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Summary:

The standard Mail application is what many people use, but it’s far from perfect. We’re going to take a look at some of the more annoying features, or lack thereof.

One of the great things about Mac OS X is that, out of the box, we have access to a rich set of applications that enable us to do a whole bunch of stuff without buying a third party application. There’s a terrific range, from the mundane tasks of keeping tracks of name and addresses (Address Book), to the vital (Safari) and those to help us keep in touch (iChat) and entertained (QuickTime, DVD Player and iTunes).

Among all these sits Mail, the standard Email application. For a ‘bundled’ application it’s pretty richly endowed. We have POP3, .Mac and IMAP support and it supports, and copes admirably with, multiple email accounts. It’s been my standard Mail application since I started using OS X in its pre-beta format. Unfortunately, it’s not without one or two annoying faults:

1) Mail supports multiple signatures, but for some weird reason, you can’t configure individual accounts to use individual signatures. Instead, there’s just one default signature active across all email accounts. This is a one of those odd omissions I haven’t been able to fathom. Since we’ve got the facility for multiple email accounts, and multiple signatures, and the ability to change signatures when composing a message. So why not mail-account specific default signatures?

2) Another odd account specific attribute is the frequency that Mail checks for new mail. We have one, blanket setting that affects all the email accounts. I’ve got accounts that I really don’t care about unless I specifically go looking for email, but Mail checks them just as frequently as the ones I am interested in whether I like it or not. Again, you might think I’m being petty, but the time it takes to check my email accounts could be halved if only I could tell Mail not to bother checking some of them as frequently as the others.

3) Leading on from the previous fault, one of the other problems with mail is that checking for new mail only looks in your main ‘Inbox’ for IMAP accounts. If, like me, you have server-side mail filing then very little email ever reaches your inbox, but plenty reaches the folders within the Inbox. Unlike Thunderbird (which I’ve talked about before), we do at least have the ability to ‘synchronize’ mailboxes with Mail to see unread counts for those folders, but this is a manual process. There’s no way of automatically getting Mail to do this. Like the signature problem, if the application has the ability to do what we want, it seems odd not to have that option available to us.

4) Sending mail can be a problem if, like me, you are occasionally on the road. Mail can handle multiple SMTP servers, but getting it to use the right one can be a problem, especially if you use different SMTP servers depending on your location. Worse, Mail has this annoying habit of continually reminding you that it had trouble sending the email each and every time it find s a potentially useful network connection. Those annoying ‘This email server didn’t work, do you want to try another one’ can be impossible to get rid of. There’s no way of saying, ‘look, queue it up until I tell you there’s a network connection you can use’. Instead you end up playing dialog box tag all afternoon. Even worse, if you send multiple messages you just multiply the problem.

Of course, these are just the annoyances I’ve noticed. There could be more – let us know if there’s some annoyance you have about Mail.

By Martin MC Brown

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  1. I would like to add one more thing to this list. I hate that Mail always seems to “forget” my password. Almost everyday I get that ridiculous bouncing icon, that won’t stop until I atleast move to Mail and indicate that I see that it needs me to enter my email password. It drives me freaking crazy. I have tried other apps like Thunderbird, but I am too picky about certain things, that only Mail provides. Hopefully they have fixed these problems in Tiger.

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  2. Mine does too, but I have concluded it is the ISP, not Mail. If the mail server is busy or blocked for a moment and does not accept the password, Mail thinks the one it sent must be wrong.

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  3. My number 1 complaint is that evil problem with signatures…just seems like a no brainer to have that feature.

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  4. Anthony Papineau Thursday, February 17, 2005

    The signatures but was my biggest complaint since 10.1 came out and I gave them ‘feedback’ about it back then.

    I also use IMAP with server side filtering, however I have set “Automatically syncronize mail folders” in the ‘Advanced’ settings for the account and it does show me that I have unread mail automatically.

    Lastly, I also move around between multiple ISP’s. I agree it is annoying when you don’t have a connection, however when you are changing between connections and have different SMTP requirements at each location, Mail.app handles this really well. At work I can’t access my personal ISP’s SMTP server, and at home I can ONLY access my personal ISP’s mail server. When it can’t access the server it says “Do you want to try with this other server” and it remembers it for the entire session, so I don’t have to keep telling it what to do.

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  5. ‘Automatically synchronize mail folders’ has never worked reliably for me; usually it ends up freezing Mail to the point of needing a Force Quit. For some reason it doesn’t do the same as ‘Synchronize all accounts’ does. It’s not even an ISP problem, as it’s synchronizing to a machine on the LAN.

    As to the ‘remembers for an entire session’; your right, it does, but that means it tries again when it wakes from sleep, or, if I’m using dial-up, tries again when I disconnect and reconnect each time.

    It *should* remember it until I tell it otherwise, not until /it/ thinks everything is OK.

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  6. There’s a third-party Mail plugin called MailEnhancer which lets you have default signatures per account. Just name the signature after the email address for the account and MailEnhancer will select that signature when you select that account to send from.

    In the Advanced tab of account preferences you can remove an account from the automatic check. This way when you want to read that account you can do a manual check, but when you don’t care it won’t check.

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  7. When I first tried mail, one tiny detail that basically killed the deal is how mail marks messages as “read” immediately upon bringing focus. All other mail programs I’ve ever used allow you to set how many seconds of focus must pass before marking a message as “read” — I have long depended on that to quickly scan mail but keep messages marked as “unread” (which is how I know to go back to them). I found it incredibly annoying to not have that feature in Mail.

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  8. I’ve also wished Apple would fix it’s problems with multiple signatures. I used to use Entourage and it supported it without a problem (sometimes, that’s how I would tell which account at a glance that someone was replying to.) Believe it or not, I’ve actually had a problem in my past where someone thought I was speaking on behalf of an organization I belonged to because my default signature included that I was an officer in that organization. Ever since then, I’ve been careful about my signature.

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  9. My only real beef with Mail.app is how it bogs down once you have a boatload of messages in your mailboxes. Speed is king on my 1GHz Powerbook!

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  10. Someone has written a plugin that will automatically select the signature when you are composing a new message. It is called MailEnhancer

    I have written an AppleScript that tells mail to check all of the mail folders for new mail. I have posted it here. The script tells Mail to update the folders every 5 minutes. It could me modified to do something different.

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