Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A comparison of Gmail notifiers for Ubuntu

If you're looking for a program to check your Gmail in Ubuntu, you'll find there's a lot of them.  Variety's good, but it's difficult to wade through all these options to find the one you want.  Perhaps one day these developers will combine their efforts to create one awesome Gmail notifier, but in the mean time here's a comparison of the options to help you out.

Here I'm specifically looking at email notifiers that work in Gnome with Gmail.  If you use an email reader like Thunderbird, that already has this functionality built-in.  Also, if you use KDE, there's some other gmail notifiers you'll want to check out, although some of the ones below also work in KDE.

cGmail
Uses Gnome keyring: Yes
Notification system: use Ubuntu's notification system
Shows number of unread messages in system tray icon: Yes
Hide icon when no new emails: Yes, configurable

The notification only tells you when there's a new email and how many unread messages you have, not who it's from or what it's about.  There's also no way to launch the browser or email client from this.  This was a decent program when Ubuntu's notification had actions, and what I have been using up until this point, but that is no longer the case.




gnome-gmail-notifier
This one isn't working for me at all.

gmail-notify
Uses Gnome keyring: don't think so
Notification system: some custom system
Shows number of unread messages in system tray icon: No
Hide icon when no new emails: No

When a new email arrives, a notification appears in the lower left corner with the sender, subject, and message preview.  Ugly, but effective.  There's a link to open your web browser in the right click menu, but it wasn't working for me.  Overall, I don't care for this one.






checkgmail
Uses Gnome keyring: don't think so
Notification system: some custom system
Shows number of unread messages in system tray icon: No
Hide icon when no new emails: No

Notifications show some useful information, but lack things like message previews.  It does let you mark as read, archive, delete or report as spam directly from the popup that appears on hover without opening your browser or email client.  Overall, a decent set of features, but not as nice looking as some of the others.






mail-notification
Uses Gnome keyring: Yes
Notification system: Uses Ubuntu's old notification system, which means it doesn't work properly with newer Ubuntu releases.  There's a workaround for this: here, but hopefully a proper fix will be released soon.
Shows number of unread messages in system tray icon: Yes
Hide icon when no new emails: Yes

With the workaround, you get an Ubuntu style notification with which email inbox it's in, the sender, subject, and message preview.  Plus, you can left click on the status icon to open the message and this behavior is configurable.  You can also launch the mail reader or email in browser from the right click menu.
A few minor gripes:

  • the "Properties" menu item would be better labeled "Preferences"
  • doesn't seem to add itself to startup applications, nor does it have an option in Properties to do so.  You can add it yourself in System >> Preferences >> Startup Applications, but it's just a minor inconvenience.
  • it would be nice to have the option to show the icon even when there's no unread email, although I wouldn't use that option










(Note: the notification screenshot is from the blog I linked to, but I tested it on my system too.  Other screenshots on here are by me, or from the official sites of these programs, and I verified that they are consistent with what the current version looks like.)

After trying all these out, I think mail-notification is by far the best (with the workaround to get notifications working correctly).  It has almost everything I want in an email notifier.  It even works with other email services besides Gmail.  There are a few minor features it lacks that some of the others have, but they're things I don't use anyway (examples: customize the tray icon, check labels in Gmail besides Inbox for new messages).  But don't take my word for it, try them out yourself and see which you like best.

Also of note is gm-notify, available at https://launchpad.net/gm-notify/, but not yet in the repos.  It boasts support of the new indicator-applet.  I don't use indicator-applet and haven't tried this one out yet, but if you do it may be worth a look.

Incorrect information?  Left out your favorite notifier?  Let me know in the comments.

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