For reasons that I am unable to properly explain (to myself, let alone others), over the past few months I have been unable to resist the compulsion to investigate and set-up command line mail clients (in general).

It probably has something to do with low memory requirements, well a lot to do with that, and that would be my reasoning now, but it wasn’t like I actually had that foresight that prompted all this tinkering. But, yeah, at home I have the old Powerbook that is maxed out at 1.25GB RAM and always has at least one other account constantly logged in with Safari, etc, sucking a blackhole’s amount of swap space, and at work I live in a virtual machine and so only have 1GB 768MB of RAM to play with. So low memory applications do make A LOT of sense.

Oh, and I guess the other obvious thing is command line applications are more likely to be cross platform.

It started with mail clients…


Since I like Vim, I kind of figured out that Pine/Alpine/Re-Alpine were out of the question (although I belatedly understand it is possible to use Vim with them) and that really that only left Mutt, but I just couldn’t bring myself to figure it out. There’s plenty of help out there, but the more I read the more tricky it looked. Such was my aversion to knuckling down and figuring Mutt out I managed to find some alternatives:

  • Sup is written in Ruby, is a breeze to setup, easy to use, but by default assumes that you don’t really care about synchronising local and remote sources. Which might work fine for folk who are always on the same machine all the time and who also aren’t forced to use webmail occasionally. As far as I can tell, if you use local mbox files, then it is possible to sync, but then there also does not seem to be any mbox equivalent to the excellent OfflineIMAP (which uses maildir). There is a maildir sync branch someone created, but that would require manaully trying to merge and keep in sync with development.
  • Notmuch, found this as a result of Sup. It’s meant to be a re-write of Sup taking the best bits, making them faster and leaving the bad bits, but from my point of view it is almost the opposite. I wanted the mail client (Notmuch isn’t one) as Sup has a great UI. There are some kind of interfaces provided, but the developers seem to prefer emacs over vim. Poop.
  • Cone. Another Pine derivative. I think, well, it must at least be influenced by it, hence its name. Easy to setup, but just was never going to work for me if I couldn’t use Vim.
  • Vmail, and then I found this. Wow! I don’t understand how I missed this one. This is the kind of thing I’d been searching for, for ages. I.e. I want a twitter client in Vim, find TwitVim, I want a mail client in Vim. Nada. I just never found this. Was very excited about this, but it assumes Gmail (in theory does other IMAP, but I couldn’t get that to work) which isn’t so great as I’m trying to de-googlefy and so have moved one email account away from Gmail. Also, I don’t want an online only approach and since it needs to connect to an IMAP server (as far as I can tell) I ended up looking at Offlineimap + Dovecot + Vmail. And I started going down this route and trying to get Dovecot configured and then I just decided THIS IS UTTER INSANITY. Running my own IMAP server locally, just to read my mail that is already on an IMAP server somewhere else? It just doesn’t seem right, or easy.
  • Mutt And there we are. Right back to the start and the thing I was trying to avoid all along. It is true what it says on the tin: “All mail clients suck, this one just sucks less”. As to configuration, I'll cover that elsewhere, perhaps, but* it’s similar to Vim: you just have to suck it up, figure it out and get on with it.

* I never could be bothered with writing about my configuration. I just have two points to make:

  1. I wish there was some way to highlight messages marked as deleted with different colours depending on where the messages are being moved to. i.e. really being deleted or just being archived.
  2. The most fiddly bit of “Mutt configuration” wasn’t mutt at all, but offlineimap. I’ve saved some useful bookmarks on offlineimap; the critical settings for me being maxsyncaccounts and the idle folder settings.


I’ve been using Twitvim for a little awhile now since it makes a lot of sense if you like Vim, plus its unobtrusive at work. I’m now also using TTYtter (2, currently Beta). They work well together as [TwitVim]( is better for paging through Tweets if you are so inclined to catch up on stuff you've missed whilst TTYtter does the realtime/streaming side of things and handles message threads better - and since I’ve started leaving TTYtter running on a “server” in Tmux it is also very easy to page back through tweets. In TTYtter I use a plugin for spam reporting and one to get occasional timestamps.

Web (only at home)

TenFourFox is an excellent browser, but it’s memory requirements aren’t exactly low. So for quickly checking some websites (mainly BBC Weather, until I find/write a command line weather app) elinks is great; it even does tabbed browsing! I did have a brief foray with w3m, but I much prefer the UI and usability of elinks.

Music (only at work)

CMUS since Rhythmbox has memory issues for me. CMUS is fab, but I’ve found getting scrobbling working tricky. And I’ll come to that separately, probably, eventually, maybe.


I’ve switched from Google Calendar to using Remind. It works well enough for me. I like the idea of having a plain text file for storing and editing calendar entries. And the simple calendar outout (-c) is good enough for me; I don’t really feel the need to use Wyrd as a UI, apart from viewing previous months as that doesn't seem possible with Remind - hmm, I can feel some hacking coming on,as you can view any abitary month with remind -c .reminders May 2008, for example, you can also do remind -c2 .reminders May 2008 which would get you the months of May and June in 2008. I would still like to be able to do remind -c-1 or similar to view backwards, but since my C skills are pretty crap (I’ve looked at the source code and can’t understand it right off the bat) I guess hacking this in will be very low priority for me.

Feed reading

I’ve had a bit of flakiness with my hosting for my Fever install this year and it prompted me to go and look at command line feed readers. Canto and Newsbeuter are both nice.


I prefer the UI of Canto, but it is much, much slower and at the time that was on my work machine, so I’m guessing it would be unusable on my G4. However, Canto is the one I got closest to running on my Powerbook, but the lack of select.poll() on OSX kills it - I’ve checked and Macports Python 2.7.3 definitely doesn’t support it.


With Newsbeuter I couldn’t even get beyond the STFL requirement. I’ve tried a couple of patches and both 0.21 and 0.22, but make always bombs out with:

Undefined symbols:
  "_main", referenced from:
	  start in crt1.10.5.o
ld: symbol(s) not found
collect2: ld returned 1 exit status

and since my Fever install started working again I’m sticking with a web based feed reader.


The solution to my command line feed reading issues was staring me in the face all along. Snownews might be older and not as hip as Newsbeuter, but it actually builds (and quickly as well) on OSX 10.5 PPC and is supported on NetBSD (for one day I may achieve my dream of a virtual NetBSD install on; basically as soon as my Powerbook finally dies and I have to stop using that like a server). It hasn’t been updated in a age (but then neither have Mutt or PWman which I use day to day) and with good reason as well - there aren’t any features that need adding. I originally overlooked it because it “doesn’t do” atom feeds or https feeds, but it actually does you just need to configure those feeds a bit differently and I wish I’d spent more than five secs the first time round to realise how easy this actually is.

I’m still using Fever, but I might see if I can use Fever for just my “hot” and saved items. I’m not sure. I guess what I ideally need to do is write a command line client for Fever, but finding enough time to do that will be hard.

File Browser/Manager

Almost forgot: Midnight Commander. Although, actually I’m unsold on it’s usefulness. Unfortunately the Macports version doesn't seem to have mouse support and driving it purely by keyboard, well - I might as well just do my file management in the shell - I figured it out, it’s a simple as forcing it into xterm mode, mc -x. However, I have since found Ranger which I think I like a lot more as it has column navigation in the same vein as OSX finder, tabs and file cut/copy/paste like Windows. A nice little companion is ncdu for looking at disk usage.