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A Man And His Mutt
A man's best friend is his email client.

| Feature Overload |

Mutt was originally written by Michael Elkins, though it is now maintained by the user community. It is based in part on the elm mail client, although users of other mail clients will also find commonalities between those clients and Mutt. And, incidentally, that's where Mutt gets its name - it's a hybrid, or mongrel, created from the best features of other mail clients and its own good ideas.

In describing Mutt, the official Web page succinctly says, "All mail clients suck. This one just sucks less." It's an apt description, because Mutt comes with a feature set very few other clients can match. Here are the highlights:

Performance: Mutt comes with a very small memory and disk footprint (the compiled version is only about 450K). It's fast without sacrificing performance, which makes it a great choice for use over a network, and on multi-user systems.

Support for common Internet protocols and technologies: As a child of the open-source community, Mutt comes with out-of-the-box support for most common protocols and technologies. You can use Mutt to read POP3 and IMAP mail, send and receive MIME-encoded attachments, and encode and decode PGP-encrypted mail. Mutt also comes with support for other mailbox formats, allowing you to easily read and use mail from existing pine, mbox or MH mailboxes.

Ease of use: Novices may find Mutt's uncluttered approach to email a little intimidating at first; before long, though, they come to appreciate the simple, even spartan, interface. Since Mutt is text-based, most activity in the client takes place through keystrokes, not menus or buttons (although an unobtrusive toolbar and help system is available with a list of commonly-used keys for new users). Colour support makes it easy to identify important sections of a message, and "tagging" features allow users to select multiple messages at a time and perform operations on them simultaneously. Installation is a snap, and a detailed manual guides users through the nitty-gritty of configuring the client as per their own personal preferences.

Key mapping capabilities: While Mutt's default key bindings are pretty easy to memorize, its creators knew that their first choices for common keyboard operations might not necessarily match yours. Consequently, Mutt is one of the few mail clients which allows you to extensively remap its key bindings, reducing the learning curve and making it even easier to migrate from other clients.

Support for macros: Mutt allows you to define keyboard macros to automatically execute certain commands when you hit a particular key, and mailbox "hooks" to automatically perform certain actions when you enter or leave a mailbox. By allowing users to automate certain functions, Mutt goes a long way towards simpler, more efficient mail management.

Support for mailing lists: Mutt comes with a whole bunch of features aimed specifically at users who are subscribed to multiple, high-volume mailing lists (read: most geeks). Mutt is intelligent enough to understand which messages are coming to you from a list, and can adjust its behavior to ensure that any replies you send go to the list address, rather than to other subscribers or the list owner (thereby saving unwilling novices from getting flamed); it also comes with powerful message threading capabilities which allow you to sort and view list messages by thread (in much the same way as USENET news)

Open licensing model: Like many other open-source tools, Mutt is available for free, to anyone who wants it, over the Internet, in both source and binary form. Users may use and distribute it without restriction, and even charge a fee for it if they so desire.

Active community support: As you might imagine from the above, Mutt has a fairly large fan base, which delights in Mutt's power and is enthusiastic about supporting and improving the code tree. Since the source code for the program is freely available, bug fixes and patches are rapid, and new features are constantly being added to the client by independent developers. A number of mailing lists allow developers and users to share questions, comments and advice, and the Web site also lists a number of useful resources to get new users started.

Intrigued yet?


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