In general, you'll have a choice of two kinds of programs for sending and receiving email on a Unix system:
An email program installed on your local computer or network that interacts with the Unix system for you. You might know these programs as mail clients and might have used ones like Thunderbird, Eudora, Outlook Express, or Mozilla's mail program, Messenger. These are handy because they usually have a spiffy interface and can handle attachments without a lot of hassle on your part, but they're not really Unix email programs. These programs also let you store your mail on your desktop system (Windows or Macintosh or even Unix desktops, but those are beyond the scope of this book).
An email program that you access and use directly on the Unix system. These programs, such as pine, mutt, and mail, let you send and receive email easily. Additionally, pine and mutt let you send attachments with not a lot of hubbub. Because the mail remains on the Unix system, you can access your mail from anyplace you can access the Internet.
In this chapter, we'll focus on the email programs that you access directly from the Unix system, as these are the true Unix email programs. Although there are a bazillion different ones available, you'll likely have access to one (or more) of these:
pine: This program is intuitive to use and lets you send and receive email and attachments very easily. pine is our recommendation if you have it available. Figure 11.1 shows its relatively simple interface. Just use the menu commands listed at the bottom of the screen.
Figure 11.1. pine's interface and features are intuitive and easy to use.
mutt: This program is a bit less user-friendly, but it lets you send and receive email and can deal with attachments nicely. mutt is our second choice, if pine is not available, but mutt is quite friendly if you put a bit of time into customizing it for your needs. Figure 11.2 shows its interface, which provides ample features for most purposes.
Figure 11.2. mutt's interface and features are fairly easy to use but not as easy as pine's.
mail: This program is available on practically every Unix system;however, it's fairly difficult to use and does not provide intuitive options or commands, as Figure 11.3 shows. We recommend choosing another email program if at all possible. Use this program for emergencies only.
Figure 11.3. mail's interface and features are, well, kind of a pain to use.
Code Listing 11.1. Read with great interest the line that says "You have mail" when you log in.
login: ejr Password: Last login: Sun Aug 2 07:41:00 on tty4 You have mail. [ejr@hobbes ejr]$
How do you know whether someone has sent you something? The shell will often announce (but not usually audibly) "You have mail" or "You have new mail" when you log in, as shown in Code Listing 11.1. That is, if you do in fact have email waiting for you.
You're not limited to using just a regular Unix email program or a POP mail program; you can use either or both, depending on your specific preferences and needs. You're also not limited to using just one Unix email program if you have more than one available, although reading mail from two different Unix programs can sometimes make it a little hard to keep track of what's where. Try them out and see which program or combination of programs meets your needs.
We recommend using character-based email programs like these to read mail. After you get used to the interface, you can whiz through your email much faster than you can with a GUI mailer (like Outlook or Mozilla mail), and you don't have spam graphics opened in your face either.