You’d be more than forgiven for thinking there must be something better out there than either Microsoft’s Outlook (s msft) or than Apple’s Mail.app (s aapl) for desktop email management. You’d be right, too, especially if you’re looking for something that plays nicely with most major webmail service providers. I’m talking about Postbox, a Mozilla-based email client Aliza took a look at back in March.
When Aliza originally reviewed the software, it was free beta release software. Now that it’s reached version 1.0, it comes with a $39.95 price tag for registration. Users can still download a free trial, so you can take Postbox through its paces before deciding to make a purchase.
I tried Postbox back when it was still in beta, right around the time Aliza originally reviewed it, and there are some definite improvements in the 1.0 release.
One of Postbox’s main selling points is its advanced search capabilities. In Aliza’s original review, she talked about how you can search for all emails within a certain time period, or search for attachments and links within emails. Postbox also now boasts a number of search operators usable without opening the advanced settings panel, including “from:name” and “subject:keyword” if you prefer doing things all from one window.
Search and email indexing is also much faster than it used to be. Even with a large archive of messages, many of which are heavy on images and links, it took almost no time at all to download and make available my entire MobileMe archive; much less time than Mail takes to perform the same task.
Add-ons like Lightning for Postbox, which brings your calendar into your Postbox window via a new tab, are a big part of the program’s appeal. There are utilities for Google Calendar (s goog) access, message import/export, to-do lists, backup services, Growl notifications, and managing multiple identities on a single account. More are being developed every day, so expect the list to continue to grow.
One of my favorite Postbox-compatible plugins is ThunderBrowse, which allows you to view web pages directly in the application, without having to switch over to your browser of choice: great for digging in and really trying to conquer your inbox during a marathon session.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what usability changes occurred between earlier betas and this final release, but in general things seem redesigned with greater ease in mind. One great example is the ability to drag and drop email messages across accounts in the sidebar. It’s great for keeping your inboxes organized according to how you want to respond to messages, instead of according to how misinformed senders might try to reach you.
Postbox’s already impressive Conversations view for threaded viewing of replies also got easier, with on-the-fly notification of updates sent while you’re reviewing. That way, if someone sends an email continuing a conversation you’re currently reading, you need only click a button to view the latest response.
A Lot More Social
Maybe the biggest change since Aliza’s early experience with Postbox is the addition of multiple social network support. Postbox users can now sign in to their Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter accounts via the application’s web services menu.
Doing so will not only allow you to post new status updates to those services via Postbox, it will also enable profile photo matching in the links/additional info sidebar to the right of the message reading window. If, for example, you get a DM from someone, Postbox will automatically retrieve that person’s current Twitter profile pic and display it. Messages you receive directly from contacts you also have on Facebook or Twitter will likewise display their profile pic from those services, though I’m not sure which takes precedence in the case of double matches.
For Aliza, the problem with switching to Postbox was that she had become so used to Gmail that learning a different system seemed like re-inventing the wheel. For me, it was that the early betas were actually fairly buggy, and just didn’t feel like something that could be a full-time solution for what is a core tool in my web working arsenal. This final version seems much, much more capable, and will definitely see full-time service on my Windows 7 machine. Will it replace Mail.app? As Aliza pointed out, old habits die hard, so we’ll have to see if I can avoid a relapse.
Let us know your thoughts on Postbox in the comments.