Back to Apple Mail

Three years ago, in a fit of righteous anger, I stopped using Apple’s Mail app on my Macs and switched to MailMate. A couple of months ago I began a cautious experiment with Mail on my MacBook Air, ready to switch back at the slightest hint of awful behavior. But the awful behavior never came—in fact, I came to actually prefer working in Mail—and so last week I removed MailMate from the Dock on my iMac at work and changed the default email client back to Mail.

To recap the problems I had with Mail on Mavericks:

Apart from the fact that it didn’t crash, it was almost completely useless.

So I switched to MailMate, which was reliable and had a couple of features I really liked: the ability to set a send time for a message and a message sorting system that allowed me to file messages into folders with just a few keystrokes.1 The latter behavior was very much like MsgFiler, a Mail plugin that I’d used for years but which had become unreliable—possibly because of Mail’s problems, possibly because of its own.

But there were disadvantages to MailMate. While it could display HTML emails, it couldn’t send them.2 As someone who almost never sends HTML mail, I thought this limitation wouldn’t mean anything to me, but I was wrong. Surprisingly often, I received HTML messages that needed to be forwarded to someone else. When I hit the Forward button, MailMate would compose a plain text message that sucked all the life out of the original message and would be useless gibberish to the people I was forwarding it to. I found myself pulling out my iPhone to handle these messages.

Update 02/21/2017 9:55 PM
As I probably should’ve guessed, MailMate now has a way of forwarding HTML emails in their original format. As Benny Kjar Neilsen (MailMate’s developer) told me in an email this morning:

MailMate did recently (last year) gain the ability to forward and reply to arbitrary HTML messages. This is done by embedding the original HTML of these messages. In the plain text composer, MailMate displays whatever is the plain text alternative in the original email(s) and this is also used for the generated plain text alternative of the outgoing message. But the generated HTML alternative embeds the original HTML and this is what most recipients are going to see—and it’s not different from what HTML WYSIWYG email clients would do.

This is a problem I run into quite often: I learn how to use an application but my knowledge doesn’t get updated as often as the app does. Then I say “I wish it could do X” and someone points out it can do X. Embarrassing.

Anyway, thanks to Benny for pointing out my error and for writing an app that really saved me when I was in despair over Mail’s deep deficiencies.

Also, I never really got the hang of MailMate searches. I know it’s really powerful and fine-grained, but most often I just want to do a GMail-style “find everywhere” search. In MailMate, I kept getting myself caught up in more restricted searches.

Some time ago, MailMate’s preview pane started appearing for no good reason. I’d close it, but it kept coming back. I know should have sent in a bug report about this (sorry, Benny!), but I wanted to write a useful report and I couldn’t figure out what was triggering it. Eventually I just lived with it.

None of MailMate’s problems were dealbreakers, but they did make me wonder if Mail had become usable again. Of course, Mail can’t send messages later and doesn’t have a quick filing system, but it does allow its functionality to be extended with plugins, and MailHub looked like it might give me just what I wanted. So I bought it just before starting my Mail experiment on the MacBook Air.

The combination of Mail and MailHub was just what I wanted. Apple had apparently fixed Mail so it would actually send and receive messages (imagine that), and MailHub’s system for filing messages was much better that MailMate’s for three reasons:

  1. It keeps track of how you file messages and soon starts making folder suggestions. Because these suggestions are quite accurate, this cuts down on the keystrokes needed to set the filing location. (And you can override the suggestion easily enough if necessary.)
  2. When you send a message, MailHub uses the same intelligence to suggest a folder in which to file the message after it’s sent. With MailMate, all of my messages went to the Sent folder, and I’d have to go through it, looking for messages to file, just as I would my Inbox.
  3. When you reply to a message that’s still in your Inbox, MailHub not only files your reply, it also files the original message at the same time. The first time I saw this happen, it almost brought tears to my eyes.

I can’t say the MailHub toolbar is especially pretty, but I’ve come to love it anyway because of the time it saves me.

Mail and MailHub toolbars

MailHub’s Send Later sheet is also on the busy side, not nearly as elegant as MailMate’s natural language parser. But as with the toolbar, it gets the job done.

MailHub Send Later sheet

I especially like the Snooze buttons along the bottom. One-click access to some of my most common mail delays.

Clearly, I wouldn’t have left MailMate if it weren’t for MailHub, so maybe the title of this post is misleading. Still, I’m willing to give Apple credit for fixing Mail and for maintaining the plugin system that makes MailHub possible.

  1. I’ve mentioned before that I need to file my email on a project-by-project basis and can’t just have a catch-all archive of old messages. 

  2. You can write messages in Markdown in MailMate’s Composer window, which I thought I’d like, but I never really felt comfortable with it. On the rare occasions I need to write an HTML message (with a table, for example), I’d rather render the message in a browser and paste the rich text from there into my message. I’m not sure why, but I just feel that’s a more reliable way to get what I want to show up on the screen of the recipient.