Aside from perhaps the web browser, an email reader is likely to be the first application configured on a new computer installation. And, if you are using a desktop, the default choice is likely to be KMail if you are using KDE, or Evolution if you are using GNOME.
Both KMail and Evolution are thoroughly modern email readers, with few differences in general functionality. However, if you had to choose between them, what parts of the user experience might change your mind?
To suggest an answer, I retraced the steps I made eight months ago when I moved from GNOME to KDE, comparing the two mail readers in everything from their interfaces to their features and configuration settings for accounts, contacts, message sending, and other functions. The result was a clear but not unqualified winner.
Both KMail and Evolution boast highly organized interfaces. The main difference is that the starkness of this organization is slightly softened in KMail by splashes of color in the icons and display of email, and the elaborate headers in the list of messages.
Yet these are mixed blessings. I doubt whether anyone remembers the nearly two dozen colors in KMail's code for visually identifying emails. And as for the headers, they do little except conceal a day's messages from the casual glance and break the message thread. Still, these disadvantages are trivial most of the time (although I would appreciate the option to turn off headers altogether).
A more important difference is that KMail favors contents panes in its windows where Evolution favors tabs. As a result, KMail is somewhat easier to navigate because, unless a tab is extremely well-named, you cannot always be sure what might be on it without looking. For example, when you are creating an account in Evolution, you can only guess whether a setting will be on the Receiving Email or the Receiving Options tab. If you don't know the application, then your guess can easily be wrong.
Still another difference is that KMail displays messages only in threads, while Evolution gives the option of turning them off. Since preferences about threading or flat display of messages seem about equally divided, this is one area in which KMail could be more flexible.
Moving to a larger perspective, KMail can be started separately, or as an item within Kontact. Either way, it integrates with a selection of tools that includes contacts, calendars, to-do lists, notes, and a time-tracker. In comparison, Evolution is less tightly integrated into GNOME, although its notes can be used by Tomboy and its addresses as an OpenOffice.org data source. Evolution also integrates more easily with Window's Outlook Exchange Server, although KMail and Kontact appear to be developing rapidly in this area.
If you are switching to KMail and Evolution, one of the most important aspects of integration is the importing of mail from your old browser. Here, too, KMail has an advantage, with a wizard that handles Evolution and eleven other mail reader formats, including Mozilla Thunderbird, OS X Mail, and Outlook Express. In stark contrast, Evolution's import wizard supports only Pine, Netscape, Elm, and iCalendar -- three of which are older formats likely to be used by only a minority of users. In addition, unlike KMail, Evolution has no export assistance.
Verdict: KMail. Evolution is functional, but, despite its fancy color schemes and headers, KMail is generally easier to use and more convenient. However, if you need connectivity with Outlook, you would likely reverse this Verdict: in favor of Evolution.
As modern email readers, both Evolution and KMail support multiple accounts. However, they arrange options somewhat differently. In KMail, accounts are confined to largely basic settings, such as mail servers and options for leaving mail on the server, with encryption settings specified either generally or by sender. But Evolution takes a somewhat different approach to security, tying the use of certificates and PGP/GPG to the account. Neither method has a strong advantage so far as I can see, although Evolution's means you have to be less conscious of security once you set it up.
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