By John Gruber
Atoms: We are not selling shoes this time…
Mailsmith 2.0 is out. Notable aspects:
The full release notes run over 20 printed pages. In short, a solid update.
That said, Mailsmith is not for everyone. Most notably, Mailsmith does not support IMAP, only POP. IMAP users have an unflattering tendency to break into conniptions each time Mailsmith is revised, yet again with IMAP absent from the feature list. It’s an odd thing to take personally.
If you absolutely need to use IMAP, that’s unfortunate, because you’re missing out on what is truly a crackerjack email client.
The elephant in the middle of the room, of course, is Apple Mail.
(Nomenclatural note: The application’s proper name is just plain “Mail”. Which is a hideously awkward name, in that it’s only distinguishable from the generic word “mail” by the capital M. [E.g. imagine if Safari were instead named “Web”.] Thus, in common use, it is most frequently referred to as “Mail.app” (mail dot app). This is understandable, in that no one wants to call the thing just plain “Mail”, but that doesn’t mean tacking on “.app” is the way to go. If you’re going to call Mail “Mail.app”, you should also call iChat “iChat.app”, Safari “Safari.app”, and so on. You’d even have to call Mailsmith “Mailsmith.app”, as of version 2.0. Mac OS X’s “.app” suffix is an implementation detail: metadata that tells the system that a directory is not a regular folder, but instead the wrapper for an application package. Using the filename as a stash for file system metadata is a terrible idea, and is an embarrassing holdover from legacy NeXT systems. But that doesn’t make it part of the application’s name. Thus, “Apple Mail”.)
Apple Mail is free. It comes with the system. It is the default preferred email client as specified in the Internet System Prefs panel. For these reasons, it is what most Mac OS X users use for email.
Are those good reasons to choose an email client?
For most, yes. Because most consider email ephemeral. Outgoing mail is dashed off with little or no care for spelling or grammar, let alone formatting or style. Incoming mail is skimmed and then discarded.
But I also see people using Apple Mail — people who write outgoing messages with care, and file what they receive into organized archives — and but who complain vigorously about Apple Mail’s shortcomings. I.e. the idea of cracking open one’s wallet to pay for an email client — be it Mailsmith, Eudora, Entourage, PowerMail, or what have you — which might offer numerous and diverse advantages, is simply out of the question. Off the table. Email must be free, Apple Mail is free, thus I must use Apple Mail.
This is not to say Apple Mail is without merit. It is there, and it works. You may be happy with it — even though it (1) only provides for the detestable practice of top-posting when quoting text in replies; (2) has an AppleScript dictionary that is a bad joke; (3) uses a gimmicky “drawer” for the essential task of displaying one’s mailboxes; (4) etc. — which is fine. As stated, most people aren’t very serious about their email.
But if you’re not happy with it, and email is important to you, you’re nothing more than a stubborn goof if you refuse to consider coughing up a few bucks for something better designed for your needs. Isn’t it a bit odd to expect a single email client to meet the needs of everyone from three-messages-a-week grandmothers to subscribed-to-20-mailing-lists nerds? Attempting to be all things for all emailers, Apple Mail is stretched very thin indeed — overly complicated for beginners and those with simple needs, yet underpowered and clumsy for those who seek a precise and powerful tool.