inessential by Brent Simmons

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.