Enter: Opera Mail

Category: Tech Today

The reports of the death of e-mail half a decade ago were exaggerated considering it's still the most professional way to communicate in a corporate environment. Twitter, Facebook and other social networking services have become the preferred way of communication by users fully committed to smartphones, mobile devices and tablets but there are still plenty of users out there who use email clients or dedicated email apps.   

E-mail clients haven't received much attention on the desktop lately in Linux, Windows or Mac OSX. Mozilla notoriously announced discontinuing further development of the beloved Thunderbird e-mail client. Meanwhile, Linux e-mail clients such as Evolution, KMail and Claws have only garnered a niche audience. With Microsoft focusing on Windows 8, Windows 7's Live Mail (which was actually pretty good) has lain dormant for some time now. With Opera revamping its eponymous browser, Windows users can now download the standalone Opera Mail - an offshoot of the integrated e-mail client in earlier releases of Opera.




Opera Mail at work


As of this writing, Opera Mail is available for Windows and not for Linux.  Perhaps a bit more time can be given for the Opera developers to work on a Linux release. Opera has seen some success with its browser on the mobile space, so there's no reason why the developers won't attempt the same with a downloadable app for iOS, Android and (fingers crossed) Linux.

It's easy to argue that Opera Mail has no distinguishing features and doesn't even merit a review. However, its existence alone is enough to deserve an article. An e-mail client isn't the most sexy application on any computing device these days and is arguably an anachronism considering the emphasis placed on urgency and immediacy when it comes to information dissemination. For that very reason, kudos to the Opera developers for maintaining a stable and aesthetically pleasing e-mail client.




Quick Review


Users who want to try Opera Mail can look forward to the following:

1. Interface. The default theme fits very well in Windows 7 but may need tweaking if you want Opera Mail to match the colorful drapes found in Windows 8. The embossed interface and the subtle blue and red tints familiar to longtime users of Opera's products remains a classic design. I'd love to see a version for KDE4 or Xfce.

2. Organizing e-mail. I don't dedicate too much time sorting out my personal e-mail, particularly my Gmail accounts. However, Opera's approach is less intrusive to anyone's workflow with the side pane providing everything you need - no context menu options necessary to tag emails or organize messages. Outlook.com's simple approach to categories is great for webmail (I've only begun to use the features), but Opera Mail's desktop approach is definitely more robust. I'm particularly enamored with the Attachments pane, which lists emails with specific types of attachments (Documents, Images, etc.). Labels, Mailing Lists (e.g. confirmation for signing up to web services like Behance.net), and the standard mailboxes are all accessible from the collapsible side pane.



3. Time frame. The collapsible panels for different months and years make tracking really old e-mails easy (and cleaning up the mailbox too). I've seen this design on an earlier version of KMail before but found the approach tedious and annoying. Opera Mail makes it an option and fairly easy and even fun to use (though reading some of my old e-mail messages from two years ago are disturbing). This method of aggregating mail, however, may impact how long it takes for Opera Mail to pull down all your messages (or headers) on your first run. Still, the monthly and yearly views are well worth the wait. E-mail views for the days of the week are also available.




4. Contacts. Ok, integrating the Contacts pane by default on the main Opera Mail interface, rather than using a floating window like Thunderbird is a small but incredibly compelling feature for me for some reason. Click the Contacts button to display the Contact List and select a Contact to display a history of all e-mail exchanges/threads. Right-click to compose or even follow contact.



5. Writing a message. Composing a message in Opera Mail is brilliant especially for writers who e-mail their blog posts directly to their blog provider (like I do for Unsolicitedbutoffered.blogspot.com). Images can be inserted inline (a feature surprisingly not available for many email clients) and HTML code can be inserted within the body. Two features found in Thunderbird I would like to see in Opera Mail added are HTML styles (Heading1, Heading2) and HTML options for inserted inline images such as alternate text, spacing, aligning and pixel dimensions. 

6. Customizations. I know several people who live and die by Microsoft Outlook at the office, but are frightened of fiddling around with Outlook's admittedly broad set of options. Opera keeps it simple. Notable features are a Quick Reply option (similar to Gmail), sorting options and a well-thought out set of default Labels.





Postscript


Opera Mail does take some time to get going after installation. After setting up my Gmail account, it took awhile for the e-mail client to be completely usable, more likely due to the size of my mailbox (though my Gmail account is terribly slim compared to most users). However, after letting it churn and digest all those hate mails I receive regularly, I found Opera Mail a pleasure to use. 

Having dropped Live Mail in Windows and persisted with Thunderbird 17.0.6 (which hasn't received any updates for some time now), Opera Mail is definitely a welcome addition to my Windows machine. The first release of Opera Mail is a good sign of things to come and I'm eagerly looking forward to a Linux release in the near future.

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