inessential by Brent Simmons

Why I’m switching to Mailsmith and SpamSieve

I’m switching from Apple Mail to Mailsmith and SpamSieve.

I had grown increasingly unhappy with Mail back in the Jaguar days. Performance was a big issue, but there were also user interface issues—the big one being that I couldn’t navigate the mailbox list via the keyboard.

Another issue was that the spam filter was getting less and less effective and I was dealing with spam by creating filters again. There’s no way I want to go back to that world. (I spent five years in Eudora creating spam filters by hand.)

But I decided to stick with Mail for a while, since Mail would be updated in Panther. And when Panther shipped, there were some nice improvements in the new version of Mail, but it didn’t specifically address my problems.

And then performance got worse. Even just checking mail became this long process. At first I thought it had to be the server. But then I downloaded the Mailsmith demo—and checking email was quick.

I also downloaded Eudora and gave it a shot. I had used Eudora for many years in the classic Mac OS. But I didn’t really like it in OS X: something about the look of it these days just rubbed me the wrong way. Just a personal taste thing, I’m sure.

So I used Mailsmith some more—and I found I liked it. It was faster than Mail. It’s very scriptable and customizable—for instance, I wanted to give some of the menu commands the same keystrokes that I was used to in Mail, and I could. Mark as Spam is now shift-cmd-J in my copy of Mailsmith.

Two other wonderful features of Mailsmith: it does not display HTML email and the text editing engine comes from BBEdit. But the very coolest feature may be SpamSieve.

Simply put: it catches my spam far more accurately than Mail ever did. Mail never came close. That’s the main thing SpamSieve has to do it, and it does it.

But it goes beyond that—you can see statistics on how well it’s doing. You can look at and edit the blocklist and whitelist. (Not something I’ve had to do, though.) My favorite of these extra features is the Show Corpus command. It shows you the words SpamSieve has seen, how often they’ve been in spam vs. good messages, and what the spam probability is. This fascinates me.

For instance, the word “terminate” has appeared 13 times since I started using Mailsmith. It has appeared in spam 12 of those times. Another for instance: any email sent to has an 89% probability of being spam.

SpamSieve is a generous piece of software, in that it does its job very well but then gives you the extras that make it fun. And it’s written by Michael Tsai, another small, independent developer with a weblog.