I’ve looked at Zoe once or twice in the past, but it never quite grabbed enough of my interest for me to bother installing it. If you aren’t familiar with Zoe, it’s a Java-based email search proxy thing that they’ve never really been able to explain on their website. Yesterday I was searching for more information on Near-Time Flow, and came across a blog entry by Tom Malaher titled “Google your Email”:

Who needs GMail? You’ve got your own CPU and Disk space, use it. ZOE lets you read and search your email (with Lucene), without supplying helpful related advertising. Not to mention that it also has a very cool non-linear email access metaphor. Forget Inbox/Sent Mail/…customFolders.. you just browse.

Ah, finally–someone explains the point of Zoe. It’s basically a personal email search engine. Once I got that, I grabbed a copy and tried it out. It’s trivial to install–just extract the files from the archive and double-click on Zoe.jar. Zoe runs its own web server on port 10080, and automatically fires up your favorite browser when it starts. The web interface is intuitive and reasonable attractive, and it’s easy to add new POP or IMAP accounts and have Zoe import mail from them. While it’s possible to use Zoe as a web-based mail reader, it’s not really very good at that–it doesn’t do folders at all, and I can’t figure out how to get it to do threads, but that’s not really a problem, because it’s not supposed to be used for normal mail reading: it’s a search engine, not a mail reader.

I probably have around 100,000 messages sitting in assorted IMAP mail boxes in various places, and Zoe is the first program that I’ve found that is actually usable for searching them. OS X’s Mail program isn’t very good at searching huge volumes of mail, particularly when most of it lives on IMAP servers.

The big problem with Zoe is its resource needs–it’s written in Java, and wants at least 70 MB of RAM when it’s running on my laptop, plus a few hundred MB of disk space. I just don’t have enough free RAM on my laptop to add another 70+ MB program, so I’m going to try running it on one of my Linux servers at home and see how that goes.

A couple points about Zoe: while its UI is predictable and easy to use, its documentation is nearly non-existant. Like Asterisk, you’re stuck using Google to search mailing lists and third-party wikis to find details. Zoe really needs a more detailed configuration interface. As it is, a lot of less-common features need to be controlled by editing Java property files.

It’s an easy install, though, and it’s very usable right out of the box, so I’d recommend installing it and checking it out.