inessential by Brent Simmons


Eric Soroos: When good squirrels go bad.


I recently switched from Eudora/Mac, which I used for many years, to Pine.

Why the hell would I do a thing like that?

I had a few reasons:

1. I've written before about performance and screen real estate issues on OS X. Pine is much, much faster than any GUI app on any OS.

2. I might be outside on my iBook, or at a Windows machine or OS X box -- and I hate having multiple instances of Eudora. It's a pain. So now instead I have just one place where my email lives, and I can ssh in from any machine.

3. I'm tired of that thing almost all computer users do -- switching from the keyboard to mouse and back all day long. When I first started using computers (in 1980) I never lifted my hands from the keyboard. It's refreshing to say good-bye to the mouse, at least while I'm doing email.

4. I can't stand HTML mail, inline pictures, all that kind of dreck. Pine is aggressively plain text.

So, the question is -- is it possible to work pretty quickly even without a mouse? I've found that it's possible to work even more quickly, actually. Keyboard navigation is a breeze, so fast and easy. The text editor is intuitive.

And Pine has plenty of power-user features for filtering, color-coding, searching, and so on. There's nothing Eudora or Outlook Express have that I'm missing in Pine.

Btw, I tried mutt too, and didn't like it as well as Pine. Pine's UI has an elegance that is surprising for a console app. It's worth studying, even for people who do Web or GUI apps. As with Web apps, it's another case where your platform is fairly limited -- Web browsers, for instance, don't allow the same richness as a native GUI app, but that doesn't mean effective and elegant UIs can't be done. It's the same thing with console apps, I'm pleased to discover.

(I'm sort of repeating myself when I say that I *don't like* the richness provided by Outlook Express, Eudora, and others. For me, the character of email is, well, characters, and the user experience suffers when it's tarted up with HTML, graphics, three-paned split windows, and so on.)

(Also, it should go without saying that I speak entirely for myself, not for UserLand.)

P.S. OS X users -- here's where I got Pine for OS X. (You can also get Lynx there, which is another joy.) My advice is, if you decide to try Pine, spend some time customizing it to make it work the way you want it to. The defaults don't expose alot of the really cool features. Also, don't miss that it has built-in help, so when you see a configuration option you don't have to guess at what it does.

In getting Pine going, I had to set up fetchmail and sendmail, both of which come with OS X. No problem. Fetchmail, in particular, is very simple.

I'd rather run postfix than sendmail on a server, but since this is just running on my desktop OS X box, it's not worth making the switch. At least for now.

If you want to try Pine for OS X, and have any specific questions, I'd be happy to answer on my discussion group. (Though not via email, because I want other people to be able to see the questions and answers.)


What I love about the All Star game is how players from different teams all get together for a day and play together and show what's really important -- beating the National League. It warms my heart.