Keeping it Small and Simple


My short-lived adventure with Icedove

Filed under: Mail clients — Lorenzo E. Danielsson @ 01:03

I tend to have a very little patience with so-called GUI applications. I don’t know why, but to me they always seem to be doing odd things that I never ask for. My latest adventure was to try yet another graphical mail user agent: icedove (those of you not using Debian will know this application as thunderbird, but Debian people prefer to freeze to death over being subjected to 12 million volts of static electricity).

I’m a happy user of mutt. It’s been a trusted companion for a long time, and I have no intention of giving up on that relationship. But I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about icedove/thunderbird of late so I decided to give it a try. It turned into a 10-minute exercise in pure frustration.

I started icedove, and was presented with an interface that looks familiar if you’ve ever used evolution, kmail, sylpheed or any other of all the graphical MUAs available. I went to the preference section and instructed icedove that my “Local Folders” reside in ~/mail. (Funny, I wasn’t allowed to type this information, I had to click on the “select” button and use that disturbingly useless gtk file selector to select the location.)

The fact that it started at all made it already superior to evolution which, last time I tried it, was only capable of segfaulting. I was quite excited. The worst icedove could do was to be the second lousiest mail client I have ever used, possibly competing for the position with kmail.

This is where things began to go wrong. A quick peek into ~/mail, just to make sure that everything is in order revealed that, in fact, nothing was in order. Icedove has gone and put little ugly droppings all over my carefully crafted directory. Each mbox file now had a corresponding .msf file. So, for instance, instead of just having an mbox files called zsh-users, I now had an additional zsh-users.msf.

Not only that, but icedove went and commited the ultimate sin: files consisting of capital letters and spaces. This was truly unforgivable! But I wasn’t ready to give up on icedove quite yet. I wanted to actually try to use icedove to read and send a few mails.

But before going on I had some repair work to do. There is no way that am I going to let an application do that to my ~/mail directory. So I restored the “Local Folders” to its original location, which was at ~/.mozilla-thunderbird/ followed by weird directory names (again, being compelled to suffer through two minutes of gtk’s file selector).

Then I quit icedove, removed all the turds that had been dropped in my mail directory, and created symlinks from my mbox files to ~/.mozilla-thunderbird//Mail/Local\ Folders/.

I fired up icedove again, checked and my mailing list folders were listed in the folder list. That was good. I checked my mail directory and now it was free from turds. The little droppings were of course still created but now inside a hidden directory structure that I could care less about. All seemed fine. But now I got to the next problem: folder duplication.

Icedove had created an Inbox (note, capitalization). I already have a file called ~/mail/mbox where procmail drops mails that don’t get filtered away elsewhere. I wanted icedove to recognize and use ~/mail/mbox instead of Inbox. Also, I have a folder called sent-mail (~/mail/sent-mail). Mutt has been instructed to “keep a record” there.

The question now was how to get icedove to use my mbox files instead of forcing its own upon me (which, as I already have mentioned, don’t go well with my ideas of how to name files). Maybe its just that I’m so happy with mutt that I don’t really want to change, but I soon gave up and realized that icedove will not become my default mail client. Not now, not in the foreseeable future. Probably not before Ragnarök.

By the time I closed icedove permanently, I had not actually viewed a mail using its interface, I had not tried composing a mail. I wish somebody could just write a gui-mutt (just like we have a gui-vim), something that acts as an MUA and an MUA only. Not something that tries to be fetchmail, procmail, an RSS aggregator, a mail client, all at the same time. After all, I already have procmail installed and set up. I already have fetchmail installed and set up. All I need is an application that allows me to read and compose mails.

Then again, a gui-mutt would depend on X windows. Which means I would have to start X every single time I wanted to read a mail. No thanks, not for me. I’m staying with something that works.

I’d love to hear from those of you who do use icedove/thunderbird. What is it that you like about it? How do you get it to use your folders instead of forcing Inbox, Sent\ Mail, etc. upon you? And how to you get rid rid of the “Get mail” button (my “mail-getting” is handled by other tools in the chain)?

I know I’m not really being fair judging icedove after only a few minutes of usage. It’s just that it managed to raise my stress-level to a point that I’m lucky not to be lying on the floor with severe chest pains at this very moment.

*Sigh*.. I feel like I’m growing old..


  1. I use Thunderbird (though I like the concept of being brand-free and will likely use Icedove in the future) and I can understand your frustration. If I had started out using only text-based mail apps, I might be where you are.

    Yes, it is difficult to make these apps conform to your own way of doing things, but if you are dedicated, you can do anything of course (since you could always modify the source if necessary and recompile) but overall I think it works great for someone who’s used to using graphical email programs and doesn’t care about the mess in that hidden directory tree. My main frustration is the occasional loss of my preferences file (prefs.js) which has happened a few times over the last few years, including the Mozilla suite before. I avoid the filenames-with-spaces problem by setting up my own mail folders rather than using the default “Local Folders”. The directories and files used can mostly be configured in the preferences menu, and lots of other preferences are available in its configuration files.

    I also would never trust my existing mail to Thunderbird without testing it first on a copy of my mail directory! I’ve never tried it with an automated mail delivery system, so I don’t know how well it would handle that. Overall, though, for my purposes Mozilla’s email client software has served me quite well since the days of Netscape Communicator 4, which I used under Windows 98 until I could no longer tolerate Windows and upgraded to Linux.

    The wonderful thing about Free software is the fact that you have so much to choose from, so whether you prefer a fancy graphical email client which may be a bit unstable or hard to customize, or a no-nonsense text-based client that just works, you still can find something to keep you happy.

    Comment by Ethan — 2007.09.14 @ 13:05

  2. Why do I use it? Because I just want to read my mail, and I don’t care about odd little files. I use IMAP anyway, so I can read my mail from several machines.

    I save my perfectionistic, vaguely obsessive tendencies for other aspects of my life and work.

    Comment by Greg Kochanski — 2008.08.16 @ 12:37

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