Command-line productivity tools

Emailing with Alpine

No matter what you do for a living, chances are you spend most of your daily computing receiving, sending, and managing emails; the command-line-based Alpine [4] email client will help you to do that with consummate ease (Figure 4).

Figure 4: You can tweak virtually every aspect of Alpine.

Although this email client is infinitely customizable, getting started with it is very easy – all you have to do is configure an email account.

Because Alpine supports both the POP and IMAP protocols, you can use it with virtually any email service – even with the popular Gmail offering from Google. To do that, launch Alpine and go to Setup | Config. Fill out the fields as follows:

User Domain =
SMTP server =
Inbox Path =

Replace the "username" string with your Gmail user name, choose Exit Setup, and save the settings. Alpine boasts a huge number of options that allow you to tweak virtually any aspect of the application. Although you can leave most of the settings at their defaults, you might want to change the way Alpine sorts messages in your Inbox. If you want new messages to appear at the top of the screen, select the Reverse Arrival option in the Sort Key section.

To change the default color scheme, go to Setup, press the K key, and select the color scheme you want (e.g., use-termdef). Then you can scroll down to the GENERAL COLORS section where you can tweak individual colors.

Pygmynote and Calcurse

Need a no-frills command-line task manager? Then you might want to try Pygmynote [5], written by yours truly (Figure 5). The newest version of this simple personal data manager stores all the data in an SQLite database. To make it work on your system, you must install the python-pysqlite2 package first, then you can launch Pygmynote by running the python command in the terminal. Pygmynote uses a handful of commands to add, modify, and view records, and you can view a list of all commands and their descriptions by using the h command.

Figure 5: Pygmynote is a no-frills personal data manager

If you need a more powerful and flexible tool for managing your tasks and appointments, take a look at Calcurse [6] (Figure 6). This ncurses-based calendaring application provides a rudimentary interface divided into three panels: Appointments, Calendar, and ToDo. The status bar at the bottom provides a quick overview of the available commands, so you should have no trouble getting started with Calcurse even without reading the online help. Adding events and to-dos in calcurse is straightforward. Use the Tab key to focus on the pane you want (e.g., ToDo if you want to add a task) and press the A key. Calcurse lets you specify a priority for each task and time for events. You can also add notes to the events using the N key. Although calcurse can't sync calendaring data directly with other applications or web-based services, it can import and export the data in the iCal format.

Figure 6: Calcurse sports a rudimentary interface and can help you to manage tasks and events.

Final Word

Leaving the colorful world of graphical apps can be a difficult step to take, but adding command-line tools to your toolbox doesn't necessarily mean that you have to abandon your graphical favorites. Because command-line applications are not resource-hungry and don't require a lot of screen real estate, you can load them on your laptop or netbook and use the heavyweight graphical applications on your desktop machine.

The Author

Dmitri Popov holds a degree in Russian language and computer linguistics. He has been writing exclusively about Linux and open source software for several years, and his articles have appeared in Danish, British, North American, German, and Russian magazines and websites.

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