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December 10th, 2015

How Do FOSSers Use Email?

The FOSS Force Readers’ Poll

The "at" sign in email addressesHow do you receive and send your email? Inquiring minds want to know.

Last week’s article about Mozilla thinking of kicking Thunderbird out of the house to stay with friends started us thinking. For some reason, probably because our thoughts were on other things, such as the difference between the java in our cup (Chock full o’ Nuts, which has no nuts, by the way) and the Java on our machines (which has no Chock full o’ Nuts — go figure), it never occurred to us that the mobile revolution might’ve changed the way folks use email more than we’d realized.

Until now, we’ve figured that most people still basically relied on the trusty ol’ desktop to meet most of their email needs, with only occasional mobile use, given the iffiness of mobile security. As FOSSers, we basically rely on desktop clients such as Thunderbird connected to domain based servers and only use free web based services like Gmail in special circumstances, like when signing up for something on some site that’s sure to start sending a barrage of spam. And some of us get really weird when it comes to email on mobile — but more on that later.

When someone on an email list (we were reading it on our desktop using Thunderbird, BTW) said Thunderbird is dying because it’s a desktop client and that no one is using them anymore, the office was engulfed in silence. We looked at one another like tots who’d just discovered the truth about Santa Claus and said in unison, “They’re not?”

Yup. It was a magical moment. You should’ve been there.

Anyway, we’ve decided to get to the bottom of this. We want to know how people actually use their email. Not just any people, mind you, as we already know that most people, not being overly interested in privacy, security or free tech, use email any way that suits their fancy. We want to know how FOSSers, folks who read FOSS Force and who are presumably informed and knowledgeable about these issues, use email.

So, we’re running a poll.

[yop_poll id=”48″]

Are you like our crazy editor (please don’t tell her we called her that, because she gets insane, even worse than Mr. Torvalds, when she’s angry) who uses email almost exclusively on the desktop and never on her phone unless she’s out-of-town, and then by way of an anonymous Gmail account on a disposable Tracfone burner? Do you use one of the high security services that does everything possible, short of running your email through TOR, to keep your emails out of the prying eyes of the NSA? Or do you figure it doesn’t matter, use Microsoft’s email since they’re so trustworthy and all, and have all of your emails auto-forwarded to appear on your Facebook wall? Again, inquiring minds want to know.

Hey, maybe you’re so paranoid that you don’t use email at all, like one of our writers, who insists on sending us his articles via snail mail. But we suspect he has other problems…

As you probably notice, we’ve got plenty of answers — ten of them, as a matter of fact. As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, we ask a lot of questions for folks from New Jersey, and not a one of us is from the Garden State. Feel free to select all that apply to you, but remember to get them all on the first try, as you won’t be allowed to return to the ballot box after you cast your vote. Oh, and if you use a solution that didn’t occur to us, which is entirely possible as a few of us are at that stage where we have “senior moments,” go ahead and list it under the “other” option.

On Wednesday, well be back and let you know what we gleaned from this poll. We’ll try to be a little more serious about it, but we make no promises.

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16 comments to How Do FOSSers Use Email?

  • I do not own a mobile device so I don’t use any for email. How is using a mobile device not using a web-client and or email client? How is a desktop client that different from a mobile client? Maybe Thunderbird should just make a mobile version like they did with Firefox? Are they also saying no one uses a web-browser on a desktop computer anymore?

    If you think being picky on your end with email security is helpful, think again. Presumably you can’t email only with yourself… well you could using the same account or multiple accounts but the usefulness of that is dubious. My point is that when you email, your email leaves you and travels over the wire and space and however… and then one or more people receive it. While it is traveling, even if the transmission protocol between you and SMTP server hop 1 was encrypted… that doesn’t mean the rest of the path will be encrypted… unless of course you are using something like GnuPG to encrypt your email content and your receivers are decrypting it when reading. Very few people bother with encrypting and decrypting and the fact that almost no web-based systems support that (do any?) and a lot of desktop and mobile client applications don’t support it… and even with those that do, it isn’t dead simple to setup… only a small fraction of users encrypt their content. Many use encrypted protocols but again, that doesn’t guarantee the entire delivery path with be encrypted… nor that the receivers won’t copy and paste / share or forward what you sent them… of that they won’t get hacked and have it stolen along with everything else. My point is, that being paranoid about email is pretty much a waste of time. Just accept that it is, to a large degree, public… and if that isn’t good enough for you, don’t send stuff you won’t want public through email. There are so many places in-between and back again… where various parties can give themselves access to your mail without trying too hard… unless of course you and your receivers totally control the complete communication path AND you are using encryption on the content (not just a portion of the protocol path)… and neither of you ever get hacked… and you both agree to never share it and don’t.


    I was going to make a joke about how I changed email servers because the original one is running Linux… and that Linus Torvalds is so mean… so I didn’t want to support his meanness by having Linux somewhere in the email path… but everyone knows that’s a stupid argument right? Exactly! And that’s why I’m not bringing it up.

  • 3arn0wl

    The original Social Network! I don’t anticipate its demise anytime soon either!

    I use Thunderbird, and gave out the same “They’re not” as you. As most people, I have several e-mail accounts, keeping different things separate and, as you say, keeping as anonymous as possible. I really hope somebody will continue to look after Thunderbird, because it’s a terrific app.

    I like the idea of these other apps that morph between IM and e-mail, where you can send docs through too. I’d use Tox (or an equivalent p2p encrypted app) if anyone else I communicated with used it. Perhaps it says something about people’s ignorance or complacency, that there hasn’t been a move in that direction?

    Finally, I wish the workplace would use forums in place of e-mail rallies, especially those “cc: everyone”. But again, this is probably down to not knowing about the idea…

  • What client a user uses depends a lot on the server they have an account with. If their email provider offers a good-to-strong web-based interface, web-mail will probably be preferred simply because it is accessible from anywhere.

    I’ve been using a Zimbra server for my personal email system for about 10 years now and the Zimbra web-client is top notch and the various services / features offered by Zimbra Collaboration Suite on the server side provide a killer combination. I haven’t wanted to mess with the greasy kid stuff ever sense.

    Email is so much more than email these days. People want contacts, calendaring, sharing (of email, contacts and calendars), advanced attachments (a link in the email rather than an attachment for each recipient), virus scanning, spam protection, etc. A stand-alone email client that just speaks POPS and IMAPS really can’t compete with systems that provide some or all of those features. Zimbra and Exchange are two such systems. Google gets away with gmail by provided related services that aren’t explicitly integrated as do a few others like Yahoo.

    I had an acquaintance email me a couple of weeks back telling me I had an opportunity in helping them setup a new email server from scratch. They rattled off the components they hoped to use… in an effort to have a fraction of those features. Each component could easily speak the various Internet protocols to get the job done but there was almost no integration and a lot of missing features. I told them I wasn’t interested for two reasons… and that they should probably go with one of the big online services.

    The two reasons were:

    1) The system they wanted to run everything on was way to underpowered for Zimbra so Zimbra wasn’t an option

    2) I had heard that the little guys (which includes putting up your own domain email) that didn’t have years of email out in the wild (providing a reputation) would have trouble either getting their email delivered to the big services or if it got delivered, out of the junk box by default… because of it being a new domain / email setup with no “reputation”. All of the big providers augment the Internet standards with unpublished, reputation rules (and various other server / domain characteristics they determine) they have come up with to help reduce spam.

    Thunderbird is a great general purpose email client that can speak SMTP, POPS, IMAPS and a few other protocols via add-ons, etc… but it is hard for a client to provide the complete and integrated features that modern users want. I think it takes quite a bit of collaboration work between the server side and the client side to achieve that… and it is such a broad suite of features, it is akin to an office suite in complexity and engineering resources required.

  • Caffewmilk

    I have not used a thick email client for years now and don’t miss it. the only thick email client I use is Outlook 2010 and it’s for work only.

  • Ricardo

    I use Kmail for my work and personal accounts.

    I have several work accounts, Gmail, Yahoo and my personal domain, all of them accessed via POP3 and leaving the last 15 days of emails on the servers (except Gmail and Yahoo).

    That’s the true power of a desktop client: access several email accounts from a single place.

    I ocasionally use webmail (e.g. once a week to check Spam folders), Roundcube being my choice for my work and personal email accounts.

    I also have my main work account configured on my phone, but mainly to check if there’s something very important that I have to take care of, or reading mails in my way to work to get a feel for the day.

    That said, 99% of my email is done on the desktop.

  • Duncan

    No mobile phone as I’ve never been able to cost-justify the monthly feeds, and of course I’d want a freedomware phone too, tho with free wifi so widely available these days, I’m considering getting a chromebook or the like to wipe and install gentoo on.

    For my home workstation, I still use my ISP’s email, via claws-mail desktop email client, in plain-text-only as HTML based mail is a whole bucket load of security issues I don’t have to worry about.

    I use a separate claws-mail instance, with its feed-reader plugin, for site feeds such as the one FOSSForce makes available, and I use pan, a news (NNTP) client, for news, and via gmane.org’s list2news service, for mailing lists as well, thus keeping all the mailing lists I follow presented as if they’re newsgroups, and out of my email. (Claws-mail does news too, but I prefer pan for that, and would use a third claws-mail instance for news if I did use it for that, since I definitely want it separate from email.)

  • lucius

    Personally, Thunderbird is the best Desktop client there is on Linux. Evolution has endless issues, Geary is embarrassing, KMail looks awful and is hard to get working, Claws looks like it was designed in the early 90’s. I don’t want to use a web browser to access my email as it involves too much faffing around. I like the dedicated client setup – start the program up and off it goes to check emails, or leave it running configured to check every so often.
    I have an Android tablet, I put my email account details into it and a few weeks later received a letter from my ISP telling me my email account had been hacked.
    Losing Thunderbird would just about be the end (of Linux) for me (after over a decade of dedicated use of Linux on the Desktop).

  • Like Ricardo, I’m using KMail with multiple POP3 accounts. And I don’t use email for anything that I couldn’t say loud in a public space.

    I’m turning 63 in a few days, and I’m starting to feel like a dinosaur with my big fat desktop (or really floor) Gentoo Linux system. As I’m seldom far away from it, it fills all my purposes for computing. I was given a Lenovo tablet a while ago; the one thing that I’m using it for is to read ebooks in the Kindle reader. I don’t get why people will use such a cramped interface for anything but the simplest tasks. I also own a Samsung Galaxy S2 phone, but apart from wasting time on Candy Crush, I might as well manage with a pre-2K cell phone.

  • I use an Exchange/Outlook on work computer/Outlook Web Service for work – no getting around that.
    But I use Claws Mail on my Linux machines and CloudMagic on my Android, so apps on both accounts. My hosting plan also offers Squirrelmail access, which occasionally comes in handy. Claws handles my just under 100,000 emails flawlessly, CloudMagic is not great for search, though.

  • Jon

    Fetchmail and mutt, or Thunderbird when travelling. No smartphone, they cost way too much for way too little benefit. I don’t really need to run Facebook when I’m out of the house.

  • I’ve never liked Thunderbird, I murder disks far too often with my constant switching between OSs, so Gmail was my friend. Recently I have started using protonmail.ch, and their on-line client, as my provider because I don’t want GCHQ and NSA stealing at my intellectual property without paying me substantial royalties.

  • bjrosen

    I use Thunderbird on the desktop and the Gmail client on my Nexus (connection to my pop server and to Gmail). A desktop client is absolutely necessary for multiple reasons, first I need to archive my e-mails because they contain business correspondence and I need to go back and look at e-mails that may be 5 or 6 years old. I’m certainly not going to rely on Google to archive my e-mails for me, I want them in my own hands. The second thing is that a phone is great for reading e-mail but you aren’t going to compose anything other than a simple response on a touch screen so it will always be a secondary method of accessing e-mails.

    I’m really pissed at the Mozilla’s foundation treatment of Thunderbird, I hope that someone adopts it, maybe Libreoffice or Linux foundation. The death of Thunderbird would hurt Linux users much more than Windows users because the other alternatives on the Linux desktop suck, Windows users can always fall back on Outlook. Thunderbird is the only product of the Mozilla foundation that has no decent alternative for Linux users. If they were to kill Firefox tomorrow I wouldn’t really care, I’ve been using the beta of Vivaldi and I like it better than Firefox and of course there is always Chrome. The pinheads at Mozilla flushed a fortune down the toilet doing that ridiculous Firefox OS that nobody needed or wanted. I wish they had spent 1% of that on Thunderbird and banked the rest for a rainy day.

  • Gavin Flower

    I use email on my desktop, not on either of my mobiles devices (Nexus 4 & Nexus 9).

  • P.Woods

    I too am 63, and run a 3 screen desktop. I am quite miffed because I had to change ADSL provider and the new outfit doesn’t do e-mail (POP3 or whatever.)
    Having used Thunderbird relatively happily; the e-mail works, but the only other thing I used – the address book – is cr*p, changing to G-mail is a disaster!
    Mozilla have neglected Thunderbird – viz aforementioned address book – but it is vastly superior to have my e-mails on MY m/c and NOT in the cloud.

  • mjh

    Seamonkey, the mozilla browser and thunderbird integrated package. My entire 15 year business history is in it, so ill be using at least that part until teleporting replaces email.

    61, using unix since 1985 and linux since 1998.