Friday, 8 July 2011

Changing mail reader again. This time: Gnus

After a year reading my mail with Thunderbird, I have decided to try Gnus. I was already using it (though not often) for newsgroups, but now I wanted to do it for regular e-mail. In the past I have played with Gnus a bit, but never spent the necessary time to learn and configure it properly. This time I took a couple of "slow" days and decided to make the effort to dump Thunderbird and go for Gnus.

Some things that I didn't like in Thunderbird during this last year:
  • Synchronizing between different computers was not straightforward. Mails were in the IMAP server, so that was not a problem, but I wasn't sure how I could easily synchronize news (from newsgroups), filters, etc. in different computers
  • For some reason, Thunderbird would mark some messages as read, even when I didn't say so (quite dangerous, as once I read a message, I normally don't go back to it).
  • The IMAP connection to my server was very slow after having thousands of messages, so I ended up archiving messages by year. This was a bit annoying, since from my home computer then I could not access those messages.
  • Probably related to the archives, when searching for messages, sometimes a relevant message would show up in the search results, but when I tried to open the message, then nothing would show up. I would have to remember the date of the message and go and find it manually. Not very convenient.
  •  Many times Thunderbird complained of server timeouts. As a result, messages that I thought were deleted, actually remained in the server and other oddities...
So I decided to give another chance to Gnus. Can it do everything I need? Was the effort to replace Thunderbird worthwhile?

My current mail setting now involves two accounts (work and private), which are backed up in a third account (which I never touch, this is just a repository of ALL the mail I get). At my workstation I run fetchmail to download locally (and delete from the mail accounts) all the e-mails I get in both accounts (the setting for this only involves creating a .fetchmailrc file where I specify the servers, accounts, etc.). (sendmail also needs to be running in the machine).

The Gnus manual (the PDF version) has 435 pages, so configuring it to your taste is going to take a while, but it is (like Emacs), incredibly flexible and powerful. For me the main features that I was looking for were:
  • Reliability (I hate when software starts doing "things" on its own).
  • Possibility of having exactly the same environment and configuration, no matter where in the whole Internet I was located.
  • Good filing and searching of messages.
So after a while, reading the manual and asking in the relevant newsgroup, I have more or less everything I need (though this being Emacs, I'll probably never stop modifying the configuration):
  1. mail is sorted into different groups, and those in the "MailingList" groups are deleted automatically in one week (unless I say otherwise), and other Mail is never deleted (unless I say otherwise); 
  2. the search engine works really fast and well (actually much better than the Thunderbird search engine); 
  3. this works inside Emacs, which I run in text mode (emacs -nw), inside GNU screen (well, actually Byobu), so wherever I am, I only need to connect through ssh to my workstation, and I have full control and exactly the same configuration everywhere.

And this is how it looks right now. The "Folder" view:

The messages view in one of the groups:

I have only used it for a couple of days, so I'm not sure how it will score against Thunderbird in a year from now, but so far I didn't have any problems, and it looks a better approach for my needs. I will report back in a year!


gavenkoa said...

Do you still use GNUS?

angelv said...

Hi gavenkoa,

yes, still using it (and loving it). Certainly I'm not going back any time soon!

gavenkoa said...

Thanks for answer.

I use Thunderbird but unsatisfied with it.

So look for another solutions.

Major feature that I require is a advanced notification which can be achieved by GNUS scoring.

But generally it is hard to get working Emacs for a mailing...

Last weekend I got

Next weekend I try complete my setup ))