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Great Tools: Alpine an Email Client



This is Alpine my email client of choice. A few years ago my work computer was a P4 with 2 gigs of ram. Whenever I opened Outlook with Visual Studio open plus a web browser and all the other cruft that is open daily I would hear the grinding of my hard drive and know my computer was about slow down. Outlook was eating roughly 60-100 megs of memory loading all the various things it does, and on top of that I did not like the interface.

That triggered a quest to find a light email client that I could live with. I tried the emacs client, but it was to arcane even for emacs. I tried sylpheed, thunderbird and claws. None of them scratched an itch. Then I happened to find Alpine, and it changed how I handle email.

What is the secret of this app? That each screen focuses on one thing and one thing only. You don’t get a 3 pane layout. You see the list of messages and have to view them to see the text, but you get the whole real estate when you do so. Every screen is razor sharp and focused on doing whatever it needs to do without muddying the waters. That is the secret.

But first the bad

This is a keyboard driven product, and the editor pico is unwieldy for most users. Pico lacks most decent editing capabilities, it is functional but spartan. Viewing HTML message requires you to view the HTML in your browser and responding in HTML is almost impossible. The other big issue that when you view images that are referenced within the email you cannot see them inline.

The Good

Keyboard Centric

To someone like me the keyboard is your main entry with the mouse being there for support. I can fly using Alpine. Set me say I want to search all messages that contain the text “design”, here are my keystrokes ; T A Design ENTER. Without moving the mouse, plus when the results come up I can use the keyboard to scroll through them.

Speedy and Lean

This thing uses little memory and is very fast, saving to the mbox can sometimes take a second or two but for searching, scrolling through results and most other tasks it does extremely fast. Also consumes about a tenth of the memory Outlook did. Mine generally sits around 4-8 megs depending on what folder I have open.

Extremely Rich Filtering Rules

Alpine has an extremely rich filtering system where you can filter by specific headers, push to an external program or do other crazy things. My needs are pretty tame, move into this folder, flag this or delete that.

Small Install and Portable

Tiny install with a pine.rc and you are good to go. You can also store your configuration on the mail server if you wish.


I have never had it crash, ever.


HTML View insert the images

It is a pain, would be nice if it could copy the html over and auto link the images so they are view inline. In an ideal world it could even display the HTMLized view when I open the message and show it there.

Replace Pico with Windows Specific/OSX Specific Editor

Give some native editing, the ability to cut and paste using the normal OS commands. Maybe some basic HTML commands or at least the ability to insert pictures. Basically make it look more native while retaining the keyboard navigation and focus on showing just a single thing.