Despite how far web-based email clients have come, nothing can beat the speed and convenience of one that sits natively on the desktop. Unfortunately, Linux doesn’t have access to some of the more feature-rich clients out there like Outlook and Postbox.
Ever since I started using Linux as my main system, I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect program to keep my emails organized and to keep me productive. My conclusion? Linux email clients still lag behind Windows and Mac, but the gap is closing.
Here are some of the better ones I’ve found. If you have any history with Linux, these likely won’t surprise you one bit.
The world collectively sighed when Mozilla announced back in 2012 that it would stop adding new features to Thunderbird. At the time, Thunderbird was the most popular open source email client in the world; since then, the Thunderbird brand has lost a good chunk of its relevance.
But Thunderbird isn’t dead. There have been periodic maintenance updates that have patched security holes and fixed stray bugs and the next big release is slated for May 2015.
Despite not getting any new features over the past few years, Thunderbird is still pretty good when compared to what else is available. It has kept its straightforward interface, which looks a bit dated today, but it definitely gets the job done, so I don’t have too many complaints on that front.
The program itself is easy to use. I’ve never had any trouble setting up an email account. In fact, Thunderbird is smart enough to auto-detect certain email account settings so you don’t have to go through the hassle of inputting everything by hand.
But most of all, Thunderbird is fast. When you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of emails every day, speed is a primary concern – and this email client delivers.
Thunderbird supports multiple accounts without restriction or limitation. It’s fast, feature-complete, and if you aren’t happy with what it can do out of the box, you can always install third-party addons just like you would in Firefox.
Evolution has some interesting history behind it. It began in 2000 as an email client by Ximian for corporate Linux users – a tiny niche in the grand scheme of business – but was picked up and dropped by several different organizations over its lifetime, including Novell, SUSE, and Red Hat.
Despite its rocky past, Evolution now shines as one of the better Linux clients available, even better than Thunderbird. In fact, most GNOME-based flavors of Linux come equipped with Evolution as the default email client because of its superiority.
What I like about Evolution is that it has an interface that resembles the big name email clients – Thunderbird, Outlook, Postbox, and their ilk – and presents all the necessary information you need, but keeps it simple enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
On top of all the basic email features that you’d expect from an email client, like filters, encryption, and contact management, Evolution comes with a built-in full-featured calendar that integrates with Google Calendar and iCalendar.
All in all, Evolution works. It may not be as polished or pretty as its commercial competitors on other operating systems, but it works and that’s the most important thing.
The only reason I even know about Geary is because I recently switched from Windows to ElementaryOS. I have absolutely no regrets about making the switch and I don’t think I would feel that way if it weren’t for Geary being the default email program in this flavor of Linux.
I should mention that I’m using ElementaryOS Luna, which is the stable version built on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. Unfortunately, that means that I only have access to Geary 0.4.2 whereas the latest stable version is Geary 0.8.3, which won’t be available until ElementaryOS Freya is released.
That being said, even though I’m running an older Geary build, I still find it preferable to both Thunderbird and Evolution.
First of all, the interface is sleek and modern and the one that most resembles the interface of my preferred Windows email client, Postbox. It’s simple enough that it doesn’t get in the way but aesthetic enough that I don’t feel like I’m using an email client from the last decade.
With Geary, account setup is automatic, quick, and painless. It currently lacks any kind of built-in calendar integration, but you can use a separate calendar program called California, which is being developed by the same team that drives Geary development.
Maybe you don’t want a corporate-ready email client that’s packed with features left and right. Maybe all you want is a classic, lightweight, pure email client that does one thing and does it well: keeping up with your electronic correspondence. For that, you’ll want Sylpheed.
Sylpheed is about as lightweight as it gets without feeling incomplete or lacking in features, at least as far as email software on Linux is concerned. Unfortunately, this means that the visuals don’t pack much of a punch either.
As with most modern clients, Sylpheed comes in the two most common interface layouts – horizontal and vertical arrangements of three separate panels: 1) account folders, 2) inbox list, and 3) email body. Beware that the email body panel is stripped down to barebones, which could be “too boring” for some.
Performance is Sylpheed’s biggest selling point. According to the creator, this client can handle folders with over 20,000 individual emails without any slowdown whatsoever. Stability and reliability of data are Sylpheed’s foremost concerns.
Other clients might be prettier, but if you primarily need speed and security and you’re willing to sacrifice some visual flare, then Sylpheed should be right up your alley.
Which Email Client Reigns Supreme?
Honestly, I don’t think there’s a clear winner. Each one has admirable qualities and each one is going to appeal to a different kind of email user. My personal choice is Geary for its nice balance of performance and appearance with Evolution as a runner-up choice.
Which client do you like best? Are there any email client contenders that I missed? Tell us what you think in the comments below!