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Playing with Evolution. The second release candidate for Evolution 1.0 was announced last week. Evolution is at the core of Ximian's effort to produce a better Linux desktop, so we thought it was worth a close look. Here's a first set of impressions.
Evolution is an integrated tool handling a number of desktop tasks:
The first time a user runs the application, a short series of dialog windows is presented, allowing the user to configure the application. Mostly it has to do with how to send and retrieve mail. Evolution can handle POP/IMAP servers, local mail spools, and qmail "maildir" directories. It can also import mail setups from elm or Netscape, and address information from GnomeCard. It would be nice if it could bring in calendar entries from ical, if that capability does exist, it isn't obvious how to access it.
The mail client is fully featured, at least from the point of view of certain classes of users. The interface is completely graphical, of course, with lots of mousing required to do most tasks. The usual mail client activities - reading, sending, foldering, printing, etc. - are well supported.
MIME mail, of course, is thoroughly implemented, helpful for those of us who get lots of family pictures in the mail (screenshot). Also supported is HTML mail - your spam never looked better. The Evolution designers felt that HTML mail support was crucial, but they have taken a cautious approach to it. The client will not send HTML mail unless explicitly configured to do so; there is also a feature in the contact manager which can enable or disable HTML mail on a per-recipient basis. If you chose to send HTML mail, there is a set of basic formatting options available.
The HTML mail display is also, wisely, configured to never load images off the net; to do otherwise opens up the user to a number of privacy problems.
Other features include a threaded mail display (screenshot) and the ability to sort messages by a number of criteria. There is also a built-in filtering capability with, of course, a graphical window for defining filters. The feature to set up a filter based on the current message is a nice one. Filters can be set up to run automatically, or in response to an explicit command
The message search and "vfolder" capabilities make it easy to organize and find messages. If you're forever trying to figure out where you put that important note from six months ago, Evolution may make your life easier.
On the other hand, a number of features that long-time Unix mail users are accustomed to are still missing. If there is any way to feed a message to a shell command, it's not easy to find. The "burst" capability from MH is a nice way to read digests, but Evolution does not have it. The ability to "redistribute" a message with its original headers is missing - though some, certainly, would consider that to be a positive feature. And, of course, there is no non-graphical mode - a pain for people who have to get at their mail over slow network links.
The calendar client (screenshot) is pretty much what one would expect. It has the usual features, including nice support for recurring events (though it can be a bit hard to find the first time). There are hooks for sharing your availability information to a group, thus allowing others to schedule your time without asking you. What fun.
The contact manager (screenshot) is a fairly straightforward address book database. It comes thoughtfully preloaded with Ximian's contact information. It is possible to transfer contact information from email messages by right clicking on email addresses within the mail client.
A few glitches remain. There appears, for example, to be no deterministic way of knowing when Evolution will actually figure out that new mail has arrived. It also has shown a bit of a tendency to leave behind stray processes, with names like "wombat," when it exits. But, as a whole, it seems quite solid and well developed. It may not be the Linux guru's preferred mail system, but the pointy-haired boss will probably like it. Evolution is a high-quality contribution to the free software community.
Dmitry Sklyarov update. Remember Dmitry? He's still in trouble.... A case conference was held on November 26, with a few outcomes of interest. In particular, it appears that the defense will be mounting a constitutional challenge against the DMCA, among other tactics. That increases the importance of this case (except, of course, for Dmitry and family, who certainly found it important enough already). A successful constitutional challenge could go a long way toward eliminating the DMCA problem.
It will take a while to find out, though, as the wheels of the justice system grind slowly along. The pre-trial hearings start in March, 2002; if the case continues, the date for the real trial will be set on April 15. So a real resolution of this case (without appeals and such) isn't likely before the (northern hemisphere) summer.
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November 29, 2001