Email is a daily fact of life for most people. Whether it’s just getting the updates from web stores about special deals or swapping files for work, email plays a big part of our lives. And I've begun to hate it on the Mac.
This seems like an odd statement and especially as its aimed at just OS X and Apple. Don’t get me wrong, I use email a lot. It’s de facto communication method at work and I use Gmail and iCloud like others but I've begun to dread sending emails for a variety of reasons which I'll discuss.
My first bug bear is formatting. Regardless of the email client I use on the Mac, I've not nailed this down right yet. It hadn’t been an issue until recently but now it really gets on my nerves. Mail.app seems to have a mind of its own with formatting. I set it to only send plain text emails, because then I can guarantee how it'll appear in the other persons window (subject to whatever font they use). Simple. Until you start adding attachments and this is where Mail.app appears to go mental. Adding an image will instantly convert your message to HTML. Even if you select to put the file at the end of the message and have windows friendly attachments. Enable the settings to put the image in as an icon only and when sending you get icon sized images in Gmail and Outlook Online (I assume it’s the same in Outlook but I'm not opening it to try… Urgh!) Overall, Mail.app really sucks here.
I been sending HTML emails for years with no issues but would always get annoyed when emails would come back with writing to small to read due to a mess up in settings between different applications and settings. Sparrow seemed to reduce the number of emails I got like this and made it nice and simple to send emails and for a while I used it (until I moved my email to iCloud and then Sparrow initially had problems with it – all sorted now though) but its time had passed – it’s lack of various options annoyed me and it was never clear if I was sending plain text email, no support for mail certificates etc. Mail’s handling of converting any file with an attachment to HTML just made it worse – I never had problems with people reading emails in Outlook but when you viewed the emails in a webmail client, things looked ugly (what’s this ATT00001.htm file that got sent with it?) Things weren’t good so I tried Postbox and then Thunderbird which led to the next few niggles that I didn’t realise I had at the time!
The use of Postbox managed to get me around some of the formatting niggles – it seems to obey my commands in terms of sending text emails with attachments etc. however, it doesn’t seem to also obey my settings in displaying emails sent from others. I can overall this and force all emails to be displayed in plain text only but that’s a bit ugly for newsletters and emails with pictures. Say what you like about Facebook and Twitter but at least the styling is consistent and that your words and images will look the same on their screen as yours, providing they've not overwritten the default CSS layout of those sites (so non geeks probably won’t!).
Signatures are a basic part of email. But why, oh why, will Mail and Sparrow continue to send them in replies? Often replies can be simple yes/no answer and I don’t want to manually remove an email signature that’s longer than the email body itself! The signature is helpful to those people your emailing who might not know your full details. If they're emailing you, at least they know your email and have a point of contact! Thunderbird and Postbox seem to handle these well and let you turn signatures off in replies but I've no idea why Mail and Sparrow can’t do this.
I quite like having random signatures for my personal accounts. Mail manages this, the only app I've found that does! I assume Thunderbird might should I find a plugin for it but then I have to hope its a cross platform one.
OS X Integration
Mail and Sparrow manage this fairly well (Sparrow probably better than Mail!) Postbox makes a valiant attempt but Thunderbird falls flat. I know it’s cross platform but so is Postbox and they manage it quite well! I'm on about Growl notifications, contact pictures and contact emails etc etc. The latest version of Mail doesn’t work with the latest Growl (without a plugin) so gets somewhat annoying. Postbox is good but it wouldn’t hurt to display the senders image in the notification, rather than the Postbox icon. Thunderbird is just nasty – doesn’t even show the contact pictures in the app.
Ease of Setup
Sparrow and Mail win out here – incredibly easy to setup. Mail just worked, Sparrow I had to change a few folders for access when accessing an IMAP server but it was straight forward. Postbox and Thunderbird required some considerable effort to send deleted emails to the right trash folder, the right archived messages to the right archive – this being on IMAP, iCloud AND Gmail. Once done, it seems ok but it was just hassle. Sparrow, however is hit from a lack of settings. As a minimal email client, I can see why it does it but it’s a bit of a pain.
Overall at the minute, I seem to be enjoying using iOS for email! On the iPad the layout is quite nice, the fonts always seem to be the right size, it all seems to work incredibly nicely. iOS even supports S/MIME email certificates which makes it better than Sparrow (which doesn’t). I know certificates aren’t widely supported but I like to use a program that does so that they might become widely known about and used.
At the minute, Postbox has replaced my default email software of Mail. Mail works but it’s such a pain now in terms of formatting that I can’t attempt to use it – I don’t know how my emails are appearing on iOS devices (something I have to consider as my supervisor does a lot of work from his phone).
As far as I'm concerned, there currently isn’t a Mac email software that meets my needs exactly. Sparrow seems to be trying to bring iOS email to OS X but its lack of some of the more complex iOS bits means its lacking a bit where I'd like. However, both Sparrow and Postbox seem to be improving so it'll be good to follow further developments on both.