Pierre Igot is a professional translator, writer, and Mac technical support person living in southwest Nova Scotia, Canada. He maintains his own web site of literature, music, and visuals at http://www.latext.com and his own blog at http://www.betalogue.com.
His primary home office machine is a Power Macintosh G5 Quad with 4.5 GB of RAM and two 500 MB Seagate hard drives, used with a dual-monitor setup consisting of an Apple Cinema HD 30″ display and an older Apple Cinema HD 23″ display. He uses all kinds of software in his daily computing activities, including Mac OS X 10.4, Mail, Safari, NetNewsWire, iTunes, iPhoto, GarageBand, Pages, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite 2, BBEdit, FileMaker Pro, etc.
HW: How long have you been using Mail.app? What other clients have you used (and why did you stop)?
PI: I switched from Eudora to Mail via Mailsmith in August 2002. I even wrote an article about the adventure at the time.
Basically, I was a long-time Eudora user, but had become disappointed with the lack of progress of the Mac OS X version. The program was in endless beta mode, there were lots of glitches, many core Mac OS X features were not supported, etc. Since I was also a long-time user and fan of Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit (mostly for web site authoring), I figured I would give Mailsmith , their e-mail client, a try.
I was thoroughly disappointed by Mailsmith. There was no integration with Mac OS X’s Address Book (at the time), and its own address book was really poor. (It didn’t even distinguish between first name and last name, forcing you type the names in reverse order to make sure they would be properly alphabetized!) But it had rather impressive filtering capabilities. I was willing to live with the flaws, but the deal breaker was the program’s performance, which was simply unacceptable.
I was also very wary of using a program where my entire e-mail archive was stored in a single (huge) database file. That was one of the primary reasons why I never even considered switching to Microsoft’s Entourage, even though I owned a copy of it as part of Microsoft Office. (As a long-time Microsoft Word user, I am also all too aware of the poor quality of Microsoft’s software for the Mac in general. I know that Entourage is supposed to be better, but on the handful of occasions where I actually tried using the program, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Things haven’t changed significantly since 2002 as far as I can tell.)
When I decided to switch to Mail, I was fully aware of its limitations. But there were too many benefits that outweighed the limitations: full Mac OS X integration with Address Book support, support for core Mac OS X features such as Quartz text smoothing, use of the “.mbox” file format for storing e-mail mailboxes, etc. And the price was nice too, of course.
I have been using Mail for nearly four years now, and, in spite of all the trials and tribulations, I haven’t regretted my choice. One thing I should emphasize for prospective switchers, however: If you want to switch from Eudora, make sure to use Eudora Mailbox Cleaner. I wasn’t aware of this application at the time, and ended up using the built-in import features in Mailsmith and then Mail to import my extensive archive of old e-mail. I am still living with the consequences of this process (badly encoded accented characters, HTML rendered as plain text, etc.) in some of my old e-mail.
HW: What plugins and extensions do you use to make your email experience better?
PI: Mail Act-On is an essential add-on for me. I use it mostly to create keyboard shortcuts for moving e-mail messages to mailbox folders. It’s so much easier to press a keyboard shortcut such as control-A to move a message or group of messages to a mailbox folder buried several levels deep inside your mailbox folder hierarchy!
I used to have AppleScript scripts for this, but in Tiger, Mail no longer has its own Script menu, so you can no longer assign keyboard shortcuts to Mail-specific AppleScript scripts with the Keyboard Shortcuts feature in System Preferences. I still use some AppleScript scripts for Mail in the system-wide Script menu, but to me the switch to a system-wide Script menu for all AppleScript scripts, including application-specific scripts, was a major step back.
I should also mention Spell Catcher X. I’ve turned Mail’s own automatic address completion feature off (“Automatically complete addresses” checkbox in “Composing” preference pane) and use Spell Catcher’s automatic completion feature instead when composing messages in Mail. The only difference is that I have to press a keyboard shortcut (I use command-shift-F5) after typing the first few letters of a name in the “To:” or “Cc:” field. But Spell Catcher X’s automatic completion feature is much more flexible and powerful than Mail’s own.
Needless to say, I also make full use of Spell Catcher X’s spell checking and automatic glossary expansion features when typing text in the body of my e-mail messages. To me, it makes no sense to have one spell checker / glossary tool in Mail, and another one in Word, and another one BBEdit. It’s all text! I write about the same things in Word, Mail, and BBEdit. I want the same spell checker and glossary tool in all applications. Spell Catcher X offers that, and is invaluable.
HW: What’s your favourite thing about Mail.app?
PI: It’s hard to say. There are many times when I positively hate Mail, but then I think that it’s the same with all e-mail clients. I don’t think there is one e-mail client that is free of flaws and bugs and clearly above the rest.
But I would have to say that one of the main things that make me stick with Mail, in spite of all the flaws and frustration, is the tight integration with Mac OS X. It’s one of those cases where the fact that Apple provides the “full experience” (the system, the address book, the e-mail client) is a significant advantage. I like the full integration with Address Book (even via Spell Catcher X), I like the Quartz font smoothing, I like the overall user interface (although it too has its flaws, of course).
HW: What’s your pet hate about Mail.app?
PI: There are so many! But if I had to choose one, I would probably say the poor handling of low-bandwidth situations with a dial-up connection. If you have a slow dial-up connection like mine (I peak at approximately 30 kbps) and try to check your mail or send a message while Safari is loading a couple of web pages or downloading a large file, or even while Mail itself is receiving an e-mail with a large attachment, it’s a total nightmare. Mail takes some of your e-mail accounts offline without your permission, it fails to send queued messages which stay stuck in some kind of undefinable interface limbo, and worst of all, sometimes Mail actually interrupts everything with a modal dialog box telling you that your e-mail user name or password is incorrect and asking you to re-enter the password — even though the existing password is perfectly correct, of course! This is ridiculous.
A modal dialog box! In 2006! If Mail is in the background when this happens, the Mail icon starts bouncing endlessly in the Dock and you are pretty much forced to switch to Mail to dismiss the dialog box. (Don’t try re-entering your password. There is no point. There is nothing wrong with your existing password. It’s just that Mail is completely clueless about how to handle time-outs in low bandwidth situations with some mail servers.)
I have submitted countless bug reports to Apple about this. They have asked me to send transcripts of Mail’s interactions with the servers (which you can obtain by activating a logging feature in Mail through the Terminal). I have sent them the transcripts. As far as I can tell, they have never done anything to fix the problem. When I am downloading a large file and Mail is running in the background, I still get the modal dialog box, and the accounts going offline, etc. It is truly pathetic. Not everyone can get broadband access to the Internet! I live in an area where it’s simply not available, and I have no choice. There are many areas in Mac OS X where Apple completely ignores the needs of dial-up users. Mail is one of those.
HW: If you could tell the Apple Mail development team one thing, what would it be?
PI: Just one thing? It would have to be a very, very long sentence, then! I would try to cram as many bugs and flaws into it as possible! But if I really had to choose, I probably would raise the problem with dial-up connections described above on behalf of all dial-up users out there! Somebody has to still care about them.
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You can read other interviews with developers and Mac identities talking about their experience with Mail.app by following this tag cloud link.
- Top ten things every Mail.app user should have
- Mail.app annoyance in Spell Catcher X
- Betalogue on text replacement in Mail.app
- Mail Scripts adds useful features to Apple Mail
- Weekly Update
Tags: Apple Mail, Betalogue, dislikes, likes, mail.app, Pierre Igot, talking mail.app