Letters: Open Source Mac Email Client in the Works

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Thanks to a blog post from NetNewsWire developer Brent Simmons, the Mac community is now working on developing an open source alternative to Apple's Mail application dubbed Letters. The idea behind Letters is that power users need a strong IMAP email client, and there currently isn't anything on the market that fits the bill.

"I've been joking for years that I'm going to write an email client and charge $500 for it — an email client that actually meets the needs of developers and professionals who rely on email, folks who type for a living. But I'm not going to, and I don't know anybody who is," Mr. Simmons said on his blog. "Nevertheless, we need that email client. The only way to get there is via open source: there might be enough interest and energy in the community to make it happen."

Turns out the developer community had strong interest in just the kind of email application he described, so in only a few days the idea started to take form and the open source project began moving forward. So far, there's an email list, Twitter account, and Daring Fireball's John Gruber was elected president with the task of getting version 1.0 out the door.

There isn't a timeframe for the release of Letters 1.0, but a draft of the open source project's vision document is already online. The group is looking for developers and power users, and the framework for the application has been outlined, too.

The birth of the Letters project doesn't necessarily mean that a completed email application will ever ship. Considering the interest that's been expressed so far, however, there's a good chance that Letters will ship, and hopefully it will really will include the features email power users need.


Jeff Gamet

Apple’s Mail is working fine for me thanks to the addition of a few plug-ins: Letterbox and MailTags being the most important. I’m excited to see what comes of Letters, and depending on how it performs might even consider switching from Mail.


There already is at least one open source email client for Mac OS X that supports IMAP well, and that is Mozilla Thunderbird.    That’s not to say that it is the best, and that there isn’t room for another (or several), because there is plenty of room, and I encourage it.

If you want a lot more buy-in from developers and users alike, make it multiplatform; write it in Qt (http://qt.nokia.com).  Qt does a very good job of making the Mac version of an application Mac-like, while the Windows version, is Windows-like.    The Linux version; well, is mostly Windows-like too :-(

It is very easy to write a Qt application that is every bit as “Mac-like” on the Mac as one written in X-Code.    The big difference, is you then have a product with a MUCH bigger audience.

Many home Mac users are forced to use other operating systems at work (Windows the the main OS where I work, but I am fortunate to be a Linux developer, and spend most of my time in that environment at work).    I really like the Mac Mail client, but alas, can’t use it at work.  I use it on my Macs, and Thunderbird on Linux and Windows at work.

If someone wrote a killer email client that ran on all three; I’d use it everywhere.



What are some examples of existing “Mac-like” QT apps?


@Jeff Gamet

I think one thing that would help considerably would be an official Apple-designed plug-in architecture for Mail. Currently, the plug-ins for Mail are hacked in using Objective-C method spoofing thanks to the work done by St?phane Corth?sy of Sente in Switzerland who spent a lot of time reverse engineering Mail. He has repeatedly asked Apple over the years to officially support a plug-in system.

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