inessential by Brent Simmons

July 2007

Manton on email

Manton Reece: Professional email app: “I started writing an email client last year and worked on it in my spare time for a couple of months before abandoning it. It added a few new twists that other clients don’t have, including a server component in an attempt to embrace the benefits of both Gmail (access anywhere, automatic sync) and a native Mac client (better UI).”

Kiwi closing, MailCore open

Ronge: “With talk of email clients in the air, I started seriously thinking about making Kiwi closed source, something I have been considering for 6 months.”

Whether or not Kiwi is closed or open doesn’t matter much to me personally—what I want is a great email app, and I’m certainly willing to pay for it.

(To be clear: I’m a proponent of open source. But I don’t think every app has to be open source.)

Michael Tsai on MailKit etc.

Michael Tsai: “Lots of applications need Web functionality, and it’s a ton of work to write a good Web engine. Thus, WebKit was a great idea. I don’t think other potential frameworks—even MailKit—would meet these criteria.”

Speculation as to why iPhone doesn’t include Flash

We all know that the iPhone doesn’t include Flash. Various theories have been aired.

I have a theory that I haven’t heard yet: Flash wasn’t included because it crashes so much.

I have some evidence for this. My app—which uses WebKit and, thus, supports Flash—includes a crash reporter: when it crashes, you can send the crash log to me just by clicking a button. People do so, so I see the crashes.

And you know what I see a lot of? Stuff like this:

Thread 0 Crashed:
0 ...romedia.Flash Player.plugin 0x094e8ddc native_ShockwaveFlash_TCallFrame + 344728

Thread 0 Crashed:
0 ...romedia.Flash Player.plugin 0x19367572 MMgc::GCAlloc::ClearMarks() + 370

Since Apple collects crash logs too, they know how often Flash crashes.

Given that the first impression of the iPhone is so important, I can easily imagine a conversation like this:

A: “We have to include Flash so it’s not the watered-down web.”

B: “We can’t, since Flash crashes all the time, and people will think the iPhone is crashy.”

A: “But can we get away with not including Flash?”

B: “If we do a special YouTube app that uses QuickTime instead.”

A: “That’s officer thinking, lieutenant. Let’s call Google.”

Restarting Innovation

Rogue Amoeba: Restarting Innovation: “The problem arises from the fact that Apple is not married to any particular new market. As such, the provided solutions are seldom deep. They do the job for many, perhaps even most users, but as with all software, they’re seldom complete.”

Mail Gossip Bug

Here’s my favorite Mail bug...

Say I get an email, and I do a reply-all. The to and cc list look like this (only less fuzzy):

Mail CC list

So I’m like—cool, I can talk about the Nicks, since they’re not getting this email. I start typing, gossip gossip gossip, blah blah blah.

Then I send it, and the Nicks get the email, and then the whirring blades disperse the waste into the atmosphere...

In real life I’m not some big email-gossip, so this hasn’t actually happened. To me.

Here’s the thing—in this fictional situation, I didn’t check the cc list. If I had clicked in it, then typed down arrow a few times, I would have seen the rest of the cc list, and I would have known the Nicks were on the list.

Mail CC list

But there’s nothing to indicate that there are more people on the cc list. The scroll thumb doesn’t actually appear—in fact, the absence of the thumb indicates that the entire list is visible.

But it’s not.

Update 1:00 p.m.: This may happen only if you have the scrollbar setting for both-arrows-at-both-ends turned on, which I do.

No suitable email apps for Mac OS X

I’ve managed to start using just one email client—Apple’s Mail app—and I like a lot of things about it.

But it drives me crazy, too, with all the clicking I have to do.

There are a few things I want in an email app that I can’t get in one package:

1. No clicking to file a message. Keyboard only.

2. No clicking—or tabbing plus arrow arrow arrow arrow arrow arrow arrow arrow arrow—to go to a mailbox.

3. Easy searching multiple mailboxes.

4. IMAP.

5. Editor with macros (think BBEdit’s clippings, TextMate’s snippets, vim’s abbreviations).

6. Mac-app-ness.

Mail doesn’t do 1, 2, and 5.

mutt does 1, 2, 4, and 5—but not 3 and 6. (I could overlook the Terminal-ness of it if searching multiple mailboxes was easy. I count it as doing 5—editor with macros—because you can use a real text editor with it.)

Thunderbird, of course, is so not-Mac-like that I can’t deal. Also, from a quick look, it appears that 1, 2, and 5 are not done in Thunderbird either. (Though I could be wrong.)

And GyazMail, Eudora, and pine don’t do all of these. Mailsmith is awesome in many ways, but it doesn’t do IMAP—and I’m using IMAP because of my iPhone.

I could get past some of this if there were still a scripts menu in Mail and I could assign keyboard shortcuts to scripts. But you can’t anymore.

I could also deal with Mail better if the various plugins worked reliably. They don’t—I get hangs and run into deal-stopper bugs. I chalk this up to the fragility of the undocumented and unsupported Mail plugin system—I don’t fault the plugin developers. But there are plugins that are supposed to give me 1 and 2.

(If the plugins work for you, then you’re lucky and I’m envious.)

I haven’t tried TypeIt4Me or TextExpander yet, though I probably will, to get 5 (editor-with-macros).

But that still leaves me clicking like crazy.

Email is, or ought to be, a keyboard thing—it’s about reading and writing. I’m not drawing anything or applying gradients or moving shapes around—I should be able to set the mouse aside.

It may be that the only hope is that the Mail folks will add these features. The thing is, there is little economic incentive to create an email app when one comes free with the system—and that free one is good. For most people it’s easily good enough, if not great.

And Apple should include a Mail app. I don’t think they’re wrong to do it—I think it’s part of the basic functionality you expect when you buy a computer. I’m not saying that Apple is doing something wrong by developing it and including it.

But if there is little incentive for other folks to create an email client, that means that the needs of keyboard adepts will go wanting, since Apple (rightly) concentrates on other things. (And does a great job at it. The unified inbox, for example, is a wonderful thing, no matter what kind of user you are. Smart mailboxes rock. Etc.)

So, ah, what’s my point? Just that I’m bugged.