Mobile and web technologies still haven’t made the desktop obsolete, and despite some regular claims to the contrary, desktop clients don’t seem to be going away any time soon.
And with good reason. For many, the preference for a native application (and corresponding native performance), easy offline use, vast array of plugins, and security needs of certain users will long outweigh pressures to switch to a webmail email client. Whether you’re sticking with a desktop email client because of a corporate mandate or just personal preference, there are still many great options to choose from. And just because you may be stuck on Windows doesn’t mean Outlook is your only option; many open source clients are cross-platform.
In this roundup, we take a quick look at five open source options for desktop email, share a little bit about each, and try to provide you with some options you may want to try out yourself.
For many years, Mozilla Thunderbird was the king of the open source email client. It was available across all major platforms, and it had great success alongside Mozilla’s other well-known project, Firefox. Thunderbird has now been around for over a decade, and was immediately popular from the start, receiving over a million downloads in its first ten days of public release.
In more recent years, the thunder behind Thunderbird got a little quieter, and in 2012 the project announced it was no longer a top development priority for the Mozilla Foundation. However, just last year this position was reversed with new resources being put into the development of new features rather than simply supporting its longterm maintenance.
Thunderbird is full-featured, with a number of well supported plugins adding in everything from calendar support to advanced address book integration, and many specialized features including theming. Out of the box, it supports POP and IMAP email syncing, spam filtering, and many other features you would expect, and works flawlessly across Windows, OS X, and Linux.
Thunderbird is made available under the Mozilla Public License.
Claws Mail, a fork of Sylpheed, is a fast and flexible alternative that might be appealing to anyone who is concerned about performance and minimal resource usage. It’s a good option, for example, if you’re working within the limited processing and memory capacity of a Raspberry Pi, for example.
But even for those with virtually unlimited computing resource to throw at a mail client, Claws Mail might be a good option. It’s flexible, probably more so than Thunderbird or some of the other options in this list, and it has a number of plugins available for those who want to extend it. And it prides itself on being fast and reliable, too, in addition to sporting a simple interface that’s perhaps ideal for new users.
Claws Mail is based on the GTK+ framework, and is made available under the GPL.
If you’re a user of the popular Fedora or Debian distributions, you’re probably already familiar with the next option on our list, Evolution. Evolution is an official part of the GNOME project, but it didn’t start out that way. Originally developed at Ximian, and later Novell, Evolution was designed from the ground up to be an enterprise-ready email application.
To this end, Evolution supports Exchange Server and a number of other email setups you might find in a corporate environment. It’s also a full Personal Information Manager (PIM), sporting a calendar, task list, contact manager, and note taking application, in addition to handling your email. Even if it’s not the default mail application in your distribution, you might be interested in taking a look if you’re interested in these feature or the included spam filtering, GPG support, RSS reader, integration with LibreOffice, or slew of other features.
Evolution is made available as open source under the LGPL.
Geary is a project of the Yorba Foundation, who make a number of different GNOME software tools, and are probably best known for their Shotwell photo organizer, which is the default image organizer in many popular Linux distributions. Geary supports a number of popular webmail services as the mail backend through IMAP.
Geary doesn’t have a lot of features compared to some other clients on this list, but its simple interface might be appealing to users frustrated with unnecessary complexity in other email programs. Geary is available under the LGPL.
KMail is the mail component of Kontact, the personal information manager included with KDE. KMail supports a variety of email protocols, including IMAP, IMAP IDLE, dIMAP, and POP3, and through its integration with the other Kontact components could be considered a complete groupware suite. Despite its Linux routes, a Windows build is also available.
With its long history, KMail has developed most of the modern features you would expect to find in a modern mail program. While it fits nicely into the KDE group of applications, some may find its interface clunky compared to others. But give it a try and see what you think.
KMail is made available under the GPL.
And an honorable mention, N1
N1 is, simply put, an email client that puts its clean look and feel first. It’s a refreshing focus for a desktop Linux application, where subtle design factors like typography and proper use of drop shadows are sometimes ignored in favor of feature creep.
Of course, there are many more options above and beyond what we included, and your personal preference might include some choices we didn’t include here. Trojitá or GNUMail, for example, are both great choices to take a look at. So we’re asking you. What’s your favorite open source desktop email client? And with webmail as the first choice of many users, what do you see as the role of the desktop email client in the years to come? Let us know in the comments below.