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Mail Mishandling

As much as I detest IMAP, I have to admit that it makes testing new mail clients a heck of a lot simpler.  So after an extended period of using Thunderbird, I decided to try out Mail 2.  I quickly found myself in a familiar place:  wishing I could combine the best features of two programs.

There are things about Mail that I completely love, such as its smart folders.  Thunderbird’s “saved searches” never really seemed to work right; when I set up an “all unread in the Inbox” folder, the count jumped around more randomly than an Amazon sales ranking, and didn’t keep up with changes in the actual unread count in the Inbox.  I’ve also been completely underwhelmed by Thunderbird’s offline archiving.  It’s a major pain that any folder I want to have archived offline I have to configure individually in Thunderbird via “Properties…” and that I have to tell the application I’m going offline before it bothers to archive anything locally.  Compare all that to just saying (as in Mail) that I want to keep “All messages and their attachments” and then having the program do just that as the mail comes in.  Yes!  That’s what I want.  Why doesn’t Thunderbird allow that?

On the flip side, it’s a lot easier in Thunderbird to do things like navigate mailboxes with the keyboard.  It lets me highlight an arbitrary number of messages, hit command-R, and thus open a reply to each one.  It has labels like “important”, which are useful for helping messages stand out in a large mailbox, and allows the labels to be set with unmodified keystrokes.  In order to even get close to that in Mail, I had to install Mail Act-On, which is way cool, but also fundamentally hampered by what Mail allows filters to do.  Compared to Thunderbird, that honestly isn’t much.

When I’m in Mail, I also miss little touches like alternate-row highlighting in mailbox views.  Maybe there’s a way to make that happen with a plugin or something, but I couldn’t find one.  And what I really miss is the ability to define per-account behaviors.  In Thunderbird, I can say that one account should have all its outgoing mail bcc:ed to a given address, while another should not.  In Mail, that’s a universal setting—the very thing I like about its archiving configuration, ironically, I dislike here.

Mail seems a lot snappier than Thunderbird, that’s for sure.  But it has enough limitations for someone like me that I don’t think I can stick with it.  I’m probably not part of its target audience.  My biggest clue of that was the fact that there’s no setting (I can find) to have the text insertion point placed below the quoted text when replying.

If a mail client is going to try to force me to top-quote, then that’s no client for me.

24 Responses»

    • #1
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 0929
    Day Barr wrote in to say...

    If a mail client is going to try to force me to top-quote, then that”s no client for me.

    Hear hear :)

    • #2
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1135
    Claire wrote in to say...

    I think the idea is that Mail inserts the quoted material, and then you go through it and break it up, adding your responses in between quoted bits. Frankly, “bottom-quoting” isn’t any better than top-quoting — I keep my mail, my mail reader threads, and I don’t need to be reminded about what I said in your response. If you’re going to bottom-quote, you might as well just not quote at all.

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1323
    elliot wrote in to say...

    I like thunderbird since I used it extensively on Linux and Windows, but something seems missing on the Mac version. It seems slower. But I do enjoy the configurability of thunderbird.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1324
    Paul Roub wrote in to say...

    I’ll bite. Why do you despise IMAP?

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1327
    Nathan wrote in to say...

    Command + Down to goto the bottom. Yeah, it should be a setting.

    I agree that going through and replying to each question in the message is the best idea…if there is more than one question.

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1507
    Eric Meyer wrote in to say...

    I think the idea is that Mail inserts the quoted material, and then you go through it and break it up, adding your responses in between quoted bits.

    Maybe, but since that’s what I always do when I reply to mail (interleave replies with quoted fragments to show exactly to what I’m responding in each case), I have to say that Mail didn’t seem like it made it any easier to do that. Maybe it’s just that I’m very used to starting at the bottom, below the quoted material, and working up.

    Regardless, the way Mail acts by default seems like a clear signal that I’m not part of its target audience, which would seem to be “ordinary folks”–people who just start typing at the top because that’s where the cursor landed, who never reconfigure their mailers, and who don’t think about writing mail-handling rules. I’m an obssessive power user.

    I know there are power mailers who have adapted themselves to use Mail. God bless ‘em, but I’m not going to be one of them unless a future version makes major advancements.

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1536
    Jon Hicks wrote in to say...

    Hi Eric – If you want to change where the quoted text goes in Mail, go to Preferences > Signatures and tick the box “Place signature above quoted text’

    • #8
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1544
    Jon Hicks wrote in to say...

    Sorry, meant to say, if you miss the widescreen view in Thunderbird, there’s a plugin for it:

    http://harnly.net/software/letterbox/

    Alternate row highlighting is coming as well – I had to hack mine to do it.

    • #9
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1559
    Eric Meyer wrote in to say...

    I’ll bite. Why do you despise IMAP?

    I actually said “detest”, and yes, there’s a difference, at least in my head. To me, “detest” is a drier, more clinical dislike; “despise” is spiteful and hateful, which are emotions I almost never feel about software. Programming languages, maybe, but not software.

    Anyway.

    I don’t like the way IMAP hogs network resources for something as simple as reading mail. The lag as the local client talks to the server to open a mailbox or run a search or even open a message to read is also annoying. With a POP accounts set to store mail locally, I’m bound by the speed of the hard drive. With IMAP, I’m bound by the responsiveness of the server as well as the speed and reliability of the network.

    I particularly don’t like how every IMAP client I’ve ever touched defaults to having everything on the server, with no offline archiving. If I had a dollar for every time a failure of IMAP archiving left me without mail I wanted to read while sitting on a plane flight, I could retire and stop having to fly all over the place. That’s why I really liked Mail’s setup: I told it to archive locally, and by gum it did, no questions asked. (Though I would have liked an “archive all messages in all folders now” button, in order to grab everything after my initial setup.) Thunderbird is as cranky about local archiving as every other IMAP client of my acquaintance. I always get the impression that it’s a very surly clerk at the post office: it will do exactly as much as I demand that it do and no more, but it’s really unhappy about it, and it will find any way it can to sabotage my wishes.

    And don’t even get me started about the difficulties I have with IMAP clients in composing replies offline for later sending. Usually they let me compose, then find there’s no network and start throwing error dialogs all over the landscape. The only IMAP mailer I’ve ever seen that was halfway decent in this area was Entourage, and I know of one person who still uses Entourage for precisely that reason. I may try it out myself, actually.

    One could argue that these are all failings of the clients, and not the IMAP protocol itself. That could be so, but when so many clients act in such similarly awful ways, one has to wonder if maybe the protocol doesn’t share some responsibility for the bad user experience.

    • #10
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 1605
    Eric Meyer wrote in to say...

    If you want to change where the quoted text goes in Mail, go to Preferences > Signatures and tick the box “Place signature above quoted text”

    Oh God no, that’s even worse. I want the quoted text at the top, the signature at the bottom after the quoted text, and the insertion point in between the two. That’s how Thunderbird acts, and so does Eudora.

    Alternate row highlighting is coming as well – I had to hack mine to do it.

    How so? I dug around the package contents for a while but never found the relevant image (or other file) that would allow that happen. I’m totally up for hacking to get the highlighting, so do tell!

    • #11
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2006
    • 2205
    J.B. Nicholson-Owens wrote in to say...

    How ironic that this thread has discovered why software freedom (the freedom to share and modify computer software) is so important, yet software freedom was nowhere to be found within the criteria for deciding which of the two email clients to use.

    • #12
    • Comment
    • Tue 13 Jun 2006
    • 0338
    Jon Hicks wrote in to say...

    OK, if you’re up for it!

    First you need to install (if you haven’t already) Apple Developer Tools from the CDs that came with your Mac
    Next open MessageViewerContents.nib in the package (Contents>Resources>English.lproj), this will open it in Interface Builder. Select the list view at the top, and bring up the Attributes in the Inspector (Apple-Shift-I). Tick the box for ‘Use Alternating Row Background’ third from the bottom. Save and reopen Mail…

    • #13
    • Comment
    • Tue 13 Jun 2006
    • 1117
    Bean wrote in to say...

    > When I”m in Mail, I also miss little touches like alternate-row highlighting in mailbox views.

    It’s possible for themes to do this, the only one I know of that does
    is Noia 2 eXtreme (which is the reason I stick with it!)

    https://addons.mozilla.org/thunderbird/1947/

    • #14
    • Comment
    • Wed 14 Jun 2006
    • 0205
    Dao Gottwald wrote in to say...

    It”s possible for themes to do this

    He was speaking of Mail, not TB.

    the only one I know of that does is Noia 2 eXtreme (which is the reason I stick with it!)

    CrossOver does, too.

    • #15
    • Comment
    • Wed 14 Jun 2006
    • 0343
    William wrote in to say...

    My biggest clue of that was the fact that there”s no setting (I can find) to have the text insertion point placed below the quoted text when replying.

    If a mail client is going to try to force me to top-quote, then that”s no client for me.

    I knew I’ve seen that setting somewhere, and after some searching, I found it in Account settings under Composition & Addressing.

    • #16
    • Comment
    • Wed 14 Jun 2006
    • 0446
    Eric Meyer wrote in to say...

    William: again, I was talking about Mail there, not Thunderbird.

    • #17
    • Comment
    • Wed 14 Jun 2006
    • 2235
    Brian Palmer wrote in to say...

    Personally, I’d rather not have the alternating row backgrounds, probably because I’ve got all kinds of rules set up to change the background color of the message based on different criteria. Depends on how you use your mail client, I guess.

    • #18
    • Comment
    • Sat 17 Jun 2006
    • 1958
    Tim Gaden wrote in to say...

    How so? I dug around the package contents for a while but never found the relevant image (or other file) that would allow that happen. I”m totally up for hacking to get the highlighting, so do tell!

    There is a bit of tutorial on how to hack Mail’s nib files here.

    • #19
    • Pingback
    • Sat 17 Jun 2006
    • 2015
    Received from Hawk Wings » Blog Archive » Thunderbird and Mail.app compared

    […] In a thoughtful post he compares the strengths of the two. […]

    • #20
    • Comment
    • Sun 18 Jun 2006
    • 0842
    Scott wrote in to say...

    Mail pet peeves:

    1. Too easy to delete messages (esp. since the Delete key is also the Backspace key)

    Delete message should be COMMAND-DELETE, just like the Finder. I’m big on consistancy.

    I’ve inadvertently deleted messages by hitting the delete key when I’d highlighted text in the preview pane or even just placed the cursor there for editing (I guess that’s a behavior I’ve carried with me from Outlook, where that pane is editable). I’ve had the dog hit the key and delete messages too! Destructive procedures need to be made extra safe.

    2. As touched on in the article, more settings should be account-specific. Maybe I want an alert sound played when email comes into some of my email accounts, but not others. Or they may need different filters. Maybe mail about mortgage refinancing or whatever could be relevant if it comes into one account, but would be spam in another account.

    3. If you click in an inactive window, the cursor should be placed at the point where you clicked. I often see the place where I want to type, click there, start typing, and the text appears somewhere else, since it requires a second click for cursor placement. (OTOH, if you click on the scroll bar of an inactive window, it _does_ behave as if that’s really where you clicked, it scrolls.)

    • #21
    • Comment
    • Sun 25 Jun 2006
    • 0711
    Laurens Holst wrote in to say...

    I believe that Thunderbird 2.0 (or was it 3.0? anyway) will have better offline-mail behaviour. Some work was (is?) done in that area.

    ~Grauw

    • #22
    • Comment
    • Tue 27 Jun 2006
    • 0834
    Adam Lipkin wrote in to say...

    After some corruption issues with my mailbox files, I figured I’d give Thunderbird a go, but I’m already frustrated by something that I can’t even find any mention of elsewhere: To create a new message in T-bird, instead of command-N or shift-command-N, I’ve got to use shift-command-M. I can adjust to plenty of differences (the way shift-arrow selecting multiple messages allows me to start from a central point and select in two direction in Mail, but only one in T-Bird), but creating a new document is something that’s worked the same way in multiple applications for years, and as far as I can tell, there’s no way to change this counter-intuitive command.

    Just went to the T-Bird site, and I see that on Windows, they do get to use the equivalent control-N.

    • #23
    • Comment
    • Mon 3 Jul 2006
    • 1118
    Marcus Mettel wrote in to say...

    How to mark several folders (almost) at once in TB for offline use:

    Select “Account Settings” from the “Tools” menu. Select the imap account which you would like to mark for offline usage. In this account select “Offline & Disk Space”. Here you can configure TB to automatically mark any newly created folder for offline usage (tick “When I create new folders…”). To select existing folders click on the button “Select folders for offline use…”.
    You will be presented a tree view of the folder structure of the selected account including all subfolders (you may also select other IMAP accounts in this dialog) where you can mark all those folders you want to mark for offline use in one go.
    Now close all dialogs with by clicking on “OK”.
    By selecting “File->Offline->Download/Sync now” from the File menu all IMAP folders will be downloaded.

    What I’m missing is a switch where I can say “Always download/sync folders”.

    I hope I could express myself clearly (I’m no native speaker) and could be of some help.

    • #24
    • Comment
    • Tue 25 Jul 2006
    • 0605
    Alan Bristow wrote in to say...

    I’m sure I am terribly un-cool for my opinion, but, after using Microsoft Mail (yes, THAT long ago), Lotus Notes 4.x, Outlook and Thunderbird, I was surprised to find I preferred a *web-based* app’ to a real one (one with files on my computer).

    I migrated to Google mail from Thunderbird about 4 months ago and have not regretted the loss of an application installed on my computer and have delighted at the search speed and many good UI things.

    Until I tried Google mail I was utterly bored by the thought of an alt’ ver of Hotmail. But the difference could not be greater. And I just 100% ignore the text ads on the RH side.

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