Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Evolution – Moving away from Thunderbird

I have been using Thunderbird for quite a while now. It’s a great e-mail client and the fact that you can use it on multiple platforms made it a winner for me. I carry a USB-drive around with Portable Thunderbird on it. A simple edit of the profiles.ini file is enough to point other Thunderbird installs (for instance on my laptop) to the folders on the USB drive. This is a perfect solution for people who need to multiboot and don’t want to keep track of two sets of mail folders. But… Thunderbird was starting to give me a few headaches.

What is wrong with Thunderbird?
For one, I began to have performance issues on my default desktop install of Thunderbird (which didn’t point to the USB drive). It was getting very slow and caused a complete freeze of my computer almost every day, necessitating a hard reboot. Removing the program (and the mail folders) and reinstalling it with a new set of accounts (2 Hotmail, 3 GMail, 1 Yahoo and 5 other POP3 accounts) didn’t solve the problem.

The second problem was the lack of a decent calendaring option. Yes, I tried the Lightning extension but that simply wasn’t enough. I need to be able to transfer e-mail to tasks or appointments without a problem, keep track of projects and create new tasks easily. Thunderbird does have it’s share of extensions, but in the end it wasn’t enough and couldn’t really come close to my experience with Microsoft Outlook.

Alternative I – Zimbra Desktop
One alternative I tried was the Zimbra Desktop. The program is still in beta and it looks promising. But where is the option to import a whole archive of e-mail messages from -for instance- Thunderbird? I would need to start anew and find another way of accessing the mail archives (which is more often than I would like, but that’s life). Apart from this, ZImbra is very slow. Even on my 3.2 Ghz dual core it takes ages to load and go from one function to the other.

Alternative II – Evolution
From here I went on to Evolution, the default suite in Ubuntu. Personally, I think it’s a boring program. The look and feel is anything but interesting. It’s no eye-candy. However, Evolution is complete with e-mail, calendaring, tasks, memo’s, journal and with options to connect to various groupware servers.

Importing e-mail from Thunderbird was a minor problem. I used these instructions and it went flawlessly. To keep it simple I moved all e-mail from the various accounts to one new folder called “temporary”. Then I used the import function in Evolution to go the mail folder and select the file “temporary”.

After that I added all accounts. Thunderbird allows you a choice between receiving all mail in the default box or create a subset of boxes for each account. Evolution doesn’t appear to have this option. The problem is easily solved by using “search folders”, virtual collection based on a set of criteria. After playing with those a couple of days I really like this option. It allows me to gather both incoming and outgoing mail into one virtual collection and keep track of discussions.

Evolution – Pro and Con
After using Evolution for a week I can draw some conclusions. I don’t have performance issues anymore and it is great to be able to continue working after receiving e-mail. The integration between e-mail, calendaring and tasks is what I need and it works.

Evolution has a plugin to synchronize your Pidgin contacts with Evolution, which a nice extra. What I don’t understand is the button “Configure” in the plugins window, since you can’t use it anyway. I tried clicking on it with all the plugins, but nothing. There is a strange bug with the noticifation. By default it tells me there a less new messages than are actually visible in Evolution.

The version on my desktop doesn’t support Google Calendar yet, but I expect the new version to be in Ubuntu 8.04 and that one has support for it.

Compared to Thunderbird, Evolution is performing much worse as to identifying spam. The Thunderbird spamfilter is phenomanal with a high degree of accuracy as to false positives and negatives. In Evolution you can choose either Bogofilter or Spamassassin, but neither seem to be able to recognize the spam messages well. I continue training the filter, but so far most spam messages appear in my inbox, where Thunderbird moved them to the junk box without needing my intervention.

On the plus side, Evolution makes it much easier to use various signatures for each of the e-mail accounts. Overall, the balance tips towards Evolution. If I could only find a good way to synchronize my iPaq 3850 with it, it would be perfect… almost.

Update: the problem with the iPaq is solved. The article about that is here.


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10 thoughts on “Evolution – Moving away from Thunderbird

  1. Pingback: Evolution - Synchronizing my iPaq | Ruminations on the Digital Realm

  2. I wouldn’t mind switching from Thunderbird to Evolution either, except for two points:

    1. As you wrote, Thunderbird is multi-platform. At this stage it is still an important advantage for me.

    2. Thunderbird allows you to remove attachments from received email, keeping the rest of the message intact. It is very annoying that Evolution cannot do this, in these days when it is usual to receive lots of huge photos attached to mails. I like to save the photos in a directory under /home and remove them from the received email, so that they do not keep wasting a lot of MB. I cannot understand that the developers of Evolution don’t consider this an interesting feature…

  3. @ Moko
    Two valid points. I still use Thunderbird on the USB drive, as it will leave the messages on the servers. Every few days I download all messages to my desktop.

    The second point I didn’t know, but I can see the problem. Huge mailboxes can’t be good for performance.

    I finally succeeded in synchronizing Evolution with my iPaq, so for me the benefits outweigh the negatives (for now ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

  4. … and free software is always a matter of choice. If Evolution makes you happy, there is nothing wrong with that!

  5. I may be misreading here, but you talk about Evolution’s virtual search folders as if you didn’t realize Thunderbird has the same feature. Not having used Evolution, I can’t say how the two compare, but Thunderbird’s filters seem rather extensive, and a simple click of the “Save as Search Folder” from the search dialog button saves your search criteria as a virtual folder.

    I agree on the calendar support; I’ve been waiting at least a couple of years for Sunbird to morph into something decent, but “crawl” seems too generous a word for the pace of Sunbird development. Fortunately, I don’t have complex calendaring needs, or I might find it more of an annoyance than I do.

    Both cross-platform support and portability are critical to many folks, but if they’re not an issue for you, then perhaps Evolution is the better choice.

    As an aside, why are you editing profile.inis? Why not just run the portable version from your USB drive? Alternatively, just create a shortcut on your laptop that points Thunderbird to your USB stick via the -profile command line parameter.

  6. @ CJ

    As to the profile.ini editing, that’s easily explained. The Portable Thunderbird is Windows-based and my laptop is Linux. I don’t want to download the e-mail messages on my laptop,so I point TB there to the folders on the USB drive.

    I know Thunderbird has virtual folders as well, but I find it somewhat easier to use in Evolution. One of the main reasons to look elsewhere was the performance of TB, apart from the calendaring. With iPaq syncronization in place, Evolution suits my needs, for now. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Pingback: Migration from Thunderbird to Evolution « migrating to Ubuntu

  8. paul on said:

    the synchronisation with the linux and the IPAQ, can we sync open office docs as well with no issues or is it that only the mail sync’s ok

  9. In the article about synchronizing iPaq with Evolution I strictly dealt with calendaring and contacts. It’s no problem putting documents on a flash card and open it in the most recent version of Textmaker (for instance).

    I didn’t test mounting an iPaq under Linux as a mass storage device and synchronizing a specific folder, so I can’t help you with that.

  10. I’m slowly migrating myself from Windoze to Linux, and I appreciate that Evolution will sycn with my Palm Treo 755p (took a few steps, but now it’s syncing great). It will be nice to have my email and calendar all in the same program, and then updated to my Treo. Thanks for all the tips

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