Mail clients

software, email, freedom

’t Is been a while since I spoke of technology, but a lot has changed. With the new Gmail interface out, let’s discuss email for a while. I’ve been using (Zoho hosted in Europe, seems like a parallel implementation in order to be free of the American state having free access) for a number of years now, with great delight. Their web interface is modern (conversation view!), they have both IMAP/CalDAV/CardDAV and Exchange Activesync, and I have never had an issue with mail delivery or receiving.

Have you noticed how email clients have moved online but on phones, which most of us use more and more for email, we still use clients? In fact, on phones everything is being appified, it almost seems that nobody uses the browsers anymore! Of course, websites are fatter and fatter, and mobiles don’t like that, so an app that interfaces through an API is much easier on the loading times and data usage, and app publisher get to snoop on you as a nice side-effect!

Anyway, email clients. Actually, first encryption. De-googlifying myself, I’ve toyed with the idea of GPG encryption for years, while at the same time realizing I will never ever be able to get others to use it. In particular because everybody uses webmail nowadays. There is Mailvelope, and GPG javascript has seen development by the fair people at Protonmail, but it seems to me we’re still quite a ways from mom-and-pop-proofing ubiquitous encrypted email. Que Autocrypt, a protocol that will do away with complicated key-sharing issues and send them along with the first message to a person. This creates end-to-end encryption similar to Whatsapps: unless at the moment of key exchange a snooper has access, all future communication is safe (the content of your email that is). Provided your client supports Autocrypt, you have to do exactly nothing (except transfer your own key to the devices you use that email address on). Well, unless you use webmail clients. The protocal uses email headers to negotiate the keys, which are typically not available from a webmail client. Mailvelope developers are keen to add the functionality but this is a pretty severe obstacle.

So, in order to anticipate using Autocrypt, I decided to try how good-old Thunderbird has held up. Well, it’s old, as we know it does not receive much attention, but it’s not bad either. It does IMAP, with a plugin also CalDAV and CardDAV, and another plugins gives you Conversation View. It can be a bit slow, and I do not have a lot of email (I save important messages to disk, and generally delete). I tried out KMail too, and while it also supports eveything (through Kontact it bundles various KDE PIM apps into a suite) it requires a much more elaborate setup. Each calender separately like Thunderbird, but also IMAP is separate from SMTP is separate from what it calls ‘identities’, so after entering eveything in different panels in different areas you have to string them together under one identity. Oh and by default all new (read or unread) mail in any folder will give a notification. And deleting mail (or drafting, or sending) will by default put mails in a local folder, not the folder associated to the account you’re sending from (SMTP and IMAP being separate concepts to KMail and all). Also, the grouping of messages by title is not across folders and a workable but ultimately poor impression of Conversation View. Ah, and although I do not use it yet, no Autocrypt support yet. In other words, I have set up KMail for the last time ;) Birds of Thunder next time.

What’s also funny is how Windows Phone supports CalDAV/CardDAV by default (if you pretend to use iCloud and then change the server) whereas Android requires you to install seperate non-Google apps to sync your stuff. Googles own account is priviledged. What, Android? Yes, I’ve turned (partially) to the dark side. But I flashed on LineageOS and mostly use F-Droid. It’s still not as easy to use as Winphone. Delta Chat is a fun implementation of Autocrypt by the way, it implements email as a Whatsappy chat alternative and uses Autocrypt for it’s end-to-end encryption. Android only however :/