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The Evolution of Evolution: Steady Progress - page 3

Obtaining Evolution

  • December 4, 2000
  • By Michael Hall
I'm heavily dependent on procmail to my mail filtering, and I like to use Jed as a nice, Emacs-keybinding-compatible text editor. As a result, to get onto my desktop and stay there, Evolution's faced with the task of providing better mail filtering than I already have, and the ability to use my favorite text editor (at least in spirit and finger memory.)

I set up for my week-long trial by making sure nothing much changed if I needed to switch back to my more familiar tools. Since I didn't feel like linking Evolution to all 30 active mailboxes in ~/Mail, I wrote a quick procmail recipe to move a copy of everything into a single mbox file. I wanted to put Evolution through its paces in terms of filtering, so a monolithic file of my 300-500 pieces of mail a day was ideal. This is a good strategy if you have some disk space to burn and want to try Evolution out without risking disrupting your mail flow if something goes awry, too.

Emacs is emulated in keybindings with ease, so not having to retrain my finger memory was the least of my concerns as I prepared to give Evolution a spin. Visiting the GNOME control center and selecting Document Handlers -> HTML Editor -> "Emacs like" allows you to use many of the common Emacs navigation keys. You may not have Emacs in all its glory, but for most mail editing tasks, this suffices.

Since the last time I looked at it, Evolution has improved a lot in terms of stability and features. I stuck with the preview release (0.6) for several days, and had I gotten around to building from CVS sooner, I may have ended up staying with it even longer. Many of the available mailer features work correctly with only the occasional crash. There are a few bugs that make some of the features less reliable, but it's easier to get a sense of how featureful Evolution is now and even begin the process of migrating if your current mail client leaves you cold.

I've most been looking forward to improvements, and there's definite flexibility in that area. Enough, in fact, that with a little added stability, Evolution will be easily dropped into more complex procmail-based mail schemes. It can now filter on specific headers, which is great if your mail is passing through something like Catherine Hampton's Spambouncer, which appends the "X-SBClass:" header to label spam as such. In addition, there's support for regular expressions in the sorting, so you can move a procmail recipe over with relative ease.

Though it doesn't work quite right yet (there are problems saving the criteria) there's now date-based filtering, allowing you to specify, for instance, arrival and composition dates as filtering criteria.

In addition to added flexibility, Evolution has got some nice features for what to do with mail it's filtering. It's possible to assign a color to a mail's entry in the message browser, for instance, allowing you to mark mail for easy visual sorting. If you'd like to highlight all the mail from a certain person, or to a certain list, Evolution will do that. There's also the beginnings of a scoring system, something heavy USENET users will enjoy.

Virtual Folders remain in place and take advantage of all the filtering criteria, too, and this is one of nicer features of Evolution. While it's possible to move mail into folders with ease, VFolders allow users to make customized views of their mail. With date criteria set relative to the current date, for instance, it will be a simple matter to create VFolders that group mail by how old it is, allowing a quick look at the last week's mail, or mail from two weeks ago, or mail from this time last year without moving the mail into a "real" mail folder.

Evolution is more than a mail client, though: it also includes a calendar and contact manager.

Though work is still in progress to get the GNOME address book talking with Evolution, it's possible to use GNOME Calendar files by copying the ~/.gnome/user-cal.vcf to the ~/evolution/local/Calendar/calendar.ics file. If you have a PalmOS-based device, Evolution also has some conduits for use with gnome-pilot which will automate this process.

Some interesting work is being done on scheduled item recurrence in the calendar. Now it's possible to not only specify that something happen every set period, but days of the week can be specified, too, making it possible to set up recurring appointments every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for instance. Recurrence is dictated with plain English, so it's easy to make recurring appointments that occur on intervals like "every first Tuesday of each month" or "the third day of each month."

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