Monday, 3 December 2007

revolution calling

After more than five years of blogging in dutch, I'm expanding my blogging into anglo-saxon territories. Here, I won't go into my private life (the wild rock & roll lifestyle) so much, but instead discuss technology, productivity and so on. Not sure how interesting that is, but let's try...


To start with something rather technical, I working on an email-program called modest. It's been in an experimental state for a long time -- but finally it's about ready for the real world. It's a program designed specifically for Nokia N800/N810 devices. Some people have already called e-mail 'obsolete' or 'something for old people', but I think that's a bit of an exaggeration - there is a whole universe of communication for which there is no better medium than email. Try applying for a job using IM or reading the monthly report in an SMS...

Some information here; you might also be interested in the GUADEC Presentation I did about Modest in Birmingham.

mobile email improvements

Now, there are a couple of problems with e-mail, in particular with mobile email, but there's nothing we can't solve (I'm a born optimist!). Let's list some of the common problems and what to do about them:

  • Setting up accounts is #@&^%& hard - modest makes this almost brainlessly easy, by including data for big email providers; setting up modest for, say, Gmail is trivial with the easy-setup wizard;
  • Using your fingers is hard - why have that expensive touch-screen if you cannot even open mails with your greasy fingers? Modest provides big fingerable headers, so you can open that message from your boss, even as you're running for the meeting;
  • I need that fancy stuff - many mobile email clients only provide the bare minimum - what about having mailboxes with thousands of mails, push-email, IMAP-folders, rich-text reading/writing of mails, etc.?
  • Show me the code - what kind of person would want to use an email-client if they cannot even read the source? :) Modest is fully open-source, and released under a BSD-like license.

technical background

To achieve all this, modest uses an email framework called tinymail, which is the brainchild of Philip Van Hoof.
Tinymail provides a version of the libcamel protocol library that is also used for the Evolution e-mail program. The tinymail-version is optimized for low-memory situations, and improves the protocol handling especially for the needs of mobile applications. I will discuss that in more detail in some future entry.
Tinymail provides a nice object-oriented layer on top of all this, which allows for a lot of flexibility. I already wrote a bit about that last year in Gnome Journal: Tinymail: Evolution and Intelligent Design.

So -- my first post. Stay tuned!


Dar said...

I think that link should be:

rather than ;)

djcb said...

freudian slip... fixed - thanks.

Dave Cridland said...

The configuration (or setup) issue is hard - I'm still convinced that the best solution is ACAP, although I'm still willing to be convinced by something else.

Incidentally, the thing that's confusing me most about Modest is just how closed it is - I don't get why binaries still haven't shipped.

I am, of course, capable of building it. I do know how to build things. I have a computer I can build on.

What I don't have is the time - I've plenty of time to use Modest, and I'm perfectly willing to find a few bugs along the way, and I'd be positively delighted to pester you and Philip about them. ;-)

But really, building it is a pain. So hurry up and release some binaries!

Paul Ivanov said...

I tried looking around the site but did not see the answer: does Modest support secure connections? (SSL, etc)

Anidel said...

I wanted to try it into my scratchbox environment: tried to follow the steps from the website, but it asked for:

gnome-common (easy)
gtk-doc (downloaded, it asks for xsltproc and I have no idea where to get it and what is it..)

since I just wanted to give it a shot (and because I am early at work today), I decided to give up building it. Too much hassle. Even for such a promising app.

djcb said...

to all posters:

yeah, modest is still a bit hard to compile outside these walls.

it's getting easier though - and people actually have succeeded in getting things to work:) note, the steps on the website are the ones I took to compile Modest, on top of the Chinook toolkit.

we'll be providing packages real soon now. reason for not doing that sooner is just because we want to be careful...

regarding ssl/tls; yes, we do support that, for pop, imap and smtp.

MC Pan said...

This looks awesome. I especially like what appears to be "finger friendly" navigation. This is something that is sorely laking in the stock email client for OS08.

Is/will it be possible to use this as the default email client? If so would it also poll the mail server and give notification of new mail as per the stock email client?

Misha said...

It'd be nice if the folder tree was somehow fingerable as well. This two-pane view looks cluttered and PC-ish.
Maybe, you should make the folder selection UI as some kind of a dropdown widget which would display the current folder when collapsed, and offer a thumb-friendly folder tree when expanded.

djcb said...

@mcpan: it won't be the default client for now, but you should get the notifications as expected

@misha: point taken -- but it's not really easy to represent folder hierarchies in a fingerable way

folder view is enabled by default, but you can turn it off by pressing the blue toolbar button.

Anonymous said...

It looks really good from a functionality perspective. I agree with Misha that it would be nice to see it make better use of the screen.

Only about 60% of the screen is actually occupied by email and folder views, and only about 35% by the email view. This causes much of each subject line to be lost.

Some ways to deal with this might be:

- A full screen view?

- Get rid of scroll bars and use kinetic scrolling.

- It's good that the two-pane view is optional. Is the goal of this view to allow drag-and-drop between panes? That would be really cool for rapidly sorting mail, but the hierarchy view might not be best for that (it might require a lot of scrolling). Perhaps it would be best to use a fingerable flat view of all folders, with the most commonly used folders at the top. Dragging to one of these folders would put a message in it, and tapping the folder would open a view of it in the right pane. This would allow rapid sorting and toggling between commonly used folders. You could allow the option of GIMP-style path buttons at the top of the right pane to indicate which folder is currently being viewed and allow quick hierarchical navigation of folders.

These are just some thoughts, but it's really good to see someone working on a solid mail client.