Kube email Making Connections


Article from Issue 231/2020

Kube aims to unite your email, contact lists, calendar, and other online communications in one sleek modern package.

Pundits have been saying and writing that "email is dying" for decades now. I'll bet your inbox provides plenty of evidence that this is not true.

For a while, email's replacement looked like a "personal information manager," with messaging, contacts management, a calendar, task manager, and even an RSS-based newsreader. The idea was to have these applications under one roof (e.g., KDE Kontact, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Gnome Evolution), occasionally interacting with each other, but mostly simplifying these related tasks for the human who runs them.

The Kube project [1] is building a Qt-based "modern communication and collaboration client," with another organizing principle: Blur the lines between all these packages. If you want to interact with Bill Jones, open his profile and decide what you need to do next: Send an email, start a chat, or schedule a meeting. When Kube comes into its own, you'll see the traditional KDE emphasis on building software that works the way you want, with nearly endless customizability.

Kube also has a clean look and feel, showing the team's work with usability specialists to create a sensible workflow. In this article, I'll show you what Kube is looking to create, and what you can do with it today.

The Vision

In the current version of Kube, you can begin to see what lead developer Christian Mollekopf has in mind as Kube progresses as an application [2-4]. With every account you create, you're really creating a view into these various types of task- or communication-related bits of information.

Since Kube initially starts with creating an email account, you'll see the Conversations view, where you can send emails and organize them by thread. Mollekopf would like to see you be able to add chats, blog posts and responses, and other online conversations here. Down the road, think of other ways you communicate with friends, co-workers, customers, and businesses. Kube aims to help you out.

The People view lets you see the people with whom you communicate. Perhaps you sent a request for help from someone recently, but don't think they responded. Open the People view and locate the person. You'll find all your recent meetings and email with that person. If you need to follow up, just click the email message, and you're on your way. The People view will also track your calendar to see what meetings different people were invited to (and perhaps even if they attended!)

Finally, a single Composer view is for writing email, manually adding people, and editing calendar items. In the long view, Mollekopf sees the Composer as simply a content editor, where you could save anything you write here as a note, a social media post, meeting minutes, or a blog entry.

Kube's roadmap highlights more views on the horizon:

  • An Organize view with a tree view for all types of content and folders for mail
  • A Read view for all types of content (mail, chats, calendar, and to-do lists) with "triage" tools to help you process mail and other content faster and more effectively
  • A Do view with the things you need to focus on today
  • A Plan view that allows you to create to-do lists, events, invitations, and more
  • An Observe view that lets you check a status board for your projects

Some History

KDE has always had a personal information manager included in its default software collection. If your distribution doesn't include it in the default KDE desktop install, you can install the Kontact [5] suite of applications, or any of its separate components: KMail, KAddressBook, KOrganizer (calendar), Akregator (RSS newsreader), and KNotes. These are all stable applications and well maintained.

Kube developers say that their product won't replace Kontact in the panoply of KDE apps, but that it will give users a more modern alternative.

While the development team is mostly composed of Kolab developers, Kube won't replace existing Kolab installations. The Kolab project began in 2002 as a way to expand the personal information suite into the corporate environment, with a client-server setup similar to Microsoft's Exchange Server and Outlook client. They also produce the commercial Kolab Now cloud email service [6].

While the Kube project began in 2015, it didn't really attract attention until 2017, with its 0.3.1 release. A bit rough around the edges, it worked as a basic email client and address book. Mollekopf wrote at the time: "While Kube 0.3.1 still isn't anywhere near production ready, I can finally say that I can use it for most of my email needs."

Version 0.7 came out in July 2018, with threaded Conversations available and the introduction of OpenPGP message encryption. A macOS client joined the roster. One month later, the Kube project made nightly builds available through a Flatpak installation [7]. Since then, users have seen the ability to manually add people to their address books and add recurring events to the calendar. Version 0.8 is now available, but Mollekopf admits the Flatpak system "makes (releases) significantly less interesting."

Installing Kube

With a few exceptions for distributions with Kube packages (namely Arch, Gentoo, and Fedora Copr), you can download the aforementioned Flatpak package to install the nightly Kube build [8]. Make sure your distro supports Flatpak and then run the suggested commands from the shell to get started:

flatpak -y --user install --from https://files.kube-project.com/flatpak/com.kubeproject.kube.flatpakref
flatpak run com.kubeproject.kube

Kube will integrate into your KDE system menu automatically. The Flatpak gives you the current build whenever you run Kube, though I wish the interface included an About link with a build number to track progress. Checking for a new build also tremendously slows down loading Kube.

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