Jorge O. Castro takes you through the evolutionary, or is that Evolutionary, changes to Novell’s groupware application for GNOME called Evolution. Oh, by the way, it’s new version is 2.2.
It’s been six months since we last looked at Evolution, the groupware application for the GNOME desktop. Unlike the radical change from 1.4 to 2.0, this release can mostly be characterized as one concentrating on polish and finish. Please refer to my prior article on 2.0, as I will mostly be concentrating on the new features and improvements to Evolution rather than an overall review.
As a laptop user, I sometimes find myself out of range of a wifi hotspot or without a network connection. If I needed to use Evolution, I’d be in a bit of a bind when not connected to my mail server. While caching of mail headers with IMAP is a common solution, I still wouldn’t have the rest of my contacts, calendar, and tasks that I normally have via a networked server.
Evolution’s offline support is a solution to this problem. Before I leave the office, I put Evolution into offline mode by choosing Work Offline from the File menu, or merely clicking on the icon on the bottom left of the main Evolution window.
Evolution will then cache all of my information onto the laptop. The Offline support works for IMAP, Groupwise, and Exchange, and also covers contacts and calendar. When in offline mode (the Send/Receive button will be grayed out) I can reply to my mail, modify my calendar, move messages around, or do anything that I would normally do when connected to the Internet. Once I find a connection, I can click on the same icon again, and Evolution will send and receive mail and update anything that has changed since the last time I connected. I recommend playing with this feature before your travel begins as the initial caching can take a considerable amount of time.
New Plugin Support
Evolution 2.2 now offers a plug-in called EPlugins for developers to implement features and extend Evolution in ways that weren’t possible before.
As you can see, Groupwise and Exchange support can now be turned off completely if you don’t need them. All of this is possible right from the EPlugin manager. There are also some example Eplugins that I found useful, such as autocontacts, which adds people I reply to to my contacts automatically. There is also a mailing list manager which allows me to subscribe, go directly to archives, and unsubscribe from mailing lists all within Evolution itself. A clever Weather plugin displays the week-long forecast in the calendar, although I find the interface to add it to the calendar rather clumsy. This could definitely use some polish for future releases.
The Eplugin documentation is a good place to start if you’re a developer looking to write your own plugin for Evolution.
Improvements and Annoyances
There have been a few tweaks to the calendaring component. It is now possible to add attachments to calendar entries, allowing association of documents with certain meetings or appointments.
It is also now possible to cancel an individual entry in a recurring appointment or meeting. The only problem with appointments I found was when you use it with the Weather EPlugin; every invitation received will conflict with that day’s given weather event.
Another annoyance is that it doesn’t appear possible to easily take an email from a friend and turn it into a calendaring event. I was able to right click and turn it into a task, and then go into the Task view and add scheduling information which then added it to the calendar. It would be nice if you could take any given email and transform it into an appointment or meeting immediately.
There is a new IMAP4 provider that replaces the older IMAP code. I found it to be slightly quicker with larger folders and more reliable than the older IMAP type. The performance improvement is made more apparent when synchronizing back and forth from Offline mode.
Integration with Other Applications
There are two projects that I’d like to mention because they do a good job of integrating with Evolution. The first is the Evolution Integration plug-in for Gaim. This program replaces the Add Buddy dialog in Gaim with Evolution’s contact dialogs. The plugin also synchronizes the Gaim buddy list with the contacts in Evolution.
The second project is MultiSync, which can be used to synchronize your information with your PDA or phone, or between Evolution’s via the SyncML plugin. Using MultiSync, it is easily possible to keep the same information synchronized between a laptop and a desktop computer.
These incremental improvements are a stark contrast to Evolution’s prior release cycles, which were much longer. Because of this, many of the improvements to Evolution aren’t readily apparent at first – it can take some regular usage to stumble onto them.
The most significant improvement is the addition of EPlugins. Unfortunately, the real benefits of EPlugins won’t be felt by users until developers start writing and releasing more plugins. It’s reasonable to assume that it is only a matter of time until projects like OpenGroupware.org and Hula have complete EPlugins available. There is still some work to be done in this area to make plug-ins more useful. According to the Evolution roadmap, pluggable junk stuff will be available in Evolution 2.4. This is good, because like the previous release, Evolution 2.2’s junk classification performance still leaves much to be desired.
Overall, Evolution 2.2 is a good followup release to 2.0. Laptop users will find the improved Offline operation helpful, while the plug-in architecture encourages third-party enhancements. Gaim users will find the well-integrated plugin to add contacts a nice very useful feature. Finally, normal, everyday users will find Evolution to be lighter, faster, and in general, more stable. Let’s hope that the next six months keep this trend going.