A Postal Fix

MailJust an update on my 24-inch iMac troubles: as soon as I got serious about removing Rosetta-reliant applications from my system, things got better. My conclusion, though, is that the whole machine suffers from a woeful lack of system memory… there was some confusion with the order when I bought it, and I ended up with only one gigabyte of RAM. What I need to do, ultimately, is to max it out to its full three gigabyte potential. Cha-ching!

In the meantime, one of the things that’s really seemed to help is ditching Microsoft Entourage for Apple’s Mail program. I did this with something of a heavy heart, as I’ve been an Entourage user since day one, at least six years. In spite of how clunky and ineffective I think most of the Microsoft Office suite is (on any platform), Entourage has always struck me as a class act. It’s frequently showcased the very best of what Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit had to offer, and I’ve been very comfortable inside the program for a very long time.

Inter-Office Mail

Ultimately, however, this is a case of a large company moving too slowly. There may be a fantastic new iteration of Entourage in the works, but I need a fast, nimble and Intel-friendly email client today. So I’ve switched over entirely to Apple’s Mail; there’s just no arguing with its lightning fast search performance, its Mac OS X native fit and finish, and the fact that it’s available right now.

I’m actually not a stranger to Mail, though. I’ve been using it for four years or so alongside Entourage, which handled all my personal mail, as my primary client for handling work-based email. So I’ve been able to compare them closely for a good, long time. There are definitely pluses and minuses to both, and were it not for Entourage’s slow performance on Intel-based Macs, I’m not sure I’d be switching.

There are some things about Mail that annoy me to no end. For example: its stubborn unwillingness to retain custom column viewings in Smart Mailboxes is one of the big ones. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why Apple doesn’t find it important that I’ve decided to view a Smart Mailbox with, say, the ‘Size’ column displayed. Or, at least, they don’t find it important enough to remember to display it for me again the next time I return to that Smart Mailbox. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Mail Junk

On the other hand, there are some upsides, too. Rather than accessing my mail via POP3, as I’ve been doing for years, I’m now accessing it via IMAP, which stores it on the server. Over the years, I’ve tried IMAP for my mail various times, and have always felt frustrated by the poor responsiveness of having to manipulate a mail database remotely. Apparently, any sluggishness I experienced was all a result of the mail clients I was using, because Mail is very responsive with IMAP, to the point where it’s a nearly seamless experience, more or less exactly how IMAP was intended to work. This allows me to move easily between work and home computers while keeping my mail database in sync, and without effort. Brilliant.

One more big benefit of using Mail as my primary client is that I can now also rely on Apple’s Address Book as my primary contacts database, too. This puts an end to the sheer insanity that I was living under for the past few years, in which I would maintain my main contacts database in Entourage and use Paul Berkowitz’s Sync Entourage-Address Book AppleScript to keep it in sync with Mac OS X’s contacts database. I’d then use Apple’s .Mac service to keep contacts synchronized across multiple computers. Insane.

Write Once, Read Anywhere

It’s probably easy to tell that I’m unusually preoccupied with the idea of synchronization — that it should just work. One of the goals of my computing life is that I should be able to record a person’s name once and have it accessible from all appropriate applications, have it appear on all my computers, and have it replicated on all my digital devices. That’s it. In an age of instant messaging, social networks, and on-demand video, it should seem possible, right? Let me just tell you, it may be possible, but right now anyway, it ain’t easy.

  1. I shall be interested to hear how it goes. Mail, which I would dearly love to use, for the convenience, has struck me from the first as overly-complex, perhaps too IMAP-y, and waaay too unstable for one’s *mail*. I mean, the work! The workarounds!

    Whereas Entourage–my god I hate that interface–just keeps on crankin’. Don’t know how many email apps I’ve tried … nor why it should be so difficult to replicate Entourage’s simple-seeming success. ‘Tis a mystery.

  2. I use Mozilla’s Thunderbird. I found after having tons of IMAP email in Mail made it extremely buggy. Thunderbird has been a real champ and it feels lightweight (in a good way) and is open-sourced and it’s Universal Binary.

  3. Hi, you might have already seen this – if not, it is a handy change in layout for mail – thought it might help when I saw your now into using mail!

  4. Mail’s IMAP integration is unbeatable. I’ve tried IMAP on Thunderbird, Outlook Express and Outlook on the PC, and nothing touches Mail. Mail+IMAP is one of the reasons I can’t live without my Macs, and one of the reasons I bought a MacBook this summer as soon as they came out. I can easily move from home to the laptop to work to home, and everything is just sitting there waiting for me — even my sent messages. I actually can’t function as a human without it.

    One of my friends asked me what was so awful about POP recently when I went off on him at the suggestion I use Gmail+POP as my primary email host. He hadn’t used IMAP in Mail; there’s no way he could have understood. Imagine — not knowing which messages you’ve read and which you haven’t on different clients? Things disappearing from the server?! Unsynchronized sent folders?!? Unacceptable!

    The other reason I can’t live without my Macs is Adium, which will have to wait for another comment. 🙂

  5. Not that it matter much now, but many years ago Outlook Express for Mac were the best mailprogram I had ever seen. It just knocked me on my ass, and it was a pure joy to use it because the interface was beautiful as well. Oh well… Those were the days.

  6. Its nice for once to see someone saying something appreciative of Mail.app. I’ve been using it since I started using OS X many moons ago and I’ve never had a problem with it. I’ve also never felt I was missing something. It gets my mail and I read it. Mail handles that pretty well.

    I’d have to second dan’s suggestion of Letterbox. I only recently installed the plugin and for those with the screen estate it is an improvement. Of course there are tons more things you can do with Mail to be found at Hawk Wings

  7. i heart IMAP.
    just recently made the switch myself. its so nice to be able to read my mail on my laptop or at work and be able to delete messages and actually ahve them delete… imagine that!

  8. Entourage to Mail was the first (and only major) change I made to my work habits when I got my MacBook. Entourage 2004 + Intel + 3 GB database file = pulling my hair out.

    I only wish Mail’s importing capabilities didn’t suck giant donkey balls or I would have imported all my old e-mail. (Has anyone else had the incessant hanging problems when importing a large amount of e-mail from another program?)

  9. Dan: I didn’t have any problems, though I only imported about 250MB of mail from Entourage. I tend to keep my mail database as small as I can, stripping out attachments. That said, it did take a long time, maybe about an hour or so. And it seemed to create a few dozen ‘junk messages’ with that day’s date and no content; odd.

    In the end, it pulled off the job pretty effectively, or at least it seems to have done so. I haven’t had to go back searching for very old messages too often, so I guess I should say I just have yet to come across any problems.

  10. More raves for IMAP. Our company just switched mail hosts, and now I’m forced to use POP. I haven’t used POP since high school. (But oddly, everyone else just uses POP with a single client & computer. Am I the only one who wishes to view mail on different clients on different machines?)

    In any case, I suspect that part of Mail’s IMAP responsiveness is that Mail locally caches all IMAP by default, synchronizing with the server when needed. Once turning on local cache for Thunderbird, it’s IMAP response rate came down. However TB’s sync implementation isn’t quite as good as Mail.

  11. I too am a big IMAP and Apple Mail fan. I hear lots of people complain about Apple Mail, but I have to say, after years using it as my only mail client — and the only mail client on all our staff workstations as well — I have experienced very few problems. I really think it’s as fine a mail client as any of the competition, and better than most, and it’s free. I’ve tried the rest and I always come back to Mail. And the integration with Address Book clinches the deal.

    But Khoi, I did try adding the Size column to a smart mailbox, and I could not reproduce the behavior you described. The column always shows up after I’ve added it. I can switch to other mailboxes, even quit the app, it’s still there. In fact, once added to one mailbox — smart or otherwise — it’s there in all my mailboxes. It doesn’t go away.

    So I’m a bit miffed. Maybe you have a bad preference file, or some bad cache somwhere.


  12. I am looking to switch *away* from Mail, but there are precious few alternatives. Apple Mail is a shoddy client — inconsistent behaviour, very poor handling of large mailboxes, buggy smart mailboxes. I may have to move to gMail, given the paucity of choices on the Mac desktop. At any rate, Mail is out of the running.

  13. Khoi –

    I’m sorry you had to switch, sometimes I wonder if people overlook how we get attached to how an application works and what it does for us as a daily tool.

    I’m an email application fetishist – or rather, I’ve tried almost every application in search of the simplest, most robust and quality application in my opinion. I’ve also looked for a solution that allows me to access my personal email outside of my employer’s email and cause no conflict. IMAP was one way to go – through a client, but I was loking for something that didn’t leave emails on my work laptop.

    So I’ve tried gmail, Yahoo mail, Joyent and my web host’s webmail – with IMAP from my home desktop client.

    Ultimately – PINE was my preferred choice. The fastest, easiest and simplest application to use. Over Mail, Entourage, Mailsmith, Thunderbird, Eudora and so on.

    I’m holding out for Joyent Connector to improve so that I can use it as it is too buggy right now – because the one nutbuster with PINE, as I’m sure many know, is the attachments problem.

    But as free email clients go – Mail is perhaps the next best to PINE.

  14. I cannot tell you how much I hate Entourage. I’m supposed to use it at work and it took months — no exaggeration — to get it to work on the network. People kept insisting I had to use it and it obviously wasn’t working and IT couldn’t fix it.

    I still rely on Apple Mail for email at work and at home and just pretend to use Entourage. The calendar function is the only thing that’s useful at work and not as much as I was led to believe.

  15. I’m late to this party, but here’s my two pennies anyway:
    You’re probably seeing a double-whammy of Rosetta + Spotlight. Rosetta works indeed much better with a good chunk of RAM (2GB works for me, but then I don’t run Photoshop). So more RAM should alleviate things depending on how much is used by other programmes. Secondly, Entourage stores all emails in *1* database file. If you do not exclude this file from being indexed by Spotlight, it will get indexed every time it changes (i.e. when you check email). If you hold a large number of emails, that’s a lot of (re)indexing. Try excluding Entourage’s Database and see if this speeds things up. BTW, Mail stores messages individually.

  16. I’ve been forcing myself to use Mail. I still use Entourage as my main client (been using it for years).

    Mail…ugh. Just a few complaints:
    – Stupid quoting. I prefer arrows.
    – Addressing. Slow.
    – Header section. You can change the font many places, except not here.
    – Junk mail filtering. Still crummy.
    – Rules – Limited.
    – Printing. Can’t you remove the sender’s icon/avatar? About as basic as you can get. Entourage, yet still basic, blows the doors off Mail.
    – Fonts. I have a great script in Entourage that converts incoming HTML email to plain text. I hate HTML email. Reading email from Windows Outlook users in Mail…argh! Shoot me now.
    – Preferences. Limited.

    What I like?
    – Faster on Intel
    – Good search

    I generally think Microsoft apps are poor, but Entourage has been the best mail app I’ve used. If it were only faster on Intel.

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