Mail.app vs Thunderbird – Which one?

14 11 2009

It’s been about two and a half months since I got my Macbook Pro, and all in all, it’s been a productive, happy relationship. The Mac functions beautifully for all the things I need to get done, and from my side, I haven’t had to spend any time yak shaving. In fact, I can’t think of a time where I really had to dig into the filesystem or look up tech articles to get something configured on the machine. Everything just plain works.
Somewhere along the line I decided to complete the Kool-Aid conversion, and switched from using Thunderbird to using the Mac’s native mail application, collectively known as Mail.app. Why? Well, part of my philosophy on tech platforms is to try to not carry over preconceived notions of “how things should work”, and immediately critiquing a new environment simply because it doesn’t exactly mirror the one I’m used to.
I’ve been using Mail.app for about a month and a half now, and… I’m not impressed. It works, it talks nicely to my personal IMAP server and to Exchange at work, but… sorry Apple, the UI has some pretty painful choices.
In a recent Facebook conversation (based on a tweet I sent out), folks asked what my issues with Mail.app were. So, here they are:
1. The ‘file to folder’ function is irritating to use. Shortcuts change regularly (F3-space-foldername-enter – BLEAH) – it’s better than the default non-existent methods, but still difficult. (Note this is in reference to using Act-On, a plugin for Mail.app that brings some of the functionality of the super-awesome Nostalgy plugin for Thunderbird)
2. Window management is poor. Composition windows are not floating in alt-tab rotation. If I want to flip back to my Inbox to view something, I have to mouse (no KB shortcuts to switch between inbox / composition / whatever)
3. No identity management – I can’t say “Compose this mail, but it’s business mail, so use my Biz address, footer, etc)
4. The thread management is WEIRD. So, If I have a single message, it’s one row in my inbox. If I have 2 in a thread, its’ THREE rows in my inbox. That makes no sense.
5. I can’t find anyway of skipping to the next unread message in the inbox. So I’ll see Inbox(1) and have to scan where in my inbox that one message is.
6. And who the heck determined that control-shift-D means “Send message” ? What, Control-Enter, a keystroke that is nigh on universal, wasn’t appropriate?
I haven’t come up with a good reason to stick with Mail.app yet. One thing I do worry about is contact management. I’m not sure how to manage that path yet, or how Thunderbird contacts will interract (if at all) with the contact manager on the Mac. That being said, I don’t know if I’ve been using the contact manager at all, so it may be a moot point.
The UI issues in Mail.app though are enough to have me close to jumping ship. Any reasons I shouldn’t?

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2 responses

14 11 2009
ifman

1. In Mail Act-On you can associate filing actions with a simple CTRL-whatever key stroke. So, I have CTRL-A bound to “file this away in the Archive folder” etc.
2. COMMAND-` cycles through the windows in whatever application is foremost, including in Mail.
3. The signatures preference pane takes care of that, I think.
4. Yup.
5. Mail Act-On has a preference (in its Message Viewing tab) to have the space bar take you to the next unread message.
6. Yup.

14 11 2009
Nabil

The latest Thunderbird that was released recently (Thunderbird 3) has me tempted to try something new. That said, I’m not all that unhappy with Mail.app.
My workflow:
1) BOATLOADS OF FILTERS, for all my mailing lists and anything else I can get sorted automatically as it comes in.
2) Two “Smart” Mailboxes: one set to show only unread messages, one set to show “flagged” messages (ones I’ve marked as needing a response but aren’t responding to right away).
I check four different accounts via Mail, and while I sometimes slip up on which account I’m sending from, each message has a little pulldown to set which account you’re sending from. I don’t use sigs, but from what I understand, if I did, I could set them up to be used for different accounts automatically.
Something else I do that might be a little overboard but I find useful is: I bcc myself on everything I send. One of my Mail frustrations is how it handles sent mail, and this allows me to get my searches to behave how I WANT them to behave.

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