Collecting the Internet So You Don't Have To

We work on the Internet. As such, we are constantly consuming information. Believe me, there is a lot of it out there. Sometimes we even forget things unless we write them down. Our blog covers everything from web standards to the muppets, php to comic books, music and everything else that we find interesting. Leave us a note when you drop by.

Can I Replace Mail.app With Postbox 2?

Business
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

Just over a week ago, I decided to switch mail programs from Apple's provided Mail.app to something a little different. I had been frustrated by a few things in Mail.app, just bored by others, and a little change could be healthy. So out of a list of several excellent options, I downloaded the thirty day trial of Postbox 2.

Introduction to Postbox 2

On the surface, Postbox 2 does not deviate too far from Mail.app, or from most applications designed for the Mac. The same sidebar with mail accounts and mail folders. The same list of action buttons along the top. The same list of headers above and message pane below. You won't find a unique interface change as you would with Sparrow, which makes the switch over a little easier.

Moving over was a snap. Postbox 2 easily pulled over my account information. Within minutes, I had Postbox 2 set up just like Mail.app was... and that's when I started to realize just how badly I had set up my Mail.app to begin with. To make a long fumbling story short, I had setup up my imap accounts in such a way that I was downloading and copying all the messages two or three times. No wonder my Mail.app was cumbersome to use sometimes! Even if I switch back to Apple's email program, this whole experience was worth it just in shedding light on how I should be configuring these things. But I digress...

Classic Pane Layout

I picked Postbox 2 over several other mail applications for a few reasons, a couple of which I immediately started to use and enjoy. First was the vertical pane view, which places the header list and the message pane side by side. This is similar to downloading and running the WideMail plugin for Mail.app. If you have to sort through a lot of messages while also having messages open, this gives that header list a lot more room.

Another great feature is the threaded message view. Though Mail.app does support threading messages in the header list, Postbox 2 will also show that entire thread in the message pane, similar to how Gmail threads a conversation.

Postbox, Message Threads

You also have the option to send a quick reply from anywhere within the thread. Doing so opens a simple text area right in the message pane within the thread where you can bang out a quick message and shoot it out. If you ever felt it was overkill to open an entire new message window, complete with multiple header fields and attaching signatures, just to send a quick "Message received, thanks!", this little feature was designed for you!

Postbox, Quick Replies

As I described above, I had done a terrible job of configuring my Mail.app, specifically when it came to filters, preferences, and moving or copying messages to other folders. When I switched to Postbox 2, this was a great opportunity to toss all those settings and start fresh. Though I set up a few folders, I ended up using the focus pane. This works like a combination of Gmail's labels and Mail.app's smart folders. Effectively, it allows a user to quickly filter a big list of message by customized labels, senders, date arrived, read or unread, and more. I rarely get more than a dozen emails a day, so the focus pane was a simpler way for me to get through my list, but I can see how power users (those that would have to get through upwards of a hundred or two hundred a day) could benefit from this if combined with sorting emails into folders.

Though there are a lot of upsides to using Postbox 2 so far, there have been a couple of trouble spots.

I adore the vertical pane layout, but once you have the folder pane, the focus pane, the header list, the message pane, and sometimes the super useful message inspector pane, you'll be struggling to fit it all on screen. Even on my Macbook Pro's 17 inch widescreen display, the panes were feeling cramped. This was doubly annoying when I had to keep resetting what columns I want to see in the headers pane. Maybe I'm missing a preference setting somewhere, but it seems no matter how many times I remove it, Postbox 2 insists on adding in the 'Location' column.

That brings me to another minor annoyance. There are a number of super useful configuration settings that, like me, you'll look for and simply won't be able to find. Stuff like getting Postbox 2 to stop adding extra dashes on your signatures. That's because there isn't a checkbox or pulldown for those settings, they are tucked away in a buried config window, behind a semi-scary "if you fiddle with this, you might break everything" confirmation button.

Configuration Warning Screen

I can understand why they did it, but it still strikes me as purposely difficult to tuck them away back there, especially since many of them are settings for the cool features new users like myself want to fiddle with to customize.

Other issues, like not entirely understanding how to properly use tabs, having Postbox 2 seemingly not able to list messages properly when selecting certain combinations of mail accounts, mail folders, and focus pane topics... ; I'm willing to chalk up to needing to read through the documentation a little better. But somehow, I always feel an application has failed a little bit if I need to read instructions to understand how to use it normally, rather than how to use its more advanced features.

Postbox, Tabbed Views

Just as I write this, Postbox 2 is available for thirty bucks on the Mac App Store. However, if you go to their official website, not only can you download the thirty day trial as I have, if you poke around a little bit you can find Postbox Express, a complete free version that unfortunately has some of the cooler features disabled or removed. If you have enough elbow room to give it a try, I recommend Postbox 2. It will not revolutionize how you handle your email, but it may make it a little more enjoyable.