Originally Published: Thursday, 16 September 1999 Author: Scott Nipp
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Great Mailer Debate

Why is it that some people seem to not simply prefer apples over oranges, but demand them vocally? In the Unix world there are two simple "apples vs. oranges" issues which tend to incite an almost religious fervor for many of us. These would be vi vs. Emacs and Pine/Elm vs. every other mail client. The focus of this article will be the mail client debate; I will not try to convince you of which one is better, but more to give you an idea of the advantages of each to let you decide for yourself....

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Why is it that some people seem to not simply prefer apples over oranges, but demand them vocally? In the Unix world there are two simple "apples vs. oranges" issues which tend to incite an almost religious fervor for many of us. These would be vi vs. Emacs and Pine/Elm vs. every other mail client. The focus of this article will be the mail client debate; I will not try to convince you of which one is better, but more to give you an idea of the advantages of each to let you decide for yourself.

Pine and Elm are the venerable mainstays of the Unix world. I think God created these two on the eighth day. Both of these programs are character-based mail readers. This may not be appealing to many new users who are coming from the Windows world where everything is GUI, but these have some definite advantages over GUI mail clients. These mail clients are both light-weight and very fast, meaning they do not take forever to load and open messages etc. Furthermore, if you have a shell account, or are retrieving mail on a character only terminal these are really your only choices. These two mail clients may not have the glitz of the newer GUI mail clients, but there are certain situations in which no other mail client will do.

The next generation of mail clients are the GUI clients. These mail clients are typically designed for the X Window System, and are much less daunting to the novice user coming from a Windows background. These clients include KMail, GnoMail, and the like, not to mention a whole slew of GUI mail utilities including checkers, filters, and configuration tools. The advantage of these GUI clients and utilities is simplicity. Virtually anything you can do with a GUI mail client you can do with either Pine or Elm such as filtering etc., the advantage of simplicity is really beneficial to users who are new to Linux and Unix. The nice GUI interfaces for configuration and reading/composing of mail makes Linux much more approachable for the masses, and helps to bring Linux to the typical end users and not just us computer nerds. The drawback to these GUI applications is both complexity and performance. These applications are dependent on various GUI libraries which makes them inherently more complex, and also the graphical nature of these applications means you will be waiting considerably longer when launching these clients as opposed to the character-based ones.

The final mail application that I am going to discuss is Netscape Communicator. I feel that Netscape deserves its own section due to the unique complexities and benefits which this option offers. First of all, is the pure simplicity for users transitioning from Windows. According to web statistics, almost half of all people who use the Internet are Netscape users, and therefore are already familiar with the look and feel of Netscape. The configuration of Netscape on Linux is pretty much identical to that of Netscape on Windows, this allows new users to get up and running with a minimal of effort. Another unique advantage of Netscape, which I personally use, is the ability to use the same local mail folders under either Windows or Linux. This is extremely useful when you dual-boot a system, and want to be able to pull down mail from either booted operating system. Netscape is not without its drawbacks, however. Netscape suffers the same performance and complexity drawbacks as other GUI mail clients, but this is compounded by the fact that it is tied to the Web browser. This low level link to the browser can cause the mail client to crash if the web browser component does. This type of crash can be caused by faulty Java script and such, and is very frustrating when it happens. Netscape offers the ultimate in simplicity and familiarity, but this ease of use does not come without drawbacks.

E-mail is the most common use of the Internet, and it is one of the most popular genre of applications available on personal computers today. E-mail is a wonderful tool for communication, and the variety of options available allows users to tailor their e-mail client to their individual needs. The options available for configuring, filtering, and playing strange or humorous sounds or flashing messages are virtually limitless under Linux, provided you have the knowledge to configure your mail client and associated utilities to do what you want.

Scott Nipp is a Technical Analyst at Sprint Paranet. He spends his time there fighting the good fight, advocating Linux to his managers and customers.





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