Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

E-mail Crisis

I've been having a personal e-mail crisis for the past couple of months. (If you've noticed that my e-mail has been even slower and more erratic than usual, that's why.) I've been trying to figure out a better mail setup and due to my complicated use patterns it has been tricky.

I have dialup Internet access at home, at speeds that are moderately slow even for dialup. I have a personal server elsewhere that does have good internet access, and that's were my e-mail is delivered. My main work computer is a Windows XP laptop. I often work at client sites, and sometimes work at places that have no Internet access, or very limited access with strict controls. I need to read, or at least refer to my e-mail at all those places.

For years I've used Emacs and ViewMail (aka VM) to read my personal e-mail, syncing my e-mail directories between my Internet server, my home machine, and my work laptop with Unison, and primarily reading e-mail on my Internet server. This has worked reasonably well.

I live in Emacs anyway (the Control key is the most worn key on my keyboard for some reason…) and am thoroughly happy with it for editing (and probably dependent on it), and VM has been very comfortable as well. However, development of VM went into hibernation after the release of version 7.19, and so hadn't kept pace with later e-mail developments. Recently the original author of VM, Kyle Jones, handed over development to Robert Widhopf-Fenk and development has picked up again, but it's still lacking some features that I need, and unfortunately I don't have time to devote to adding them myself.

I can't imagine giving up Emacs for reading e-mail, since it integrates so well with the rest of what I do and I enjoy using Emacs and Emacs Lisp, so I'm looking for a new Emacs-based mail reader. So far I haven't been happy with any of my choices.

Back when I read USENET news regularly I used Gnus and loved it. It is distributed with Emacs and seems to have regular development and maintenance. In theory, Gnus can also be used to read e-mail, but because of its news reader design it takes a very unconventional approach to reading e-mail. I'm not entirely comfortable with it, and I haven't figured out the best way to integrate my huge archive of old mail. Moreover, the documentation is quirky and difficult and the programming interfaces are quirky and complicated.

There are other Emacs mail readers. I used RMAIL for a while before I moved to VM, but I can't see moving back. Wanderlust seems moribund. I've used the RAND MH Message Handling System (MH) in the past, outside of Emacs, and there are a couple of modern versions of that (nmh, Mailutils). It turns out there are actually a couple of extensive Emacs interfaces to it: Mew and MH-E. I've looked a little at both, and have had some luck with each. I'll have to see how they compare over time.

I'd be interested in learning about any other Emacs-based e-mail clients. The EmacsWiki doesn't seem to have any other likely prospects, though.

Anyway, I've finally come up with a way to switch back and forth between Gnus, Mew, and MH-E while keeping up with my current e-mail, so I can search for better ways to deal with my old e-mail and compare new email. I should be back to dealing with e-mail quickly and effectively.

A really impressive and unlikely success would be to find a new way of reading mail that lets me access my work e-mail, which is in our corporate Notes e-mail system, from Emacs.

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