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The Best Lightweight Graphical Email Clients

by Frazer Kline

Email remains the killer information and communications technology. Email volume shows no sign of diminishing, despite the increasing popularity of collaborative messaging tools.

Messages are exchanged between hosts using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol with software programs called mail transfer agents, and delivered to a mail store by programs called mail delivery agents, frequently referred to as email clients.

Email clients offer a variety of features. Many email clients offer a slew of features, some stick with just the basics. At the end of the day, what is important is that you find an email client that offers what you need, it is reliable, and works well on your computer. Thunderbird is widely regarded as an exceptional open source desktop email client, especially on Linux. It is highly customizable, has a rich set of features, and is geared for both novices and professional users. My only real disaffection with Thunderbird is that it can feel a bit sluggish on inexpensive hardware. If you are looking for an alternative first-rate graphical email client that works with limited system resources, you have come to the right place.

Here is my take on the finest lightweight and user-friendly graphical email clients that can be widely used from beginners to power users. They are all released under an open source license.


Geary in action

Geary is an open source lightweight mail client for GNOME that is written in Vala. It offers a slim and economical user interface design.

Geary is designed to let you read your email quickly and effortlessly. Geary's interface is based on conversations, so you can easily read an entire discussion without having to click from message to message.

Features include:

  • Modern and straightforward interface
  • Quick account setup
  • Supports Gmail, Yahoo! Mail,, and popular IMAP servers (Dovecot, Cyrus, Zimbra, etc)
  • Mail organized by conversations
  • Full-featured HTML mail composer
  • Fast keyword search
  • Sparse SQLite database for full caching of email and FTS (full text search) indexing
  • Per-account searching
  • Auto-saving of draft emails
  • Desktop notification of new mail
  • Built-in security tool


Sylpheed in action

Sylpheed is a simple, lightweight and featureful e-mail client based on the GTK+ GUI toolkit. It aims to combine a quick and responsive client, with a sophisticated interface, intuitive operation, as well as an abundant feature set.

Sylpheed uses a 3-paned display similar to the popular e-mail clients for Windows such as Outlook Express and Becky. Many commands are accessible with the keyboard like the Emacs-based mailers such as Mew and Wanderlust. This enables users to easily migrate to Sylpheed.

It stores mail in the MH Message Handling System.

It supports the following protocols: POP3, IMAP4rev1, SMTP, NNTP, SSL/TLSv1 (POP3, SMTP, IMAP4rev1, NNTP), IPv6.

Features include:

  • Multiple accounts
  • Powerful filtering (POP3, IMAP4, local spool)
  • Powerful search (query search, quick search, search folder)
  • Junk mail control
  • Thread display
  • Display and transfer of attachments by MIME
  • Inline image display
  • News reader
  • SMTP AUTH support (PLAIN / LOGIN / CRAM-MD5)
  • CRAM-MD5 authentication (SMTP AUTH / IMAP4rev1)
  • APOP authentication (POP3)
  • PGP signature / encryption (requires GPGME)
  • Spell checking (requires GtkSpell)
  • X-Face display
  • User-defined headers
  • Mark / color label
  • Mew/Wanderlust compatible key bind
  • Multiple MH folder support
  • mbox importing / exporting
  • Action function to work with external commands
  • External editor
  • Message queueing
  • Automatic mail checking
  • Draft message
  • Template
  • Line-wrapping
  • Autosave
  • Clickable URI
  • Address book
  • Newly arrived and unread message management
  • Printing
  • Offline mode
  • Tray icon (minimize to tray icon, new mail notification)
  • Customization of toolbar
  • Remote operation by command line
  • Per-folder configuration
  • LDAP, vCard, and JPilot support in address book
  • CSV, LDIF file import in address book
  • Drag & Drop
  • Autoconf, automake support
  • Internationalization of messages by gettext
  • m17n (multilingualization) support
  • Website:
  • Developer: Hiroyuki Yamamoto and contributors
  • License: GNU GPL v2
  • Version Number: 3.4.2

Claws Mail

Claws Mail in action

Claws Mail is a powerful and full-featured open source mail client formerly called Sylpheed-Claws. The appearance and interface are designed to be familiar to new users coming from other popular email clients, as well as experienced users. Almost all commands are accessible with the keyboard.

The software is intended to be lightweight and it has a similar interface to that of Sylpheed's.

Features include:

  • Multiple accounts
  • Threaded display
  • Filtering
  • Mime attachments
  • Usenet news reading and posting
  • SSL over POP3, SMTP, IMAP4rev1 and NNTP protocols
  • GnuPG support (with GPGME)
  • User-defined headers
  • Colour labels
  • Multiple MH folder support
  • Mbox import/export
  • External editor
  • Message queueing and drafting
  • Automated mail checking
  • Line-wrapping
  • Clickable URIs
  • Addressbook
  • Printing
  • Plugin mechanism
  • Actions
  • Templates
  • Built-in image viewer
  • Face and X-Face headers support
  • Reply-finder
  • Fast message cache system
  • Per-folder processing mechanism
  • Spell checking (with aspell)
  • Drag'n'drop support
  • POP before SMTP authentication
  • Automatic saving of message when composing
  • Handling of Unix signals
  • Control by command-line
  • Built-in GDB crash handler (just in case ;-)
  • Customisable toolbars
  • Powerful Quick Search function
  • 'Dynamic' signatures
  • Font configuration
  • Themes mechanism (see available themes)
  • Automatic account selection
  • Message scoring
  • Ability to hide read messages
  • IMAP over SSH Tunnel
  • IMAP: CAPABILITY support
  • Return-Receipt handling
  • Message priority setting
  • 'Ignore thread' option
  • Anti-phishing URL check
  • Configurable notification of new mail
  • 7bit and 8bit encoding of attachments
  • NNTP: auto-mark cross-posted messages
  • Configurable (non-)display of images
  • Full coloration of messages
  • User-definable quotation characters
  • Watch marked threads
  • Log window
  • Reply to part of an email
  • Replied and forwarded flags
  • Man page and documentation
  • Full GnuPG support
  • 'On-the-fly' changing of the type of GnuPG encryption and/or signing used (MIME/ascii) in the
  • Compose window
  • Manual selection of MIME type and encoding for attachments
  • Save all attachments in a mail at once
  • Save 2 or more selected files to a single file
  • SSL certificate management
  • User-definable newsgroup names abbreviation length
  • Address book: import from LDIF, Mutt or Pine natively
  • Address book: import from other mailers via scripts
  • Auto-completion of recipients (also via LDAP)
  • Harvest addresses for addressbook
  • Addressbook export to various formats
  • Website:
  • Developer: Colin Leroy, Paul Mangan, Holger Berndt, Tristan Chabredier, Hoa viet Dinh, Keith Edmunds, Match Grun, Melvin Hadasht, and many others
  • License: GNU GPL v3
  • Version Number: 3.11.1

Last Updated Sunday, April 19 2015 @ 05:48 AM EDT

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