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Which MUA for Linux?

Posted 12-09-2012 at 07:40 AM by dr_agon
Updated 12-09-2012 at 07:44 AM by dr_agon

applies to: linux, KMail, Opera, Balsa, Claws

Recently I got sick of new KMail. I tried to be patient and after upgrading to new KDE4 (together with Kubuntu 12.04, which is "Long Term Support", so it was ment to be "stable") I ran trough all pains with migrating my e-mails and configuring it together with Akonadi, Nepomuk, and Virtuoso. I hoped to get the whole KDE-PIM usable again. Now, after half a year, I gave up and searched for replacement.
I needed Mail User Agent with graphical interface (GUI), POP3 support, ability to store locally several thousands of e-mails, have not only spam but other filter capabilities, and support custom message tags to help me organize messsages.
Here are options I considered with short comments about each program:

1. KMail2 (the last version I used was 4.9.4)
It theoretically has all required features and works well with other parts of KDE-PIM. Unfortunately, it has major bugs and disadvantages:
  • It caused some e-mail loss for me, in unknown and not repeatable situations, so I could not file a bug for it.
  • It installs and uses separate MySQL database for storing metadata about e-mails, which consumes resources (well, it is really Akonadi, but you cannot use KMail without it). It may be possible to combine it with system-wide MySQL installation, but due to unstable and unpredictable behavior of KMail - I did't try it.
  • For simple task of custom tagging of messages it requires Nepomuk Semantic Desktop running - another huge, resource-greedy subsystem. Couple of times all my tags just disappeared, leaving my hundreds of mails bare.
  • Due to asynchronous processing it frequently asks user for resolving conflicts due to trivial problems. For example when spam filter tries to move message to another folder, and I managed to view the message during "filtering", one version of message is "unread, spam", but other becomes "read" and the poor KMail can't manage it itself. I'd rather wait until it finishes filtering, but it reports finishing right after queuing the messages for filter, so how can I know when the filtering ends?
  • The annoying "synchronizing folder" messages seem just a small inconvenience in this circumstances.

2. Opera Mail
Opera is my primary browser, so I decided to give OperaMail a try. I knew about its convenient message tagging(=labelling) method, and I think this is the main advantage of OperaMail. But it lacks other important things:
  • It does not support filtering message through external program.
  • It seems that Opera uses its own spam detection mechanism, which would require training from the beginning, and probably would not be transferable.
  • The thing that convinced me to drop OperaMail was the format of message folders. It is neither mbox, maildir, nor mh. I asked myself - what if I wanted to switch from Opera to other mail client - how would I import messages FROM OperaMail to another MUA? Manually copying?

3. Balsa (
Its feature list looked promising.
  • Since it supports maildir I was able to configure it to use the same directories as KMail (local mail folder), so the problem of importing all my mails just disappeared. This was a nice surprise. In fact I could use both KMail and Balsa with the same maildir. And Balsa was soooo much faster!
  • The filtering capabilities were sufficient, but to get best results one would probably need procmail.
  • It was easy configurable, and had many useful options.
  • Yet, Balsa doesn't support custom message tags. The message can be either "flagged" or "unflagged", no more. Maybe when this gets implemented, I'll try it again.

4. Claws mail (
  • I installed version 3.9.0 from Ubuntu PPA. This was convenient.
  • Then, I had to import messages from KMail to MH folder. This was done easily using a script.
  • There are lots of filtering and processing options which may seem confusing at the beginning, but overall it can be very useful.
  • I managed to configure filters to use qsf as spam recognition program, so my well trained database remained valid!
  • Creating and adding custom tags to messages was flawless, and that's what I rely on in my work.
  • Searching through big folders is quick.

The overall performance of Claws Mail is very pleasant in comparison to KMail, and for now it remains my e-mail client.

Giving up KMail, I also searched for replacement of KCalendar. This is another story, but just to mention it shortly, I use Chandler.
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