Review: Pine Vs Mozilla ThunderBird

I had been an avid user of Pine for almost five years. Recently, I decided to move to a greener posture. I dumped my good old Pine and settled with a graphical client. Although, sometime I miss the simple, fast, text based interface, the new relationship is shaping up to be an exciting one. We have our bad times, but overall I am happy with the switch.Email has been an integral part of my daily life. I will admit my addiction for checking emails. From the latest spam to enlarge my certain organ to the email from an old friend — I just love getting emails. On a serious note, a big chunk of my work depends on reading and responding to emails. I receive about 200 emails(not counting spam) on average a day. A good, trusty email client in these days of information overload is necessary. You need a client that is easy to use, can handle spam, easily tunes with your favorite operating system / desktop environment. And yes, if you are a Usenet junkie, you need an email client that works as a news reader as well.

Pine can provide all of the above and it was fulfilling my needs just fine. I started using Pine heavily around ’98. It was beginning of my undergraduate career. Like most other big schools, our email cluster was in a Sun OS box. I didn’t bother installing a POP/IMAP client at home or work. Just ssh to the server, type ‘p’ (my alias for pine) in the prompt and Walla — you’ve got mail. I remember checking my email from the Heathrow airport, I remember checking it from Brazil(Indiana). There are fond memories attached with Pine. I never thought that I would use something else for my email.

Then, why the dumping? My school decided to get rid of the Unix cluster / shell access and provide everyone with a web interface. The option of login to the server and using Pine was gone. I could have still use Pine in my GNU/Linux workstation as a IMAP client or even when I would be using a PC, there was PC-Pine. However, standing at the crossroads, I decided to seek something new, something different.

I tried Mozilla mail for couple days, didn’t like it. I can’t remember the details but I could tell there was a lack of spark between us. Then I installed Thunderbird at my work machine(was secretly login to the cluster and using Pine at home). It seemed less bloated than Mozilla and I liked the interface. Now, clicking mouse for reading emails was new to me(I know there are key shortcuts, but when you are in a graphical environment you tend to lean towards the mouse). It took me a while to get
used to this foreign notion. Days went by and I finally lost my Unix account. I started to spend more time with my new email client. To my surprise I started to like the new features.

You can’t really compare a text based email client to a graphical one. So I won’t be doing that here. But I can complain about few things. First of all, the shell integration. As I was login to a server where all my files resided, I was able to go between a shell and Pine in the same window. I could easily, with one or two commands, copy/paste/read files, run a Perl script as needed. I can do the same while I am using Thunderbird, but there is this extra step of opening a shell window. And if I want to insert a file, I have to do a copy/paste or add it as an attachment. In other words, I can’t use Thunderbird from the shell. (Duh, that is why they call it graphical.)

Another thing that bothered me is I have to install the client in each machine I use. Although IMAP allows me to retrieve all the folders from the mail server but the filters and spam controls do not get imported. For instance, if I create a filter at work, I will have to do the same at home if I want to move those messages in a certain folder. I can install my own mail server and have my own filtering setup, but I am too lazy and would like to rely on the school’s server. I also have to train the junk mail controller every time I install a new client. I had procmail and SPAMAssasain in my old setup. The filters that I have now in Thunderbird is as good as those old recipes.

One thing I certainly didn’t had with Pine is the ability to view the folders in the left pane of Thunderbird and see how may unread messages I have in each folder. I like the option of using different themes for customizing the skins of the interface. Secure IMAP, digital signing, message encryption, certificate supports make Thunderbird a very safe client. The ad-ons and extensions are neat as well.

It will be almost three months since I last used Pine. I now use Thunderbird both at home and work. Sometime spams get in the way but I can get my work done with all the hoopla. I knew I had to give up few things when I moved to a graphical client. I was ok with the sacrifice in order to embrace some new features. I also wanted a client that didn’t need much tweaking.

You can’t replace Pine with Thunderbird or vice versa. What matters end of the day is I can read and respond to the all the emails with a program that I like to get back to every day. Wait, I think I just got a new mail, someone wants my “URGENT ASSISTANCE”. I have to go.

About the Author:
Sharif Islam is currently working as a Research Programmer for University of Illinois Library Sytems Office. He hosts a morning radio show every Monday at a local community radio station.


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