Now that Rescomp has an IMAP server, I finally took the opportunity to try out Mac OS X’s Mail application on my “real” mail—I’ve previously tried it a few times, but never with the same quantity and type of mail I actually receive. Normally, I use Mutt from a Unix terminal, but I’ve always liked the idea of using a graphical client, and Mail has always seemed pretty well-designed and feature-complete to me.
I had expected Mail to work slightly differently than how I was used to reading mail, and I was prepared to change my behavior slightly to accommodate it. But within the first hour, I had identified three major issues that seriously cramped my ability to read mail:
Mail doesn’t show messages threaded. I had gotten so used to Mutt’s display of mail folders with threads grouped and displayed as thread trees that I had forgotten that most mail clients don’t do this.
I get a lot of mailing list digests, most of them in
multipart/digestattachments. Mutt lets me view a digest of this type as its own mail folder, showing me a list of the subjects in the digest and letting me pick which messages to read without having to scroll through the whole message. I read a few mailing lists (e.g., carbon-dev) where I care about some threads but would rather just ignore others, and if I have to page through the whole digest just to see the messages I want to read, I usually won’t bother. Mutt also lets me reply to a digested message as if I had received it a directly, which is a feature I absolutely love. Replying to a digested message without this is a pain in the rear, if you want the quoted text and subject lines (not to mention
Referencesheaders) to look right.
Mail makes it much too hard to save a message from my inbox to another mailbox. For ten years, I’ve read email as follows:
- All new mail goes into my inbox.
- I read each message, and process it (e.g., reply) as necessary.
- If it’s junk or bulk mail, I delete it. If it’s personal or important, I save it to a mail folder for future use.
In Mutt (and Pine and Elm and tin and slrn and every other Unix mail or news client I’ve ever used), this is easy—I hit S, type in a mailbox name, and hit return. In fact, most of the time I don’t have to type in the mailbox name, since it has a default mailbox that is right 90% of the time (I can configure what the default is using regular expressions in the
.muttrcfile, so it knows my habits). In other words, filing a message in Mutt takes an average of a little over two key presses, and is usually under a second.
On the other hand, Mail appears to encourage me to either leave messages in my inbox or delete them immediately. The only way to save a message to another mailbox is to drag it there, or to select the “Transfer” submenu and pick the mailbox I want from a list of all my mailboxes. As of right now, I have over three hundred, so this is no easy task. It takes a lot of mousing around and thought, and Apple appears to provide no shortcuts for this behavior except a “Transfer again” command which is useless to me, as I almost never want to move a message to the same mailbox as the previous one.
When I discovered that last flaw is when I pretty much gave up on Mail. It intrigued me, though, since it’s not quite a functionality problem like the first two, but rather an interface issue that I hadn’t expected. At first, it seemed like a serious flaw in the graphical interface, and I concluded that a keyboard-driven interface was simply capable of certain things that a GUI wasn’t. Then I realized this was silly—Mutt is also a graphical client (Laura pointed this out to me last night), it’s just limited to the VT100 interface, and keyboard-driven instead of mouse-driven. The Mail app could provide the exact same interface if it wanted; the S key could (and should!) bring up a dialog that let me type in a mailbox name in the exact same way as Mutt does. This was a surprising realization, although I guess it shouldn’t have been.
I’ve filed my three issues as enhancement requests with Apple (3147482, 3147473 and 3147487, respectively), and I hope they’ll add them to a future version of Mail. For now, I might fire it up occasionally, for things like saving and receiving attachments (IMAP makes this finally feasible), but I’m back to Mutt full-time.