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Office Suite Evaluation: Mail Reader

Assignment: Send a message with an attached picture. The remote user will forward it back. Read this message. If possible, use IMAP to connect to your Mathnet home site, and read your actual mail.

I added a rather challenging extra credit: the remote mail server supports TLS (encrypted transport) with user authentication by X.509 certificates. This is the direction Mathnet wants to move toward. Mail readers that can handle TLS and certificates get extra credit. According to the documentation for Postfix/TLS, the following MUA's are known to work with RFC2487:
MUA or MTA Version >= STARTTLS Certificates
Netscape 4.5 Yes Yes
Outlook Express 5 Yes No
Eudora 5.1 Yes ?
Qmail Qmail-TLS Yes ?
Zmailer ? Yes ?
Sendmail 8.11 Yes ?
Netscape Ent. Svr ? Yes ?
Msft Exchange Svr ? Yes ?
CommunigatePro ? Yes ?

The Windows competitors in this category are Microsoft Outlook Express, and Eudora.

OpenOffice does not include a mail reader.

KDE: KMail (screenshot)

I created a test message and sent it via TLS under the authority of my X.509 user certificate, managed by KDE's crypto subsystem. Using Pine on the recipient system I forwarded it back to the originating site plus a GIF attachment. It was received in good order and the attachment was displayed using the Pixie viewer.

I read my personal mail using the IMAP interface. It was effective and trouble free, with one exception: a URL to had a query string about 160 bytes long, and this was wrapped, and only the first line was passed to Konqueror. My system mailbox was not trashed, and mail that was supposed to stay there, did stay there. (I made a backup copy first, of course.) One difference from Pine is that when you hit Delete, the message is removed from the index window, so you can't go back to it. But it isn't removed from the system mailbox until you choose Folder-Compact. Also, KMail shows all subdirectories in your homedir on the remote site, whereas Pine only looks at the prespecified remote mail directory.

The KDE crypto module (possibly called kcmshell crypto), when importing, wants a PKCS#12 file. I was able to import my X.509 user certificate and have it used by KMail to send to a TLS-enabled (Postfix) mail gateway. Conventional password authentication is also available.

You will really want to enable 8bit transparency, otherwise certain newlines and punctuation will be gratuitously be encoded as quoted printable, i.e. those annoying equal sign things. This is in Settings - Configure KMail - Network - Sending - Message Property.

As with many KDE applications, there are showers of error messages, some (like error stat'ing fd 3: Bad file descriptor) seeming rather serious, but no effect is seen on the program.

Resource usage: installed size 2.5 Mb, virtual 58.6 Mb, rss 22.0 Mb, CPU 3 secs (to initialize and show one message).

Gnome: Balsa

Balsa is the official mail reader for Gnome. Presently it is for Gnome-1. It seems to be only able to use POP and IMAP for sending mail; I was not able to configure it to use Sendmail, or to use a designated SMTP server. For IMAP (and presumably POP) you can choose whether to have the password stored in the config file or entered whenever needed. Unfortunately it was not able to connect to Mathnet's IMAP server. That's the end of testing Balsa.

Gnome: Evolution (screenshot)

The Evolution mail reader originated from Ximian. Its Use SSL config choice apparently turns on the stolen smtps port 465, which does regular SMTP over a SSL connection, rather than TLS. Thus, I abandoned the secure SMTP testing and used regular SMTP. Evolution opens up with not just a mail reader but a whole collection of stuff such as weather, headlines, appointments and task list. I composed a new message and it was delivered successfully. A message incoming to my system mailbox also was received successfully. I did not test the IMAP functionality since my home site was down.

Resource usage: installed size 21 Mb, virtual 18.9 Mb, rss 9.4 Mb, CPU 1 sec (to send 1 message and view 2). Not including a zoo of multithreaded subprocesses sharing various address spaces totalling an estimated 39.2 Mb of rss (assuming that sets of processes having the same size rss are sharing the same storage, so should be counted only once).

Pine (see below for screenshots)

Pine is a text (ncurses) mail reader which you run in an xterm. It is what we recommend to users at UCLA-Mathnet. With complete build options (which the SuSE 8.1 version has) it can do TLS, and can do PLAIN authentication (loginID and password, preferably over the TLS connection). It can do these with SMTP (mail delivery), IMAP and POP (mail retrieval). It can display graphics using an external viewer, it can do basic textbased HTML display, and it can cause web links to be shown by an external web browser. Colorization is possible.

Resource usage: installed size 6.7 Mb, virtual 7.7 Mb, rss 2.7 Mb, CPU 0 seconds (to show the message list and delete a few messages).

Conclusion: The author finds both KMail and particularly Evolution to be heavyweight solutions to mail reading. Pine is recommended in preference to the X-based mail readers.

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