is it a good personal information manager for novice DesktopBSD users?”

What is Evolution about?

Evolution is a GNOME application and GNOME applications have a knack for simplicity. Just compare the mission of Evolution with the one from Kontact :

Evolution provides integrated mail, addressbook and calendaring functionality to users of the GNOME desktop.

It seems simplicity is highly integrated in the Evolution mindset. It doesn’t mean that it is a simple application in the sense of lacking functionality or features. The website claims that Evolution has “Intelligent Junk Mail Control” (I hope it is intelligent and I suspect no one would want to use “Idotic, unreasonable and moronic junk mail control”), that it integrates with for instance Pidgin (IM client) and Planner (project planner, limited support) via the evolution-data-server and supports Exchange 2000/2003 and Groupwise. The claim is that integration with Exchange to 2007 is supported when using MAPI after installing the Evolution Brutus plugin. Compared to Kontact that appears to be somewhat better, though the statement:

Also there are also several projects underway to enable Evolution to support more collaboration servers including OpenGroupware.org

seems to point to a better support of open source groupware servers by Kontact. This won’t be of much interest to the average home user, of course.

Calendar

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-calendar-1.png

You might like it or you might hate it. My guess is that if you put an Outlook user behind a desktop with Evolution in front of him/her, it would take some time to actually notice that something is different. The positioning of the various panels is almost the same as in Outlook. It wouldn’t take much of a training to get used to it. Even the icon to add new appointments, contacts or create a new e-mail is at the same location as in Outlook.

Clicking on the icon brings up a new windows where you can add the appointment information. Clicking on the Recurrence icon brings up another window. Both windows are pretty bare with only the minimum of functions. The Recurrence options can be set with pull-down menus. This makes for a lean and quiet layout, but experience tells me that casual users have more problems with these than with tick-boxes.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-calendar-2.png

What I missed is the easy button to invite other people. This function was accessible as a tab in Kontact, but I didn’t notice it in Evolution. Until I didn’t click the “New”-button, but the pull-down menu. There it was, the option to schedule a meeting.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-new.png

Contacts

Via the taskbar on the right there is quick access to the other functions of Evolution. The Contacts screen is quite minimalistic again and then I realize that minimalism has it’s limits. I like Philip Glass, but sometimes I prefer somewhat richer music to tickle the ears. I guess it wouldn’t hurt for Evolution to have a richer flavor for the eyes.

Adding a new contact shouldn’t pose too many problems. Like in Kontact you can add the weblog address of your contacts, but it doesn’t do anything with it. It’s not even a hyperlinked address to launch another application. Where Kontact has Akkregator to take care of RSS feeds and Thunderbird helps you to keep track of newsfeeds as well, Evolution doesn’t appear to have support for it on-board.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-contacts-2.png

Mail

I have multiple e-mail accounts and I prefer to keep them separate. This isn’t complicated in Thunderbird. I just disable the tick-box “Use Global Inbox” and each account will have it’s own subset of folders. Again I couldn’t find it in Evolution. The “Search Folders” option apparently replaces that and you can save your various search routines. Via Search -> Create Search Folder from Search it’s possible to create your own subsets of folders. In this way content or sender is more important than the originating e-mail account. Maybe I need to get used to this feature before I like it more.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-mail-search.png

Notes and Tasks

Adding Notes or Tasks is a matter of clicking on the “New icon” and adding your information. You even have the ability to create a shared memo. When you go from one function to the other, you can’t escape the thought that you are constantly working in the same window. The layout of each window is so similar you really have to take a good look and not mix up notes, with tasks or appointments. The consistency is … well, consistent.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-task-1.png

Wrapping up

After all this I went back to the settings and browsed the various options. With tons of spam entering my mailboxes I am primarily interested in the handling of junk mail (remember “Intelligent Junk Mail Control”). Evolution makes use of SpamAssassin and you can’t find fault with that. Strange enough the messages stated that the SpamAssassin plugin wasn’t available and that I should check whether it was installed. Answer: yes it is. SpamAssassin itself wasn’t installed on my system and I tried to fix that. The operative word is “tried”, because Package Manager could only tell me that it couldn’t fetch the package. Hmmm.

desktopbsd-day19-evolution-spamassassin.png

I didn’t feel like digging much deeper and try installing SpamAssassin via Ports today. This will have to wait until later. But I have to say this: Thunderbird has anti-spam functions on-board. I like that.

Conclusions

Evolution is an Outlook look-a-like for the GNOME desktop with a consistency in layout for all it’s functions. With Evolution you send out the message that you mean to do business. It’s a good program, though boring to look at. When comparing it to Kontact, I prefer Kontact over Evolution because it is more configurable and because of Akkregator. Evolution is more a business contact application than an information manager, a hub for various related information channels. The fact that Kontact has more support for open groupware servers than Evolution gives it some more credit points. Of course, it makes sense for Novell to put more emphasis on Exchange and Groupwise. Given the choice I would suggest two DesktopBSD versions, one for the home user with Kontact and one for the business environment with Evolution. Maybe Kipling was right in some fashion after all.

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