Thursday, 14 November 2013

I Want a True Alpha Mail for my Macs (♂)

As I've indicated in these posts previously, I was a fully paid up member of 'The Establishment' for many years before going freelance and switching from corporation mandated Wintel boxes to Macs and the Apple infrastructure. I used to receive and process hundreds of emails every day when I was in a senior management position and I have to admit that Microsoft's Outlook was actually pretty good at the job. On the odd occasion that there were problems it was usually a server issue rather than a software problem.

Most importantly, Outlook hasn't really changed much over all the years I've used it. Sure, the appearance of Outlook 2013 is different to its counterpart from 10 years ago, but most of the features and workflows are similar. The guys at Microsoft don't make a habit of tinkering with the programme every release and breaking things that didn't need fixing in the first place.

In fact, when I first switched to the Mac, I eschewed Apple Mail in favour of Entourage, and only ditched it when the volumes of incoming email started to get back up to silly levels and the single database structure became too fragile. I reluctantly moved to Apple Mail and have stuck with it ever since. I have a very complex system of mailboxes and rules which makes sure that all incoming and outgoing mail is stored where I can easily find it. I then use MailTags to highlight specific types of mail like Invoices, Receipts and Licences.

But with every release of OS X I get really mad when I load up Mail for the first time and I find that things no longer work they way they used to, or fail to work at all :-

  • Inevitably, Mail add-ons will be broken (my perennial favourite, DockStar, is not even being supported by its original owners because they're fed up of having to keep updating it). I know that Mail APIs are largely unpublished so this is to be expected until Apple decides to make them public
  • Sharing Mail across a network of machines of different ages is no longer possible once a Mac loses it's ability to run the latest OS because internal Mail structures are not backwards compatible
  • Rules seem to break with every new version of Mail for no apparent reason

Apple Mail 7.0 that arrived with Mavericks has had a lot of press because of its inability to play nicely with Gmail (largely because Google decided to implement a non-standard version of the IMAP protocol). I don't use Gmail directly - but my Virgin UK ISP uses a version of Gmail as its mail manager. Despite having read most of the details of the issues, and now having the latest update installed, I've yet to resolve my specific problem, which is that almost all my mail bypasses the Inbox and goes straight into an Archive mailbox (also bypassing the rules processing). This archive mailbox never existed prior to release 7 so I have no idea who owns it, or how to get rid of it. Or how to stop it taking over my mail!

My only option at present is to regularly process the Archive mailbox using Alt+Cmd+L which forces the rules to run on all messages in the mailbox - that way at least I know there's a copy in the right place. Once I'm happy that things are in their proper mailboxes I then have to delete everything from the Virgin mail servers through webmail. This is not a satisfactory state of play!!

I don't particularly want to ditch Apple Mail. I've got used to it, it mostly does what it's supposed to do, mostly does it pretty well, and third party support is generally very good. But more critically, I can't find a decent alternative - with the possible exception of Outlook, but I'm not buying another full copy of Office for Mac just to get the Outlook programme. (Why oh why, Microsoft, can't you sell it as an add-on or even an in-app purchase?) I have bought of copy of Unibox but haven't got round to setting it up yet, and I know it's a significant departure from the way I'm used to working.

As far as I can remember the best implementation of Apple Mail was probably the one that shipped with Snow Leopard. Every version since has increased the number of niggles.

Please Apple, get Mail sorted once and for all and either publish or stop tinkering with the APIs. Let me get back to focusing on reading and writing mail rather than having to perform all the housekeeping as well!

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