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The passing of Pine and Mark Crispin.

The passing of Pine and Mark Crispin.

I feel quite melancholic today having finally abandoned Pine/Alpine after 18 years. I love Pine. I have done so since I first discovered it back in the 1990s and started using it in preference to "mail" and "mailx".

I’ve dabbled with various graphical and web based interfaces to e-mail servers over the years, sometimes I’ve been obliged to do so by wrong headed employers but I’ve always found them to lack functionality and to be painfully slow to use.

Having finally discovered the joys of messaging, of all types, on the smart phone, (praise be to the Moto G), I was obliged to move away from the Washington University reference IMAP server. I didn’t want to so I searched for a configuration option that would allow the sharing of IMAP mailboxes with multiple concurrent clients. It was while searching for solution that I was shocked to discover that the irascible Mark Crispin, the father of the IMAP protocol had died, and that development work on the IMAP server at Washington University had stopped some years before when UW had let Mark go.

I struggled, more than a decade ago, to set up Dovecot as my IMAP server but after a few months of wrestling with damaged mailboxes and what seemed over complex administration, I returned to the configuration free UW-IMAP server but needs must where the devil drives. I stilled want to be able to access the mailboxes with the usually raft of text processing tools so another go at Dovecot was required. This time around, although it took me a couple of days, I finally had a Dovecot IMAP server working with traditional mbox format mailboxes over SSL.

Unfortunately when Alpine is run with this set up, incoming mail is moved from the spool file "/var/spool/mail/<username>", to what once upon a time would have been the local ~/mbox. Dovecot doesn’t support this behaviour so when I accessed the IMAP server from my phone after using Alpine, I just saw an empty mailbox. Hence the reluctant move away from Alpine/Pine.

I still can’t live with GUIs for serious work, so I checked out Mutt as I have done many times before and found I still didn’t like it. I tried ELM, which I think has a lovely intuitive interface like Pine/Alpine but it doesn’t support IMAP and it appears that there has been no development since 2005. So back to Mutt and you know, once you get into it, its not that bad at all. Some of the screen layouts are pretty awful. When browsing for a mailbox for instance, it uses the full screen width to give me each file name and the news that the object is an IMAP folder! I’m hoping that might be configurable but it doesn’t appear to be so far.

I didn’t really know Mark. I exchanged some emails with him twenty odd years ago but knowing he died two years since and that I didn’t even know, makes me sad indeed.

So its with a heavy heart that I’m saying good bye to Pine, probably for ever, but the upside is that with Dovecot and Mutt I can still browse those old emails of 30 years ago when, with much trepidation and excitement, I found myself developing relationships with strangers on the other side of the globe.

Clifford W Fulford
11th March 2014

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