Recently, I installed Mac OS X Leopard on my MSI Wind netbook to get a feel for a 10-inch Apple notebook. The device came with Windows XP pre-installed and I have it running Vista for the moment. Yes, I’m generally OS-agnostic. One of the challenges I had to address with a small display using only 1024×600 resolution was screen real estate, so I did something I don’t often do: I set the Mac OS X Dock to auto-hide. It provided me more room for my tasks but it also took away one of my most important bits of visual information: the unread count from my two Gmail Inboxes in Mail.
I’m generally not a huge fan of plug-ins due to performance challenges, but I’m making an exception for Mail Unread Menu. This 2.2MB free application for Mac OS X 10.4 or better does one thing, but does it well. It places a configurable icon in the Mac menu bar that shows the total number of unread e-mails waiting for me. You can pick and choose which mailboxes it monitors, modify the menu bar icon and even show the subject lines of unread e-mails to give you a preview before moving your attention to the Mail application.
I also use Growl for e-mail notifications, but that’s more of a real-time information updater. Sometimes, I don’t want to see every single e-mail coming in and just want to check the count every so often. With Mail Unread Menu, I can ignore the Growl and the Dock on my smaller-screened device but still keep my finger on the pulse of my information lifeblood. Now if I could just convince Apple to make a netbook similar in size to my MSI Wind, I wouldn’t have to cobble together my own.