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Balsa 1.0: Mail in the GNOME Environment

An Update

  • December 11, 2000
  • By Michael Hall
For a long while, GNOME-specific mail clients seemingly languished in varying states of completion. Though Balsa has been labelled the official GNOME mailer, there's a long list of candidates that integrate with GNOME with varying degrees of success and offer a collection of features that are pretty nice, even though there are some unfortunate shortcomings in individual clients.

Evolution remains the 800-pound gorilla, but it isn't done yet, and it may be overkill for many when completed since it not only provides a very complete mailer, but calendar and contact management as well. To that extent, it isn't appropriate to write off some of the smaller projects still making progress toward a goal similar to what kmail provides in the KDE environment: a basic, easy-to-use, light-weight GUI mail client.

Balsa seemingly stalled for a while, but development picked up this year and the team has produced version 1.0 of the project. The quick version of this review is as follows:

Balsa is stable, configurable, and integrates well with the overall GNOME environment. It's very easy to use and configure, and if there's any feature that I'd complain about missing, it's the as-yet-to-be-completed filtering tools, which would give the project parity with kmail, Netscape Messenger, and others.

Getting Balsa

Balsa is available from the project download page as a source tarball, source RPM, or RPM package. Links are included to a Debian package and the latest Slackware .tgz.

Building from source is a simple process provided a current set of GNOME development libraries are available. Since Balsa includes a spell-checking component, you should also have ispell and pspell on your system. Though Balsa isn't included as part of the Helix Code GNOME desktop, current libraries from Helix Code will do the trick.

If you decide build from source, you should also be aware that though Balsa works well with a default configuration, there are a few features still tagged as optional or experimental. In particular, if you want to be able to read HTML mail, you should include --enable-gtkhtml when running the configure script. For LDAP support, include --enable-ldap. All current features, whether completed or not, can be enabled with --enable-all. This way you can get a look at the filtering configuration, even though this feature isn't done and won't work.

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