The Best and Worst Linux Email Clients

There is one word that really defines Linux, and that word is choice

Some people say that there is too much choice, especially when it comes to the number of distributions, but really the choice of which distribution to choose is just the beginning.

Choose a distro, choose a package manager, choose a browser, choose an email client, choose an audio player, video player, office package, chat client, video editor, image editor, choose a wallpaper, choose compositing effects, choose a toolbar, a panel, choose gadgets, widgets, choose a menu. Choose a dash, a bash, choose a forum to crash. Choose your future, choose Linux, choose life.

This guide lists 4 email clients that are to be highly recommended and one that needs a little bit of work to make it worthwhile.

In the past, people used to get a free email service from their internet service provider. The interface for that email service was usually fairly poor, so there was a big need for a decent email client. Unfortunately, most people ended up with Outlook Express instead.

People soon began to realize that the limitation of having an email with your internet service provider was that you would lose your email when you changed ISP.

With companies like Microsoft and Google offering free webmail services with large mailboxes and a decent web interface the need for big hefty email clients at home has been reduced, and with the birth of smart phones this requirement has dwindled even further.

Email clients, therefore, have to be very good in order to make them more worthwhile than using the web interface.

The email clients in the list below have been judged on the following characteristics:

  • Ease of setting up with a common mail provider (i.e. Gmail)
  • General functionality
  • Ease of use
  • Performance
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Evolution EMail Client
Evolution EMail Client.

Evolution is head and shoulders above every other Linux-based email client. If you want a Microsoft Outlook style appearance for your email then this is the application you should choose.

Setting up Evolution to work with services such as Gmail is as easy as following a simple wizard. Basically, if you can log in via the web interface then you can log in using Evolution.

Functionality wise you obviously have the ability to send and receive emails but within that category, you can create signatures, choose whether to use HTML or plain text emails, insert hyperlinks, tables, and other features into your emails.

The way you view emails can be customized so that your preview panel can be turned on and off and positioned where you want it to be. You can add extra columns to sort your emails by and the labels within Gmail appear as folders.

Evolution isn't just a mail client, however, and includes other options such as a contacts list, memos, task list, and calendar.

Performance wise Evolution runs well but it is generally part of the GNOME desktop environment so is probably better on more modern machines.

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Thunderbird Email Client
Thunderbird Email Client.

Thunderbird is probably the best-known email client that runs on Linux because it is also available for Windows and anybody who doesn't want to spend their hard earned money on Outlook and who has a dedicated email client (as opposed to using the web interface) probably uses Thunderbird.

Thunderbird is brought to you by the same people who brought you Firefox, and as with Firefox it has a nice interface and has loads of functionality.

Unlike Evolution, it is just a mail client and doesn't have the calendar feature, and so there isn't the ability to add tasks or create appointments.

Connecting to Gmail is as easy with Thunderbird as it is with Evolution and it is simply a case of typing in your username and password and letting Thunderbird do the rest.

The interface can be customized to with an inch of its existence whether you are changing the appearance of the preview pane or sending an email with hyperlinks and images.

The performance is very good but if you are one of those people who never delete email then it can take a while for the mail to load the very first time you set it up.

All in all, Thunderbird is a decent email client.

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KMail Email Client
KMail Email Client.

If you are using the KDE desktop environment then it is highly likely that the default mail client is KMail.

KMail is a decent mail client which complements the rest of the applications available within KDE.

Basically, if you have KMail installed then there is no reason to install Evolution or Thunderbird even though they appear higher in this list.

Connecting to Gmail is again as easy as entering your email address and password and KMail will do the rest.

The basic layout is much like that of Microsoft Outlook but as with everything in the KDE world, it can be heavily customized to look just the way you want it to.

All the features that you can expect from a mail client are included as with Thunderbird and Evolution. There isn't a calendar, notes or task manager, however.

There is, however, a very decent search feature. It is generally hard to beat Google's own web client when searching for a specific email, but KMail has a very complex and fully featured tool for searching your mail. Again, this is useful if you never delete your email.

When it comes to performance, well it performs as well as the KDE desktop that it is sitting on What this means is that it will work great on a semi-decent laptop but probably isn't much use on a 1 GB netbook.

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Every mail client mentioned thus far has stated that the performance is good but not good enough for the 1 GB netbook.

What then should you use if you are using an older machine? That is where Geary comes in.

The trade-off, however, is that there aren't that many features and it isn't very customizable.

Obviously, you can compose emails and you can choose between plain text and rich text but it doesn't have nearly as many features as the other clients mentioned.

You can also choose whether to have a preview pane when reading emails and the labels from Gmail are listed as folders.

Connecting Geary to Gmail was as simple as it was for the other mail clients listed and simply requires an email address and password.

If you need a mail client and you don't want to use the web interface and you aren't bothered about big features then Geary is the email client for you.

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The Not So Good Email Client - Claws

Claws Email Client
Claws Email Client.

Claws is the least impressive email client. For one trying to get it to work with Gmail is an absolute nightmare.

You need to go into your Gmail settings and change settings to enable Claws to connect to it and even then there is no guarantee it will connect.

The main problem is this: for an email client to be useful (as with any other application) it needs to serve a purpose that other applications don't serve or be better than other applications serving the same purpose.

For instance, it is a matter of opinion whether Evolution is better than Thunderbird or whether Thunderbird is better than KMail. Evolution has extra features and a more cosmetically pleasing interface. Thunderbird and KMail have more settings and are more customizable.

Geary serves a purpose because it is lightweight and can work on older hardware. Claws is supposed to fill the same space as Geary. The trouble is that if it is too hard to set up then it isn't worth the time to invest to get it set up in the first place because there just aren't enough features to make it worthwhile.