Mail Signatures Suck

Regular readers will know me well.

I’m not an unreasonable person, as a rule, but I do hate it when seemingly simple things don’t work the way they are advertised.

I’ve moaned about iTunes once or twice recently (:)) but now I’m going to have a little moan about Signatures in

First, a little history. Mail was included in Mac OS X as a built-in mail client alternative to applications like Eudora, or my favourite mail client for many years Entourage.

Yeah, I know. Entourage?

OK, in the early days of the new version of Microsoft Office Entourage really was a good little email client and PIM; I loved the fact I could create a recurring task (not event, notice, but task) – something iCal still can’t do a number of years down the line. Entourage was also one of the few solutions for syncing with Palms, back in the days when I thought a Palm was a good idea for mobile PIM.

When become available I switched over as part of a wholesale migration to the Apple tools so that I could take advantage of iSync. I dropped Entourage (which was becoming very slow for email for me anyway) and instead moved to iCal, Mail and Address Book.

Because of the limitations of iCal I completely gave up using a computer for todo lists – I use paper notebooks. Ever reliable, portable and usable even when my computer decides to stop working for some reason. But, as usual, I digress.

Mail (I’ll drop the .app) was my main concern – I communicate with 99% of my clients entirely by email, so having a reliable email account was vital. Also, because I host many different domains, the ability for me to have multiple email accounts and signatures was also vital. All of my email comes in to a variety of email accounts on a local server (at the time Cyrus on Solaris 8/x86, today it’s a G4 running OS X Server). Handling multiple email accounts (through IMAP) was great with Mail.

Handling multiple signatures was not. Mail didn’t do it. You could have multiple signatures, but you had to manually select them for each email.

Recently (I admit, I can’t remember the revision) Mail gained the ability to have per-account signatures. In fact, it gained the ability to have multiple per-account signatures and you could both select a default signature for an account, or randomly select them, or you can select them when you create a message.

It’s a great idea in principle, but it doesn’t work.

I have accounts that simply DO NOT work with signatures. Even if I delete and recreate the account, Mail refuses to add signatures automatically to my email.

To demonstrate – here’s the configuration of a signature in the Mail prefs:

And here’s the selection to ensure that this is selected by default.

If I save this, get out of prefs and then create a new message on that account, the signature doesn’t appear on my email:

In fact, Mail seems completely unaware there are any signatures configured on this account at all:

If I delete this mail account and create a new mail account for the same account on the server and then repeat the above, it still doesn’t work. This obviously isn’t a bug or corruption of the account configuration, because creating a new one would fix that.

Also, there are accounts among those I have configured which DO work with signatures. For some reason, Mail just has trouble with this, and a few other, accounts.

Until this week I’d actually managed to get my main account (the one shown above) to have signatures – well, one – the one shown. It stopped working thursday. Nothing changed. I hadn’t even restarted Mail or even rebooted the system – just one day Mail decided it wasn’t going to support signatures on this account any more. Go figure.

One day, I completely obliterated any reference to Mail configurations of preferences on this machine. Luckily all my mail is stored on the server, so I can do this without risking the loss of any data.

Signatures still don’t work.

They don’t work on a machine where I did a native installation of Mac OS X 10.4.3 from the latest DVD just delivered from Apple Developer Connection. I completely reformatted on that one.

This is NOT a problem with my configuration, corruption of my configuration or something I’m failing to do.

Mail signatures simply do not do what they are advertised to do.

I’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact the UI for setting signatures sucks. I’ll cope with the UI on the basis that when I’ve configured a signature it actually works. Right now, I have signatures configured, according to my preferences, on *ALL* of my accounts. They work on less than a third of them.

What I can’t understand is why signatures suck so much. They aren’t that complicated an item to get right. I mean, Apple can get my system displaying video – I can even sync my mail configuration between machines. Although it’s probably telling that signatures work on neither system. All I want is a small piece of text displayed at the bottom of each message.

I reported the problem with the first version, now, I think, at least a year old. Probably more. They still haven’t been fixed.

As an individual, it’s a frustration. As a professional, it’s an embarrassment.

It’s the little things like this that affect people every day that make using a computer a frustrating experience. It’s the small annoyances that work together to give people bad feelings and impressions of OS.

Big stuff like Front Row and Aperture may make the headlines, but its the people who have to use the OS all day who come across these minor annoyances. As an long time Apple user (15 years and counting) and a registered developer for 7 years I’m not likely to dump OS X based on the preferences of one application.

But as time goes on, I’m hardly likely to be convinced of the quality of the big products if Apple can’t basic functionality like signatures on emails in Mail correct.

Of course, you have to ask whether there is a credible alternative. Thunderbird looks promising, and the new v1.5 contains a lot of fixes, but in some aresa it would be more of a backwards step than Mail. For a start, although Thunderbird supports multiple email accounts, you can’t change their order of appearance. At least Mail handles that properly…


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