Daniel Jalkut started work at Apple in 1995 as a contractor. He initially worked on Carbon, but moved to the OS X group in 1999, where he was part of the CoreServices Group for Mac OS X.
These days he is an independent software consultant specializing in Macintosh development. In his spare time he writes about technology and the Mac on Red Sweater Blog (recently anointed by John Gruber who says that it is “turning into one of my very favorite Mac weblogs”).
His main Mac is a Dual 2.0Ghz PowerMac G5, anxiously awaiting replacement by a MacBook Pro.
HW: How long have you been using Mail.app? What other clients have you used (and why did you stop)?
DJ: I have been using Mail.app since switching to Mac OS X as my primary work platform. This switch occurred when I moved to the Mac OS X group at Apple in time to work on the “Developer Preview” releases. I guess that would make it 1999.
I think Mail.app was still called MailViewer at that time. Mail was “OK” but using it was mostly out of necessity – I wanted to handle everything on my main computer, and I wanted to “eat my dogfood” and work on Mac OS X as much as possible.
A brief history of email clients I used previous to that:
Eudora (OS 9) – After getting too frustrated with Claris Emailer’s sorting capabilities.
Claris Emailer (OS 9) – Apple’s previous “in-house” client. It had a lot of nice features but ultimately stopped being updated to match the real world use of email.
eWorld and/or PowerTalk (OS 9) – For some period of time while Apple was really confused about everything, they tried to convince us to use these in-house proprietary solutions. That was bad.
QuickMail (OS 9) – For a hideous period of time between when I joined Apple and when they “woke up to real email,” we all used QuickMail from CE Software. This was a proprietary client *and* a proprietary delivery system. It could do some cool things like “Unsend” mail when you realized you goofed and the recipient hadn’t read it, yet. Other than that, it was a big nuisance to me, coming from a standard “Unix-based” mail environment.
Unix Mail (various platforms) – I got started with email using shared personal UNIX systems run by hobbyists. Sort of a natural outgrowth of BBS culture, but all based on a dialup UNIX platform. I ended up sticking with the basic command-line based mail client all through my teen years and through college. I even wrote a “naive user’s manual for mail” as a Technical Writing class project.
HW: What plugins and extensions do you use to make your email experience better?
DJ: I don’t use any plugins, but I have a highly customized Mail environment based on FastScripts . I do a lot of “by client” or “by subject” filing so I set up a bunch of keyboard shortcuts to automatically route things to the right folders. I know there are automatic solutions for things like this, but I like my system.
I also wrote some AppleScripts for common (well, not that common!) tasks like recording customer software payments and sending out a thank you note. My productivity system in general is based mostly on identifying time-sucks and automating the process with AppleScript and a keyboard shortcut.
HW: What’s your favourite thing about Mail.app?
DJ: My enthusiasm for Mail really went up when they added the “threaded view.” I couldn’t believe I had lived so long without it, and when I’m forced to take brief vacations from it (e.g. checking mail through a web kiosk), I find my mail absolutely unmanageable. Threaded view is particularly useful for any mailing lists where there are liable to be 50-message-long rants about something you don’t care about. Click. Delete.
Mail does lots of other things right, which is why I still use it. I love being able to click the “replied” icon on any message I’ve received and have Mail pop up the actual message I sent in reply. I use that feature all the time. Smart folders and the ability to consolidate subfolders into a single list (just click the super-folder) are pretty cool but they seem “just under par” implementation-wise.
HW: What’s your pet hate about Mail.app?
DJ: There are many. They are chronicled in Apple’s bug tracking system! The biggest peeve I have with Mail is that its invitingly comprehensive AppleScript support falls down in a couple severe ways:
- Many key actions are simply unscriptable, so you’re stuck with GUI scripting or other workarounds to get the desired behavior.
- Scripted actions often don’t “hook in” to the regular way of doing things. For instance, a scripted action that asks Mail to move a message to a folder can’t be “undone” like a normal move to folder. It’s happening under the radar or something.
I am also extremely annoyed by the seeming inability of Mail to handle any pasting of styled text with elegance. Why is it still broken?
HW: If you could tell the Apple Mail development team one thing, what would it be?
DJ: Don’t stand still. Right now it’s easy to shine because there is little viable competition. Mail’s position now is tenuous, like Internet Explorer on the Mac in 2002. Everybody uses it because it’s there and “pretty darned good.” I would love to see a better solution, though, and I don’t think it will happen without serious outside competition.
I have looked at Thunderbird from time to time and, despite it’s valiant efforts to look and act like Mail, it really falls short. It does so in many of the same ways that Firefox falls short as a browser. The “little things” don’t work, and we Mac users like the little things to work. It’s infuriating when they don’t.
I think somebody dedicated and with a good sense of Macintosh design could take a product like Thunderbird into a position to seriously compete with Mail and push the standard expectations of a Mail application much further than they are today.
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Tags: "daniel jalkut", Apple Mail, dislikes, likes, mail.app, talking mail.app