The problem with Mail


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.



I have a problem with my secondary account , as soon as it is updated it suts down. I saw somebody mentioned having abut I. A folder and had a link on YouTube how to solve it but cannot access it. Any suggestions?

Jay P.

I have two question about work arounds and what happens next when an ISP is busy, and mail assumes the password is incorrect and annoyingly asks for it over and over again.

When this has happened for me, I go into my outbox, reopen the message and hit send again. It usually goes, but it’s an extreme time sink. If I don’t do anything, and then send future messages, they go, but the initial one stays sitting in the outbox. It seems like Mail doesn’t know to try and send it again, later. Is there a setting to tell it to?

2) The send function itself seems extremely slow. Even messages sent over ethernet seem to take 10-15 seconds to get out of the box. Any thoughts on why this is? I do have a lot of mail in various mailboxes, and I’m not clear on how this might impact the performance of the outbox.


Alex Piotrowski

I have the same problem as Wollie Wolcott: I have different email address that use the same server(s) in order to keep work, school, and personal matters seperate. Mail won’t let me use the same server for more than one account, which defeats the purpose of having seperate addresses on the same server. It’s frustrating.&nbspI’m still new to Apple, maybe I’m missing something, but at this point I still need to use the PC if I want to get all my mail.


I HAVE NEVER ONCE BEEN ABLE TO USE MY APPLE EMAIL IN TWO YEARS. Password problems. That along with other problems with my g4 ibook and lack of service is why I will no longer go back to Apple again at this point.


Hello. If anyone can help me with this issue I would be most grateful! I am a headhunter. Filemaker Pro is my resume DB. I can email directly out of filemaker pro by pressing the EMAIL THIS RESUME button. When I do this the email that gets created does NOT have my signature on it…I must click the dropdown every time….It worked like a champ in Eudora. Every other email I create automatically has my sig in it?


Tony (19), I had the exact same problem. Here’s how I solved it. With mail open I looked for an offending file folder, which for me was Drafts. I determined that because all the other folders created the “Reading Mail Folders” message, but Drafts was the only one which did not. I assumed that when I deleted the too large file and closed the application within a couple of minutes, Mail tried to save the file as a draft.

To fix it, (took ten hours to figure it out) I went to Finder, selected my account on the left panel — the one with the House icon — selected Library, selected Mail, selected Mailbox, and dragged the file “Drafts.mbox” to the trash and emptied the trash. It fixed my problem instantly. When I reopened Mail, there was still a Drafts folder, and everything worked like it was supposed to. I think that when you delete a too huge file, you must leave the application open for a while to let the cashe empty fully.


@Tony: I have no experience with a case like that, but I would suggest figuring out the process-id (id’s?) of in Terminal (top) and then kill them (kill -9 process-id#).

If this helps, try to restart If it tries to resume sending the monster-mail, kill it again and then trash some plist-files belonging to (be careful though not deleting some vital information).

Just my two cents.


I have a similar problem.
I accidently attached a folder of 127Mb to an e-mail and hit the send button. It has been trying to send the mail for over 15 hours now on and off.
Mail quits itself and asks if I wish to report it to Apple. I haven’t done that yet.
I have used Force Quit, re-booted, re-set the Pram, re-set permissions, all without having any effect on the spinning wheel. It is still trying to send this damn file.
I have also highlighte the file and hit the delete button which visably has an effect, but the wheel keeps spinning and eventually the file re-appears in the out box again with mail trying to send it. PLEASE HELP.

Preston Smith

I use gmail, and my lovely picks up the mail and delivers it to me. There is one problem. Some processes freeze up after they get finished (or as “finished” as they can be) and they are stuck where they are, for example, I left some draft windows open and then quit mail without closing them. When I restarted Mail, the little bar which explain the active process told me it was “Reading mailbox file. . .” Well it has been “Reading mailbox file. . .” for about two hours. It doesn’t hinder other processes, but it sure gets annoying, and the worst thing is, I can’t quit Mail, I just had to force quit it. I checked out the “Activity Viewer” and it told me that it was “Reading mailbox file. . .” (see, it gets annoying after reading that three times) and there was a completion bar telling me how much of the activity had been completed. It looked fully complete to me. I pressed the stop button next to the bar, and it did nothing. I force quit and tried again, still no results. Can anyone help me with this nasty problem?

Martin Brown

On auto checking:

My beef here is that we have basically all or nothing. Sure, I can switch off auto-checking for an account, but that’s not what I want. I want some accounts (like my personal ones) to be checked every hour, while my main business accounts to be check, say, every 15 minutes.

In Mail, I have two choices, I can switch checking on (and then ALL accounts are checked at the SAME time and the same interval), or I can switch them off.

Martin Brown

To Renaud:

You can always change the ‘senders’ email account on a message while composing it; there’s a popup on the left hand side, just above the message body (the signature popup is on the right hand side).


Steve J

The thing which I appreciate in Entourage, which I recently migrated back to, is the ability to simply drag a message to the desktop. It is saved with any attachments. Impossible in Sure you can “Save As” the message but this invariably gives rise to formatting problems if saved as .rtf (ie the body of the message is virtually always formatted as bold).

Love the rapid searching in Dreadfully slow and complex in Entourage.

Poor html rendering in Mail, good in Entourage.

And yes the signatures issue as above is a pain in Mail.

Renaud SAvignard

In Outlook or Entourage, I can choose the account from which I send a message, even if i’m connected through enother account.
This doesn’t seem to be possible in Mail : for example, sending a business-related mail from home, with the “business” account address appearing in th sender’s address.
Did I miss something ?

Wollie Wolcott

I like Mail’s simplicity. I do have one beef though. I have 4 accounts on Earthlinks server for myself, my wife and kids, however, I can only access one (mine) from mail. The POP server continually rejects the account passwords. I contacted Earthlink and the passwords are correct. Does anyone have any suggestions?


> 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.

Turn off auto check for that account. Easy!

Also, as far as “read” and “unread” mail, you can always simply shift+command+U to set a message back to “unread” status.

I’ve been using since the days of NeXTSTEP. I still find it today to be the best email package on the planet!


The thing that drives me batty is no *real* default mail account. Depending on which email I last read, the mail program will start my next new email from THAT account, and not the default account. In *cough* Outlook Express on my PC, before I switched a year ago, I would always send from my default account, unless I selected a different account from my drop down. Now it’s the opposite…if Mail decides I’m sending from a second or third account, I have to manually select my default account from the drop down menu.


Paul Westbrook

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.


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


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.

Nathan Dintenfass

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.

Kevin Ballard

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.

Martin Brown

‘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.

Anthony Papineau

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, 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.


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.

Chris B.

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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