Miscellaneous Ramblings

Do We Really Need Another Mac Email Client?

Charles Moore - 2010.02.08 - Tip Jar

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Email is one of the most vitally important tools of my trade. Consequently, a good, reliable, powerful email client is a key component of my productivity software suite.

I was a Eudora aficionado since before Internet service was even available at my home and office, relying on an account set up at the local public library. While other Mac users were enthusiastic devotees of Apple's old Claris Emailer, which I never particularly warmed to myself, or even the Mail module in the Netscape Navigator Suite Browser application, I remained joined at the hip to Eudora until developer Qualcomm pulled the plug on further development of the venerable application in 2007.

I still use Eudora 6.2.4 - the ultimate classic Eudora Mac version - in Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" on my "senior citizen" workhorse Pismo PowerBooks, but I never found it to be a completely happy camper in OS X 10.5 "Leopard", and it became totally unsatisfactory after I finally switched to an Intel Mac as my primary work platform last winter.

Withdrawal after so many years of Eudora habituation was a moderate trauma, but I've fairly happily settled in to using Mozilla.org's Open Source and cross-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux) Thunderbird (itself a descendent of that old Netscape Navigator email module) and the Open Source client based on T-bird that inherited the Eudora name that Qualcomm commendably handed off to Mozilla. They've recently become even better with the release of T-bird 3 and Eudora 8.0b8, which incorporate a browser-style tabbed user interface and a host of other improvements.

These two applications are conveniently interchangeable, tapping into the same support files, message archives, and settings. I prefer the familiar Eudora user interface appearance, but T-bird is often out in front with features development. Both have surprised me in that I like them a lot better than I expected to, the price (free) is right, and they meet my email needs pretty satisfactorily, also meeting my preference for storing mail archives in standard folders rather than using a single, proprietary database, as with some email clients.

MailForge: Eudora Reborn

Hard-core classic Eudora devotees also have another option in the form of Infinity Data Systems' new $39.95 MailForge email client application for Mac and Windows, which is conceived as an up-to-date homage to and interpretation of the classic Eudora feature set and appearance. Development of MailForge is proceeding with frequent version update releases, the latest being MailForge 1.4.7, which was released Friday with the following updates:

  • Performance: 2x faster at opening mailboxes (as little as 3 seconds for 88,000 emails)
  • Interface: Message List resizes row padding for font size
  • Misc. improvements and refinements to the new Unified SDI interface
    • Composing: Fixed bug that could cause duplicate Drafts to be saved
    • Editing: Fixed issue that could cause improper edit of received emails
    • Junk: Improved effectiveness of determining Junk Match
    • Sounds: MailForge now uses platform specific notification sounds
    • Misc.: Misc. stability improvements

For folks who like their email client and Web browser in the same application, that alternative is still available with Opera's Web browser and Mozilla.org's SeaMonkey Internet suite . The former Bare Bones Software Mac-only MailSmith app, which supports the POP protocol exclusively, has recently been made freeware, as has the formerly commercial software IMAP-oriented (also supports POP) cross-platform Mulberry client. Other commercial options include the $18 shareware Mac-only GyazMail client, the new-kid-on-the-block$39.95 PostBox client (also based on Thunderbird's email engine).

And there are Microsoft's Entourage for the Mac and Apple's Mail app that comes bundled with OS X, but which, like its erstwhile Claris Emailer ancestor, I've never really cottoned to. I expect there are a substantial number of Windows-only and even Linux email client alternatives with which I'm personally unfamiliar.

Is There Really Need for Another One?

Anyway, suffice to say that there is already a pretty comprehensive and variegated selection of email clients for Mac users, so is there really a need for another one? Inessential.com blogger Brent Simmons thinks so, noting that he's been joking for years about writing an email client and charging $500 for it - "an email client that actually meets the needs of developers and professionals who rely on email, folks who type for a living" - contending that existing email clients are inadequate for many developers and power users.

A Client Designed for Serious Heavy-duty Email Users

The only practical way to achieve that, says Brent, is via open source, and he's proposing a project to develop a lean and programmable IMAP email client with plugin and automation APIs that is designed for serious heavy-duty email users who have what he refers to as diverse workflow needs that are are often too small or specific to incorporate as features in a general-purpose email clients, but are still very important to teams and individuals.

The best way to handle this says Brent, is to create an email client that can be programmed to function as an integrated workflow component rather than just a storage repository for message archives, with a usable automation interface, complete enough to not throw up roadblocks, a well-designed plugin API that allows for additions and modifications to the application and triggered actions, and a documented data storage format for applications and workflows that need access to the email but not the app's GUI.

Desirable interface elements would be emphasis on keyboard control (a la Quicksilver or LaunchBar) for filing messages and navigating mailboxes, good support for inline replies, and adroit handling of mailing list input, but with an overall emphasis on leanness - doing less but being better at what it does do.

Design by Committee Ensures Mediocrity

Finally, Brent says strong and opinionated leadership of such a project will be essential, since design by committee ensures mediocrity (at best). Too true. I'm not much of an IMAP fan and would like to have POP 3 support too, but otherwise this concept sounds appealing.

If you're interested in participating, Brent has set up an email-init mailing list; you can sign up from a link on his website.

So what do you think? Do you think such an application would help improve your productivity, or are you happy with the email client you're currently using? LEM

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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