First Look: Postbox

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Do we need another Mac email client? Well, the folks at Postbox believe we do. They have taken the core of Thunderbird 3, reskinned it, added some goodies and given us something new to use.

Is Postbox ready for primetime? Well, let’s weigh in on the merits of this new app. Essentially, Postbox wants to be your central hub for managing all things email, with a new twist – integration of additional functionality (tags, integrated maps and more).

Postbox takes a different approach to managing conversations of email. Rather than talking about it, let’s have a look at some screenshots. Please note, these screenshots are from the Postbox web site. I am one of those Inbox Zero folks, so showing you my inbox would be pointless…

Features

In a new way of looking at email, Postbox provides the ability to view your inbox and other folders as individual tabs. Yes, this is also a new feature in Thunderbird 3.0, although the presentation really works in helping to interact with the deluge of email we all see from multiple email accounts.

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Postbox Multiple Tabs

Of the standout features in Postbox, the Conversation View is very powerful. Being able to see your entire conversation a la GMail is very handy. This is a feature that Mail.app sorely lacks and I hope we get to see when Snow Leopard ships.

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Postbox Conversation View

Another great feature is the Compose Sidebar. This handy tool has an integrated search for attachments (you can insert any attachment from another email message), photos – with the caveat of local disk(s) or from Picasa.

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Postbox Compose Window with Sidebar

Another standout feature that many mail clients should have is the ability to add notes to messages. Postbox includes an annotation tool to do just that.

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Postbox Mail Message Annotation Tool

Postbox has many more features, including message tags (similar to MailTags), support for Growl and a powerful message search that uses operators similar to Gmail. For example, from:Matthew.

advanced_searchPostbox Search

Alternatives & Comparisons

Postbox is an interesting new player in the email client space. Other competitors to Apple’s Mail.app that offer richer (smarter) functionality include Outspring Inc’s Outspring Mail. In fact, Outspring Mail takes a different approach to managing your inbox my applying intelligence to message handling (automatic filing) rather than using manual tagging.

If you are a Mail.app person running Leopard, then moving to Postbox can pose challenges. For one, there is no QuickLook support. Further, there is also no integration with the iLife suite (for adding photos, movies, etc.). Less importantly, there is no stationary support. On a positive note, Postbox does integrate with Address Book.

If you use MobileMe, Postbox doesn’t support MobileMe aliases natively. Microsoft Entourage 2008 has a similar problem. The workaround is to create separate accounts for each alias (which just adds to the visual clutter).

If you use the Daylite Productivity Suite and its integration into Mail.app, you won’t be able to archive your email messages outside of Postbox. This might not be an issue for some, although it is fundamental to my daily work.

Conclusion

Remember, Postbox is still in beta, so do be careful. I ran into a few glitches where by selecting a header while reading my inbox, my email messages were deleted. Thankfully, they were just moved to the Deleted Messages folder. However, this was somewhat disconcerting, especially when the email is from your Editor…

Most importantly, it is unclear is how the folks at Postbox plan to monetize the product. Will it have a license fee? Will it have an advertisement model? These questions remain unanswered and should cause you to heavily consider using the product.

When I asked the folks at Postbox, I received an answer from their PR team telling me that they do not have a monetization model yet and will be working with the beta community to figure one out. One word: scary. The beta testers get to be the guinea pigs for the monetization model too? Nice.

As an another example, Outspring Mail has a retail price of $59. Leopard retail is $129. You do the math and ask if it is worth spending the additional dollars for a “suped-up” email client.

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