In 2009 I had written about my experience with Claws Mail. After almost a year with Claws and a few minor releases, I thought it useful to share my experiences after a longer period of time.
Claws is now my default client and I would not change it for anything else. It’s fast, easy to set up and use, dependable and handles litteraly tons of emails. Claws runs at the core of my business, at the heart of my contributions to Free Software (OpenOffice.org, in my case) and I therefore end up using it quite a lot everyday.
This article will therefore not be about why it’s so good, and why you should give it a real try. It will be about the limitations of Claws. Every software has limitations, and every software has room for improvements. Perhaps by reading this, people interested in using Claws will get a more granular review on what Claws has to offer.
Where to start? As I already wrote, Claws is simply the fastest graphical email client I ever used, and I have used a few (Thunderbird, Evolution, Apple Mail, Outlook, Pegasus, Mozilla mail…) so my review will not so much focus on this or that feature. Rather, I will try to review Claws in the context of a daily use for business or private use.
One thing you will quickly realize with Claws is that it comes with a lot of plugins. I do not exactly know the reason for this, although it’s far from being unpleasant. Plugins may really change your experience of Claws, and you will see that Claws ships with default plugins and extra plugins. You will notice that these plugins cover a large functional scope. Pretty much everything is available from notifications plugins to mailbox formats, spam and calendar. There are also addons but they tend to be geared towards script-oriented users.
Spam filtering is something an email client should address in a comprehensive way, and thanks to three different plugins and one for spam reporting, Claws offers a broad choice of strategies against spam: SpamAssassin, Bogofilter, and BSFilter. After a couple of tries I chose Bogofilter and am happy with it. The results tend to be different depending on the plugin you chose, but you can only choose one at a time, obviously.
Html viewers are another matter: I experienced instability issues with the gtkhtml viewer but I may be the only one. It is the only instance where I actually had Claws crashing. The Fancy Html plugin, which embeds the webkit engine, solved the problem. You might also choose not to use any html plugin. But that’s for you to decide.
The Calendar plugin is really useful in an office or business context of use. It’s a well made, lightweight plugin but I have to say that it suffers both from the poor state of interoperability in the groupware world and the fact that it’s just that, a plugin. As a calendar, the Vcalendar plugin works perfectly, and with one small twist (i.e. Adding its full extension name to the exported version) it works seamlessly with Mozilla Sunbird and Lightning. This plugin works really well for validation of participation to meetings, only if, of course, you have a recipient whose client can actually understand the messages that are sent to him. That’s not always the case. The plugin can also synchronize with online calendars, which comes in handy these days. The two limitations I see is that you cannot really have two or more separate calendars and that the calendar view could be very much improved. But the existing feature set is already enticing, as shown here.
What’s missing very much besides a more complete calendar application is a clearer interface for the address book, which I find frugal compared to the one of thunderbird, although the address collection and edition is really faster than anything else I’ve seen. What is also missing is a small task manager plugin of some sort. I know that by suggesting this idea, I am essentially coining an idea of a feature alreay available inside Claws’ arch ennemy, Novell Evolution. But it does not have to be as heavy as Evolution to ship such a feature! I have read the Claws Planet regularly and witnessed the efforts made to have Claws interact with Tomboy. In my opinion, however, it’s only geared to one application only and does not really address the need for a small task manager with notifications that would sit inside Claws. I would tend to look for it elsewhere, if it weren’t for the fact that if there’s a calendar plugin already available, it would make sense to have a task manager plugin as well. But I also know that Free and Open Source Software are a do-ocracy, so anyone who wants to have a shot at it is welcome.
Last but not least, a word on the distribution. Claws has versions available for Windows and Mac OSX, although it does not seem to follow the same pace as the one on Linux/Unix. I have not tried the Maemo port, so I will only discuss the differences of Claws Mail on Fedora, Arch Linux, Gentoo and Ubuntu. Basically there are differences in the way the application and its plugins are packaged and shipped. I had no problem whatsoever on these distributions except for Ubuntu (Karmic) . On Ubuntu you have the choice between an outdated version of packages and a set of packages coming as a set of PPA (Personal Packages archives). The problem is that the interaction between the two create irreconciliable incompatibilities, which really harms the experience with Claws on this platform.
As a final word, I should perhaps mention that Claws can be themed and that there’s a large of choice of themes available on the website. In fact Claws can be quite elegant, which adds even more to this email client already full of qualities!