Ask SIPB - November 8, 2002

A variety of email clients are available on Athena and for private workstations. MH has been the standard Athena mail-reading program for years, but many more programs are becoming available. There is no one right program - choosing a mail program is simply a matter of preference for feature availability. Common characteristics looked for in a mail client include support from I/S, known issues or bugs, ease of use (learning curve), documentation, accessibility, possible travel usage, organization --- the list could go on and on. The I/S Email page ( is an excellent source for more comprehensive comparisons and discussions of different clients. But we'll take a quick look at some of the more popular (and supported) clients that are available.

What are the differences between KPOP and IMAP, MIT's old and new systems for receiving mail?

KPOP and IMAP are both ways for email clients to fetch email from the servers where it is received. Both are available for use at MIT. KPOP, which uses Kerberos, is older and is only supported by a few programs, such as Eudora. IMAP is more modern and is supported by most email programs.

Aside from program support, IMAP has a number of features over KPOP. With KPOP, clients remove mail from the server when they read it, so you can only effectively read mail in one place. While it is possible to leave mail on the server, it can cause a variety of problems. IMAP is designed to leave email on the server and read it from anywhere with any IMAP mail client, such as Webmail, Eudora, Pine or Evolution. At MIT, IMAP allows you to store 100 MB of mail on the server.

How do I configure my mail program?

To setup email in any program that is not already configured to do so, you will need the following settings:

Outgoing mail server:, never use a secure (SSL) connection, no username required
Incoming mail server: poXX.MIT.EDU (where XX is a number) You can find your incoming mail server by entering

hesinfo $USER pobox
at your Athena prompt. In all cases, it should be set to use IMAP with a secure (SSL) connection. Be sure to tell the mail program not to save your password, so that it isn't transmitted over the network "in the clear". This could cause your account to get broken into.


Evolution is a graphical groupware suite that has the same look-and-feel and most of the functionality of Microsoft Outlook. It provides a modern email client, calendar, customizable summary page, contact manager and "To Do" list. By default it is configured to read new mail using IMAP, but can also read old MH mail stored in a home directory.

The main advantage of Evolution is its user interface, which is both easy to use and provides many desirable features over other programs. Some of these features include automatic email filter support, good support for attachments, and GPG integration. Evolution is now the default graphical email client on Athena and can be started by pushing the mail button on the gnome toolbar or by typing evolution at the Athena prompt.


Pine (Program for Internet News and Email) is an easy-to-use, text-only program for email and Usenet news messages. In its default configuration, Pine offers an intentionally limited set of functions geared toward the novice user, but is also highly customizable for the more advanced user. Its basic functions are displayed in the Pine Main Menu. Each function can be selected either by pressing the single-character shortcut key or navigating with the arrow keys. It is easy to learn, starts up quickly, and has features for everyone from novice to wizard.

If you'd like to use Pine, simply type at the Athena prompt:

athena% pine


Mutt is a text-based mail reader popular among experienced Unix users. It is similar to Pine, though it is less user friendly and often more capable. It is notable for its clean integration of PGP (a mail security package) and MIME attachments. It interoperates cleanly with all of the other popular mail readers on Athena. Mutt lives in the sipb locker, so to run it, type this in a terminal window:
athena% add sipb
athena% mutt
A help line at the top of the screen will tell you the keys to type for the most common operations. Most times, you can type a question mark to get more extensive help.

Netscape and Mozilla

Both Athena's default browser, Mozilla, and the former default Netscape, provide integrated email suites. However, neither of these browsers is configured by default to read your MIT email, so you will have to go though the setup wizard the first time you start it up, then go to Edit/Preferences to verify that the settings match those given above.


Webmail, available at, provides easy and secure access to your email when not at MIT. It can be used with pretty much any web browser, and requires no special software. It is, however, much slower than other methods for larger mailboxes, and less flexible than other mail clients.


pine evolution mutt webmail
Supported by OLC OLC SIPB Helpdesk
Reads MH Folders yes yes yes no
Documentation Pine release notes
olc stock answers
Help menu within evolution mutt manual on athena webmail help
Filtering none yes yes none
Attachments yes yes yes yes
Accessibility while traveling: none

CHD - Computing Helpdesk, or x3-1101 (Mac) or x3-1102 (Windows) questions
SIPB - email or call us at x3-7788
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If you have any other questions, feel free to email us at We'll try to get back to you, and we might put your answer in our next column.