Issue #1 November 2004

Maximizing Productivity with Evolution


Evolution is a groupware application which allows you to read your email from multiple sources, plan your schedule, and keep contact information in a convenient place. By combining these features, Evolution is able to have them interact in ways that help simplify your activities.

The backbone to Evolution is its email client. This article discusses setting up Evolution to read and write email as well as ways to organize these emails. It also discusses the Evolution address book inasmuch as it has to do with sending email. This article discusses Evolution version 1.4.5.

Starting Evolution for the First Time

Evolution can be started a few different ways:

  • Click on the Evolution launcher on the panel

  • Select Main Menu -> Internet -> Evolution Email

  • Type the command evolution at the shell prompt

Evolution can be run without an Internet connection. To start Evolution in this manner, enter the evolution --offline command at the shell prompt. You can also switch to work offline when Evolution is running by clicking the connection icon in the bottom left corner of the Evolution window.

If this is the first time you start Evolution, the set-up screen shown in Figure 1, “The Evolution Set-up Screen” shows up.

The Evolution Set-up Screen
Figure 1. The Evolution Set-up Screen

Click Forward to begin the process. The next screen is the Identity screen shown in Figure 2, “Setting Your Identity”. Fill in your name and email address. If you belong to an organization (such as a company or a group) to which you want to show your affiliation, fill that in as well.

You can have multiple identities in Evolution. Enter your primary one in the screen shown in Figure 2, “Setting Your Identity”. The others can be entered later once the initial setup is complete.
Setting Your Identity
Figure 2. Setting Your Identity

The next step is setting up your mailbox. This article discusses two of the most common email protocols — POP and IMAP. POP is used by most Internet Service Providers and is therefore what most people have for their personal email. IMAP is used by some companies with servers dedicated to it, allowing their employees to access their email from different places.

Companies are not the only people who can use IMAP. If you have a server, you can set up an IMAP server for your own email.

Setting up a POP Mailbox

To set up Evolution to read a POP mailbox, select POP in the Receiving Mail screen. New options appear as shown in Figure 3, “Adding a POP Mailbox”. Fill in your host and, if your server supports it, enable SSL (Secure Socket Layer). SSL encrypts the information that is transferred between your computer and the mail server to thwart attempts from others to see, delete, or alter your information.

The first part of your email address (the part before the @) is automatically entered as your username. Feel free to change it if necessary.

Select the authentication type. If you are unsure, click the Check for supported types button. This button tells Evolution to contact the server for details. If this does not work, make sure the host is entered correctly and that your Internet connection is activated.

Adding a POP Mailbox
Figure 3. Adding a POP Mailbox
Most POP mailboxes use password authentication. You can set Evolution to remember this password so that you only have to enter it once. For security reasons, do not do this if you are running Evolution on a shared computer.

Click Forward to continue setting up your POP account. The next screen (shown in Figure 4, “POP Mailbox Options”) allows you to have Evolution automatically check for email whenever it is open. Select this option only if you have a dedicated Internet connection.

POP Mailbox Options
Figure 4. POP Mailbox Options

There is also an option that can leave a copy of your email on the server. As most servers have size limits, choosing this option is strongly discouraged. It is useful, however, for testing your account. Click Forward again and more outgoing mail options appear.

Setting Up Outgoing Mail

Outgoing mail can be sent either with the Sendmail program or with SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). Unless you know how to use Sendmail, it is strongly suggested that you use SMTP. Selecting SMTP gives you the screen shown in Figure 5, “SMTP Options”.

SMTP Options
Figure 5. SMTP Options

The next step requires you to know your SMTP information. This information should have been given to you by your Internet service provider. Enter your SMTP host and, if your server supports it, enable SSL for security. Click Forward and the next screen appears. Enter a short description of the email account you just entered and click Forward again. Select the city that best represents your time zone and click Forward again. Click Apply and Evolution is set up for email. The main Evolution window appears as shown in Figure 6, “Evolution”.

Figure 6. Evolution

Setting up an IMAP Mailbox

To set up an IMAP mailbox, select IMAP on the Receiving Email screen. Follow the same directions as for a POP mailbox in the previous section. On the following screen, there are more options as shown in Figure 7, “IMAP Options”. If you plan on accessing your email from multiple locations, make sure the Check for new messages in all folders option is selected. If your mailbox has a specific namespace within the IMAP server, enter that in the space provided. Otherwise, setting up IMAP mailbox is basically the same as setting up a POP mailbox.

IMAP Options
Figure 7. IMAP Options

Configuring Multiple Email Addresses

To enter a secondary email address, you need to create another identity. From the main Evolution window, select Tools -> Settings. Select Mail Accounts from the list on the left (it is at the top) and click the Add button on the right. Follow the directions from above to add a new POP or IMAP mailbox. You can also set your signature for this identity from this screen.

You do not need another mailbox to create a secondary identity. If you want to use the same mailbox but want to consistently use a separate name and/or signature file, create a new identity but set the Server Type to None.

Setting Your Signature

You can create a signature and have it automatically attached to the end of your emails. You can do so for your secondary identities when you create them as well. For your primary identity or to change your option in your secondary identity, use the following steps:

  • Select Tools -> Settings from the menu bar.

  • Click Mail Accounts from the list of icons on the left.

  • Select the appropriate identity from the list.

  • Click Edit on the right.

  • Make sure the Identity tab is selected.

At the bottom, there is the window with options for your signature. You can choose to have no signature, an autogenerated signature, or you can create one yourself. If you choose to have a signature, note that Evolution places it at the end of the email message under a line with two dashes.

The autogenerated option looks like this:

Your Name <>

To create your own signature, click on the Add new signature... button. An editor (Figure 8, “Creating a Custom Signature”) appears where you can type in your own signature.

Creating a Custom Signature
Figure 8. Creating a Custom Signature

Generally, a signature is where you want to put your contact information. Remember to give a name to your signature. This name is for your own reference only and will not be seen by any recipients. When you are done creating your signature, click on the Save button. Select the name of the signature you just created as the default signature and click OK.

It is considered bad etiquette to create signatures that are too long. Four lines is considered a good length.

Managing Email

Now that you have Evolution set up to send and receive mail, it is time to do just that. To make the various folders easier to access, activate the folder pane by selecting View -> Folder Pane. Figure 9, “Evolution with the Folder Pane” shows the folder pane activated and the Inbox selected.

Evolution with the Folder Pane
Figure 9. Evolution with the Folder Pane

Sending Email

To start a new email message, select New -> New Message. A window appears where you can compose your email as shown in Figure 10, “Creating a New Email Message”. Your default identity is shown in the From: bar. To use an alternate identity, use the pull-down menu on this bar and choose from the identities you have created.

Creating a New Email Message
Figure 10. Creating a New Email Message

Enter the recipient's email address in the To: field and fill in the Subject: field. Write your message in the message area. Once you are done, click the Send button in the toolbar. Evolution attempts to send emails immediately. However, if your Internet connection is not active, the message is queued in your Outbox. The next time you send a message or attempt to retrieve messages from the server, Evolution will send the email as well.

If you do not want to finish an email immediately, you can save it as a draft. Select File -> Save Draft from the message window. To edit it again, open up the Draft folder by selecting it in the Folder Pane, and double click on the message. The editor reappears for you to continue writing the email.
Any message queued in the Outbox has not been sent and can be edited. Double click on the message in the Outbox and the message editor comes up. You can then edit the email as if it were a draft.

If you mistyped while composing your email message, you may have noticed a red squiggly line under the misspelled word. This is the spell checker at work. Right-click on the word and select Check word spelling to bring up a window with possible correct spellings. You can also insert the word into your dictionary.

Receiving Email

If you have set Evolution to check for mail automatically, chances are that it has already done so by now. Whether you have or not, you can always force Evolution to check for email by pressing the Send/Receive button or using the keyboard shortcut F9. Any email that is in the Outbox is sent out at the same time. All new email is placed into your Inbox. These new emails are indicated in bold and with a sealed envelope icon as shown in Figure 11, “New Mail”. Clicking on the message listing displays the message in the preview pane beneath the listing. Double clicking on the message listing brings up a new window with the message.

New Mail
Figure 11. New Mail
Although it is called the preview pane, there is no reason why you cannot read the bulk of your email here.
If the font is too small in a particular message, enlarge it by pressing Ctrl-8. Ctrl-0 decreases the font size and Ctrl-9 returns the font to the original size.

To reply or forward an email, click the appropriate button on the toolbar. By default, a reply has the original message quoted and a forward has the original message as an attachment. If you prefer different behavior, you can change the settings by selecting Tools -> Settings from the menu and clicking on the Composer Preferences button on the left. The options are at the top of the General tab as shown in Figure 12, “Changing Composer Settings”.

Changing Composer Settings
Figure 12. Changing Composer Settings

Deleting Email


To delete mail, select the message and press Ctrl-D or click on the Trash icon in the toolbar. The preview pane automatically displays the next message on the list. You can also delete multiple messages at once by selecting them before selecting Edit -> Delete or pressing Ctrl-D. Multiple selections work the same way as in other applications: pressing Ctrl with each mouse click adds individual messages to the selection while pressing Shift with a mouse click selects all the messages between the last selection and the new one. However, if you delete multiple selections, it does not change the preview pane to show the next message.

Deleted messages can be rescued by undeleting them. Click on the Trash entry in the folder pane to open the folder, select the message you want to rescue, and select Edit -> Undelete or press Ctrl-U. The message reappears in the folder from which it was originally deleted.

To permanently remove deleted messages from your system, empty the trash by selecting Actions -> Empty Trash.

Because Evolution really keeps deleted messages in the original folder until it is emptied from the trash, deleted messages can be removed, or expunged, on a folder-to-folder basis. To expunge deleted files from a folder, open the folder from the folder pane and select Actions -> Expunge or press Ctrl-E. A dialog box asking for verification appears. Click OK to complete this procedure. If you do not need this extra check, select the option for it to not show up again. However, if you change your mind at a later date, you can have it set to appear by selecting Tools -> Settings from the menu, choosing Mail Preferences from the list of icons on the left, checking Confirm when expunging a folder, and applying the changes.

Expunging in the Trash folder has the same effect as emptying the trash.

Working with Folders

Folders are very useful because they allow you to organize your emails. Along with filters, they can cut down on the time necessary for you to read through your emails. They also let you sort and store your old emails in a reasonable order. To create a folder, select File -> Folder -> New Folder. Enter a name for this folder and select Mail for Folder Type. Select where you want the folder to reside. Evolution allows you to have folders of folders, allowing you to group your folders for better organization.

If you are using an IMAP mailbox, do not put any subfolders in the Inbox. Most IMAP servers treat the Inbox differently than other folders and cannot handle having subfolders in it.

To move an email to a different folder, drag the message with the mouse to the folder in the folder pane. Alternatively, you can right-click in the preview pane, select Move to Folder from the pop up menu, and select the destination folder from the dialog.

Evolution does not really move messages immediately. It copies the message to the destination folder and deletes the message from the original folder. The original copy can be found in the Trash folder. You need to expunge the original folder to complete the move.

Working with Filters

Now that you have folders, the next step is to set up filters. Filters automatically move mail to the appropriate folders as it comes in. You can also run the filters manually at any time.

The easiest way to create a filter is to start with an email that you want to filter. For example, to filter on the sender of the email, select Create Filter From Message -> Filter on Sender. A window pops up with the filter part filled in as shown in Figure 13, “Adding a New Filter”. To add more rules to the filter, click the Add button and select the type of rule to add. The bottom half of the window lets you set what action or actions to take with emails caught in this filter. To move these messages into their own folder, click the folder button and either choose the appropriate folder or create a new one by clicking the New button and creating a new folder as discussed previously. If you create a new folder, you still need to select it before clicking OK. If you want the filter to perform more than one action on the caught emails, click the Add button and choose another action. When you are done, click OK to close the window.

Adding a New Filter
Figure 13. Adding a New Filter

If you have multiple filters, you can order them by precedence by moving them using the Up and Down buttons. The higher the filter is on the list, the earlier it is run. Normally, an email is run through all the filters and precedence does not matter. However, an email can be caught by multiple filters which creates multiple copies of the email. To prevent this from happening, set the last action in the filter to Stop Processing. If an email is caught in a filter with that action set, it does not get tested by any filters listed below that one. Warning: New filters are not saved until the OK button in the Filter window is clicked. Closing the New Filter window is not adequate.

All new email that has not been retrieved yet will be filtered in the future automatically. Mail that is already in your Inbox can be filtered by selecting the mail in the message listing and then selecting Actions -> Apply Filters or by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Y.

If Evolution is interrupted in the middle of filtering and needs to be restarted, the mail left in the Inbox needs to be filtered manually by selecting Actions -> Apply Filters or Ctrl-Y.
When you apply the filters manually, you apply them to all the email in the mailbox. This includes email that has been deleted. The copied versions in the new folders are also be marked as deleted, so you may not notice them. If you do not empty your trash regularly, you may have many copies of the same email taking up disk space. It is a good policy to expunge your Inbox before manually filtering it.

Labels and Flags

If you get a large amount of email, sometimes it is difficult to remember which emails are important. Evolution has a few ways of marking individual emails so that they are easy to find and organize. These methods can be used singly or in tandem for more differentiation.

Marking Mail as Important

The quickest and simplest way to keep track of important emails is to Mark them as important. At the top of the message list, there are six columns by default. The third one from the left is a red exclamation point. To mark an email as important, click on the email in that column and a red exclamation point appears as shown in Figure 14, “An Important Email”. The email can now easily be found by casual inspection.

An Important Email
Figure 14. An Important Email
If you click and drag a column header to the left or right, it changes positions. If you click and drag it off, the column disappears. To get the columns back (or to add different columns) right-click on the header and select Add a column... Drag the column you want back to the header bar.
If your list of emails is too long to quickly see if there are any emails marked important, click on the red exclamation point in the header. All emails marked important are sorted to the bottom of the message listing. Clicking a second time moves them to the top and clicking a third time returns the listing to the original state.

Labeling Emails

One big drawback with the marking emails as important method is that there are no gradations. A message is either important or it is not. Another method Evolution has for differentiating emails is labeling. Evolution has five different default labels: Important, Work, Personal, To Do, and Later. To label an email, right-click on the email in the message listing and select Label -> labelname where labelname is your choice of label. Each label has a separate color and can easily be seen by scanning the message listing.

Marking an email as Important is different than labeling it as Important.

To change the label names and/or the label colors, select Tools -> Settings from the menu, choose Mail Preferences from the list on the left, and select the Colors tab. Change label names by typing in your choices and clicking Apply. Colors can be changed by clicking on the individual colored buttons and using the color picker.

Changing Label Names and Colors
Figure 15. Changing Label Names and Colors
Evolution sometimes refers to the labels by their default names even if they have been changed. Restarting Evolution should solve this problem.

Although there is no label column, you can still find labeled emails. Select Search -> Advanced from the menu. A search dialog appears. In the first criteria button, select Label. Choose the label you want to search for in the third button. Remove all the other rows.

If this search is one that you think you will use often, name it something relevant at the top of this window and click on the Save button. Execute the search by clicking OK.

This search can be used again by accessing it near the bottom of the Search pull-down menu. To clear the search and view all messages again, click on the Clear button at the top right of the Evolution window.

Flagging Emails

A third method of differentiating emails is to flag them. Flagging emails is the most versatile of these methods. A flagged message can have a date associated with it so that you know when the action is due.

To flag an email, select it in the message listing. Select Actions -> Follow Up... in the window that comes up, select the action to remember and, optionally, set a date for it to be completed. Once the flag is set, when you show the email, a note displays above the email headers to remind you. Once an action is overdue, the message will change color in the message listing.

Finding the emails that are flagged works the same way as finding labeled emails. Instead of Label, select Follow Up as the criteria. These searches can be saved as well.

Using vFolders

vFolders, short for virtual folders, are a way of combining searches and filters into an easy to manage system. It is essentially a folder whose contents are the result of a search. For example, if you find yourself often searching for emails that you have labeled as Important, you can create a vFolder from that search. Or, if a particular thread on an email list interests you, create a vFolder to help you keep track of each of these messages.

Every email seen in a vFolder really resides in a real folder elsewhere; hence the name virtual.

To create a vFolder, first perform the search to use. Once the message listing contains only the type of email you want, select Search -> Create Virtual Folder From Search. Confirm in the dialog (Figure 16, “Creating a vFolder”) that the search is correct and that the correct folder is selected. Click OK. A new vFolder can be found in the vFolder branch of the folder pane. Every time a new message is brought into the source folder, the vFolder checks it against its criteria and, if it matches, shows it in itself as well. Once an email is in a vFolder, it remains in that vFolder until the message is deleted from the source folder. This is true even if you change aspects of the email so that it no longer fits the criteria of the vFolder. However, when you restart Evolution, it runs all the source emails through the vFolder criteria again. To force Evolution to run this check without restarting Evolution, expunge the folders contents by select Action -> Expunge or by pressing Ctrl-E.

Deleting a message in a vFolder deletes the message in the source folder. Any other vFolder that points to that message loses the message as well.
Because vFolders are populated from scratch every time you start Evolution, having too many vFolders causes slower startup times.
Creating a vFolder
Figure 16. Creating a vFolder

Adding Contacts

The Evolution address book can store an abundance of information. As a small sampling, it can keep phone numbers, mailing addresses, and even birthdays. Whether you decide to use all the abilities of the Evolution address book or not, if you use Evolution to write email, you can use the address book to keep track of the email addresses of your correspondents.

To add a contact from an email, right-click on the email address (all available email address appear in blue and are underlined) and click Add to Contacts. Fix your contact's full name if necessary and click OK. The new contact can be found in the Contacts folder under the Local folders section of your folder pane.

The next time you want to write an email to this person, click on the To: button in the composition window. The selection window as shown in Figure 17, “Selecting the Recipient of your Email” appears. Select the Contacts folder and your correspondent's name appears on the left. Select this name and click the To: button, and your email is addressed to the selected address. To carbon copy the email to someone else, select the name and click the Cc: button.

Selecting the Recipient of your Email
Figure 17. Selecting the Recipient of your Email

To add more information into your address book, double click on the contact and the Contact Editor appears as shown in Figure 18, “The Contact Editor”. The name and primary email address should already be filled in.

The Contact Editor
Figure 18. The Contact Editor

The four rows of entries by the telephone icon are interchangeable. Click on the arrow next to any of the rows and choose the type of telephone number you want to enter. You are not limited to four. Note that if you click on one of the arrows after entering a number, the categories with numbers have a check mark next to them. It is possible to have entered numbers without any of them showing in this window.

Although your contact already has an email address entered, you can enter up to two secondary email addresses as well. Click the arrow next to Primary email and select Email 2 (or Email 3) to enter other these other addresses. When writing an email, choosing a person from the selection window (Figure 17, “Selecting the Recipient of your Email”) sets the primary email address by default. To send an email to either of the other addresses, right-click the person's name in the To: field of the composition window and select the address you want.

The next section of the Contact Editor is the physical address section. Again, the arrow button allows you to enter more than one address. Clicking the Addresses button brings up a window that makes entering an address easier, but entering the address manually in the window works equally well.

Click the Categories button to select one or more categories for this person. Categories allow you to group your contacts easily. When selecting a recipient for an email, you can choose which category of contacts to choose from. You can also search by category in the Contacts folder.

Although you can create new categories, Evolution does not offer your creations as part of its category listing when selecting recipients of emails.

The second tab has space for work and personal details and is very straightforward. The third tab allows connecting with other people to schedule meetings in the calendar and is outside the scope of this article.

Click Save and Close. Select the Contacts folder from the folder pane and your contact's information is displayed.

By now, you should have a good grasp on reading, writing, and arranging your emails with Evolution. Using Evolution's labeling and flagging features can help you become a more efficient email user. Good luck!

Quick Steps

Setting up a POP Mailbox

  1. Select Tools -> Settings

  2. Click Mail Accounts icon on the left

  3. Click the Add button

  4. Click Forward

  5. Enter your name and your email address

  6. Click Forward

  7. Select POP

  8. Enter host name or IP

  9. Select whenever possible for Use secure connection

  10. Click Check for supported types

  11. Click Forward twice

  12. Select SMTP

  13. Enter SMTP host name or IP

  14. Select whenever possible for Use secure connection

  15. Click Forward twice and click Apply

Setting up an IMAP Mailbox

  1. Select Tools -> Settings

  2. Click Mail Accounts icon on the left

  3. Click the Add button

  4. Click Forward

  5. Enter your name and your email address

  6. Click Forward

  7. Select IMAP

  8. Enter host name or IP

  9. Select whenever possible for Use secure connection

  10. Click Check for supported types

  11. Click Forward

  12. Select Apply filters to INBOX on this server

  13. Click Forward

  14. Select SMTP

  15. Enter SMTP host name or IP

  16. Select whenever possible for Use secure connection

  17. Click Forward twice and click Apply

Creating VFolders

  1. Select Tools -> Virtual folder editor...

  2. Click Add

  3. Name the new vFolder

  4. Choose the filter type

  5. Enter the filter criteria

  6. Select source folder(s)

  7. Click OK

Further Reading

  1. Ximian Support Center: — They have answers to common questions as well as an online version of the documentation.

  2. About Email: — Tips and tricks about managing email with Evolution.


ActionKeyboard Shortcut
create new emailCtrl-N when in an email folder, Shift-Ctrl-N elsewhere
delete emailCtrl-D
undelete emailCtrl-U
select allCtrl-A
mark selected as readCtrl-K
mark selected as unreadShift-Ctrl-K
send and receiveF9
go to next unread message]
go to previous unread message[
reply to senderCtrl-R
reply to allShift-Ctrl-R
forward messageCtrl-F
apply filtersCtrl-Y
Table 1. Keyboard shortcuts for Main Evolution Window
ActionKeyboard Shortcut
add attachmentCtrl-Alt-A
spell checkShift-Ctrl-L
close windowCtrl-W
Table 2. Keyboard Shortcuts for Email Composition Window

About the Author

Rosanna Yuen has been using Evolution for over three years and running Linux for even longer. She co-wrote AisleRiot and is a dabbler in the GNOME project. In her spare time, she reads, knits, and spends too much time in front of her computer.