Writing a GNOME mail client
Apr 17, 1999, 20:54 (30 Talkback[s])
Miguel de Icaza is excited about the possibility of developing a
GNOME mail program.
So, I was watching the grass grow the other day, and it ocurred
to me that the main medium of communications for the free software
community is mail. Is it our most valuable communication resource.
Still I have not seen any mail program which is truely powerful,
extensible and it is designed to address the needs of our
The mail needs of people these days are rather different from
those some years ago: keeping up with high-volume mailing lists;
keeping up with important people; being able to keep track of
conversations; being able to easily archive messages based on
various criteria; being able to automatically split mail in
folders; being able to decode mime messages and render them nicely;
being able to link the addressbook with corporate address book
services; schedule appointments.
So we need to provide this powerful tool. Now, given that the
core of Gnumeric took only two months to develop and it was a
rather solid and good piece of code, I am confident that we can
tackle this project as well and do things right.
Now, what do we need to make this a reality? Well, step number
one is to make this project fun and reusing all of the nice code
and infrastructure that we have developed over the past months.
Given that we are going to redo the Mail application for GNOME,
I have a number of ideas on how to do this. So this is sort of a
call for volunteers that want to start working on such a beast.
We need various modules in this mail program. Each module should
be implemented as a CORBA object, exclusively because it allows us
to upgrade different components and choose different
implementations over time, without having to update the whole
Contextual operations are very useful, so we should use Button-3
for context operations as much as possible.
- Mail storage
This will handle the handling of the mail input backend,
supporting various existing setups: imap, pop, spool mail, Mailbox,
MH. We can steal the design for the interface from GNUS.
The mail storage should provide the mail splitting: applying all
the rules defined for separating the mail into different
See  for more
- Summary display
Summary display should allow people to list the messages in a
folder. We should implement what most people expect from the folder
summary display, but on top of that we need that right clicking on
a message presents useful options about the message:
- Increase the score for this author/thread.
- Use this message as a "pattern" for automatically creating a
So that users do not end up editing manually their .procmail
file, nor using a GUI to manually wonder which header needs to be
used for splitting.
We can get splitting right most of the time, so by default we
should be ablt to do a pretty good job.
- Allow the user to auto-archive any conversation with the person
selected or to auto-archive a thread (ie, based on Subject).
It should be possible from a message to see what the guy is
replying to with a single click.
- Message Display
This should be clearly a full fledged display engine for all of
the new stuff we get on the net these days. Integration with Bonobo
for displaying message contents would be excellent.
We can use Mozilla to render the display in the future, so a
simple renderer for now would do the job.
- Tool integration
I suggest that the Message Display engine be decoupled by a
clean CORBA interface from the Summary engine and from the folder
We should integrate not only this, but it should integrate
seemlessly with the calendar and the addressbook (the addressbook
needs to be redesigned, because currently it is: not powerful and
not very nice).
The actual tools can be embedded with Bonobo (we can bootstrap
with this feature turned off, but eventually it will be like this),
so it will look like a big unified interface to the end user.
- Why not improve an existing mailer program
There is too much baggage in existing mail applications that we
do not want to carry into the future. Reusing parts of existing GPL
applications and mail applications should be fine, but I do not
think there is much to be rescued.
I would love to be proved wrong on this topic. But the
experience of gnumeric has left a very good taste in my mouth: it
is possible to do so and it is possible to do this in a very clean
- Developing this mail client
We need to split the work between hackers. Each one choosing a
very specific task, so that we can paralellize as much as
Cordination will take place on the
email@example.com, to subscribe send mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org and put "subscribe" as
part of your message.
Bertrand has been working in
such a beast, perhaps we can reuse some of his code. I am just a
bit concerned that the implementation is in Objective-C, which
means that people need an objective-c compiler on their system to