I love astroid! #ilovefs

Hugo and me declaring our love to astroid

You cannot imagine how long I’ve waited to write this blog post. Normally I’m not the bragging kind of guy but for this year’s edition of my „I love Free Software“ declaration articles (after 2014, 2015 and 2016) I just want to shout out to the world: I have the world’s best mail client: astroid!

Okay, maybe I’ll add two or three words to explain why I am so grateful to the authors of this awesome Free Software application. Firstly, I should note that until ~6 months ago I have used Thunderbird – extended with lots of add-ons but still a mail user agent that most of you will know. But with each new email and project it became obvious to me that I have to find a way to organise my tenthousands of mails in a better way: not folder-based but tag-based, but not to the expense of overview and comfort.

Thanks to Hugo I became aware of astroid, an application that unites my needs and is open to multiple workflows. Let’s read how astroid describes itself:

Astroid is a lightweight and fast Mail User Agent that provides a graphical interface to searching, display and composing email, organized in thread and tags. Astroid uses the notmuch backend for blazingly fast searches through tons of email. Astroid searches, displays and composes emails – and rely on other programs for fetching, syncing and sending email.

My currently unread and tagged emails

Astroid is roughly 3 years old, is based on sup, and is mainly developed by Gaute Hope, an awesome programmer who encourages people – also non-programmers like me – to engage in the small and friendly community.

Why is astroid so cool?

That’s one secret of astroid: it doesn’t try to catch up to programs that do certain jobs very well already. So astroid relies on external POP/IMAP fetching (e.g. offlineimap), SMTP server (e.g. msmtp), email indexing (notmuch), and mail editors (e.g. vim, emacs). This way, astroid can concentrate on offering a unique interface that unites many strenghts:

Saved searches on the left, a new editor window on the right

  • astroid encourages you to use tabs. Email threads open in a new tab, a newly composed message is a separate tab, as well as a search query. You won’t loose any information when you write an email while researching in your archive while keeping an eye on incoming unread mails. If your tab bar becomes too long, just open another astroid instance.
  • It can be used by either keyboard or mouse. Beginners value to have a similar experience as with mouse-based mail agents like Thunderbird, experts hunt through their mails with the configurable keyboard shortcuts.
  • Tagging of emails is blazingly fast and efficient. You can either tag single mails or whole email threads with certain keywords that you can freely choose. Astroid doesn’t impose a certain tagging scheme on its users.
  • astroid already included the possibility to read HTML or GPG-exncrypted emails. No need to create a demotivatingly huge configuration file like with mutt.
  • Theming your personal astoid is easy. The templates can be configured using HTML and CSS syntax.
  • It is expandable by Python and lua plugins.
  • It’s incredibly fast! Thunderbird or Evolution users will never have to bother with 20+ seconds startup time anymore. Efficiency hooray!

    On startup, I see my saved search queries

Because it is open to any workflow, you can also easily use astroid with rather uncommon workflows. I, personally, use a mix of folder- and tag-based sorting. My mail server automatically moves incoming mails to certain folders (mostly based on mailing lists) which is important to me because I often use my mobile phone that doesn’t include a tagging-based email client, too. But with my laptop I can add additional tags or tag unsorted mails. Based on these tags, I again sort these mails to certain folders to reduce the amount of mails lying around in my unsorted inbox. Such a strange setup would have been impossible with many other email agents but with astroid (almost) everything is possible.

Did I convince you? Well, certainly not. Switching one’s email client is a huge step because for most people it involves changing the way how most of theor digital communication happens. But hopefully I convinced you to have a look at astroid and think about whether this awesome client may fulfill some of your demands better than your existing one. If you already use notmuch, a local SMTP server, offlineimap, procmail or other required parts, testing astroid will be very easy for you. And if your way to using astroid will be longer, as mine was, feel free to ask me or the helpful community.

PS: FSFE activists in Berlin carried out two awesome activities for ILoveFS!

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