Mail.app

While email is usually discounted as a light use for a computer, anyone who has a considerable amount of email to deal with would hardly agree. For me, an email client must be robust as well as stable. I've had experiences with losing an entire mailbox in the past and it's never fun.



Mail comes with OS X, but instead of being a lightweight solution like Outlook Express, Mail is best compared to the likes of Outlook under Windows.

From a functionality standpoint, Mail has all of the features of Outlook as an email tool (Address book and Calendar support are provided through separate applications). The biggest changes that I had to get used to were, you guessed it, keyboard shortcuts to perform the tasks that I was used to under Outlook. The shortcuts did take a bit of getting used to for me, but in the end, it wasn't too difficult; to send a message after you've composed it, the shortcut is Command-Shift-D; replying is Command-R; forwarding is Command-Shift-F (Command-F opens up the Find dialog box); and Command-Shift-N gets new mail.

The application itself is lightning-fast; start up time is much faster than Outlook 2003 and a bit faster than Outlook 2004. The one aspect of Mail that is absolutely an improvement over Outlook is in its searching abilities. If you have any appreciable number of messages under Outlook, you know that searching for a particular message: 1) takes forever, and 2) leaves you with a noticeably slower machine with your hard drive crunching constantly. The search function in Mail is significantly quicker than Outlook and you get noticeably fewer disk accesses to find the email that you're searching for than under Outlook. Obviously, without knowing the architecture behind how Outlook searches vs. how Mail searches, I can't say exactly why Mail is faster, but I'd venture to say that it's either OS X doing some incredible caching, or it's just a much better indexed database with a faster search algorithm. Regardless of why, the reality is that it is significantly faster on a single 160GB SATA drive than I've ever had an Outlook search be on anything from a regular IDE drive to a 10K Raptor.

The overall interface and interaction with Mail is significantly faster than Outlook, regardless of how fast of a Windows PC I compare it to. The application has no problem handling tens of thousands of emails (the most that I've had in it at one time was a little over 23,000) and after a little experimenting, I finally found out that Option-Command-Delete would permanently delete an email instead of first sending it to the Trash folder. What's also nice to know is that copying or deleting a lot of emails doesn't slow down the program significantly; it's very easy to multi-task in Mail. While it could be attributed to the fact that all desktop G5s are now dual processor systems, the application is far less prone to slowdowns than any of the dual Opteron boxes on which I'd ever used Outlook. Now, it may be possible that Mail is more multi-threaded than Outlook or it may just be a case of better caching at work in the application. Needless to say, whatever it is - it works.

Mail has a built-in spam filter and the same filtering/rules capabilities of Outlook 2004. I've found that the spam filter in Mail is at least on par with that of Outlook 2004, if not a bit better. So far, I've been pretty pleased with it; although, there have been a few false positives that I've encountered when the filter is set to the most aggressive settings.



It's very easy to get a good set of rules set up and running in Mail - the process is even simpler than Outlook and it's quite easy to prioritize rules as well as have certain rules stop processing other rules after they've completed. Overall, I'd say the application is just as powerful as Outlook as an email client, but noticeably faster.

Most importantly, all of the little things that I appreciated about Outlook were also present in Mail. Start typing someone's name/email address to which you've sent email in the past or whose name already appears in your address book and autocomplete will bring up a list of addresses that match what you've already typed. While this feature has been in Outlook for a while, what's important here is that I didn't find any of the little gems of Outlook to be absent in Mail, which means a lot for a die-hard Windows user in order to feel comfortable under OS X.

The one issue that I had with Mail when I first started using it was that there was no way to directly import an Outlook pst file into the application. There are ways around this, such as exporting your Outlook mail to another format, then importing them into another client supported by Mail, and then exporting again before finally importing into Mail. But, I decided to not deal with that and just started my mailbox over from scratch. It took me a while to get enough emails accumulated in the application before I could truly pass judgment on it, but now that I have, it gets my stamp of approval.

Stability is another aspect of Mail that I have been pleased with, but the application isn't totally rock solid. Out of all of the apps on OS X, I've probably had Mail crash on me more times than the rest, but considering that I haven't had too many crashes under OS X in general, that's not too bad. None of the crashes have ever been detrimental to any of my mailboxes; all of my data always remained intact, but just as is the case with any crash, they've always been annoying. I would say the number of times that Mail has crashed on me would be similar to the number of times that Outlook 2004 crashed on me, maybe a little less.

In the end, I'd say the best way to summarize Mail is that it's nice to see a good, fast, robust email client finally included with the OS for free.

Applications under OS X iCalendar
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  • vladik007 - Thursday, March 31, 2005 - link

    " highly paid Windows admin / Cisco Engineer "

    geeez ... new low bottom.
    Reply
  • MarshallG - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I was thinking about getting a Mini Mac. But with a 1.25 GHz CPU, it's about 1/4 the machine that Anand tested.

    Will I be disapointed by its performance at the same kinds of tasks Anand mentioned? I realize that I'll have to upgrade to maybe 1 GB of RAM.
    Reply
  • BikeMike - Sunday, January 30, 2005 - link

    re: OSX dialogue keyboard shortcuts - like in Word, where 'd' means 'don't save' and 'return' & 'enter' apply to the highlighted button, many OSX apps do not require a modifier key, such as 'alt' or 'command'. The experience of discovery is guesswork, yes, but if you don't look for a modifier key, you get better at guessing. For example, in iTunes dialogues, 'y' means, you guessed it, 'yes'. Reply
  • pyramiddown - Saturday, January 29, 2005 - link

    Ctrl-Tab to switch tabs in Firefox Reply
  • OmnisAudis - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Great article! very long winded, but awesome. I am a long time Mac user, with an XP machine at home and an iBook at work.

    I thought it was very interesting you found nothing snazzy about iCal. It is my FAV Apple app!! It is the most powerful, easy to use calendar I've come across. And it seems to be able to do things that XP Outlook can't. For one thing, I can publish a calendar so that other users can subsribe to it. When I make a change to that calendar, they see those changes.

    I can have TONS of calendars. In outlook, my boss can only have one (and view others). At my work place, we have 20 productions going on. It would be great if he could generate a calander that we could subscribe to for each show. As changes occur, we would get them without a memo going out, and everyone updating their calendars.

    Plus, I can subscribe to a season calendar of the Yankees! So as I publish calendars for visiting artists, and I subscribe to one for entertainment.

    I'll stop now. But I think you should revist iCal. Look at it from a multi-user point of view.

    Thanks for the objective article. I've learned a few things about OS-X!
    Reply
  • KingKuei - Sunday, January 16, 2005 - link

    Anand,

    Wait til you see Tiger...

    Updated Safari with significantly improved speed and capabilities.

    Add the Spotlight feature (comprehensive demo at MacWorld Expo --> don't miss the jab at Bill Gates when the Spotlight feature crashes... one word: backup)

    Dashboard (sorry to the company that made it, but the feature is coming free to Tiger and I can't wait!)

    And for the first time, fully takes advantage of the 64-bit processing core of the G5.

    Anand, I dare you to write a follow-up review on that dual-2Ghz of your's when Tiger ships ON SCHEDULE later this year!
    Reply
  • macgeek - Saturday, January 1, 2005 - link

    It is go glaringly obvious to any Mac user that you did understand half of what you were writing about. Just a few glaring omissions from your article:

    * Unix-based, and you have full control of Unix through the terminal.

    * No spyware or viruses - I don't even run anti-virus because there has NEVER been a virus for OS X. NOT ONE!!!

    * Why do you think Office 2004 sucks? Probably because it's made by Microsoft! Ever heard of OpenOffice?

    * Address Book - not only is it integrated into mail, but it's integrated into OS X.

    * Guess you didn't spend much time looking for it, because you could have had Trillian for Mac OS X as well.

    * Browsers - Yeah, Safari needs some work, but you've got quite a few to choose from. Oh, and Safari isn't the Lincoln Tunnel of security holes that IE is either. And if you so choose, you can simply drag Safari to the trash can and never use it again. Now try that with IE.

    * ipfw vs. Windows Firewall - Puuhhlleeeeasseee!! What does microsoft give you? A firewall that a third-grader could get through and that allows EVERYTHING OUT!!!!! I quite like having the ability to customize ipfw in terminal to have a firewall that is truly an industrial strength firewall.

    * Root authentication - whenever a program needs to install or modify system files, you have to authenticate as root. Too bad that when you're logged on as an Admin in Windows it's "anything goes" and you have no choice when that nasty website throws a dll file into the Windows directory.

    * No mention of any Apple Pro Apps like Final Cut HD. I've seen what happens to P4 systems when they try to render video in Adobe Premiere - they crash. You have to drop at least an extra $1000 for a Canopus or high-end Matrox capture card to have a chance of competing with a dual G5 system. My PowerBook G4 1.5 GHz renders video better than my P4 3.4 with 1GB of HyperX PC3500.

    * No mention of integrated Bluetooth, or how simple it is to configure networking, or of integrated Firewire 800.

    Shoddy research, and a poor attempt overall. It's easy to see that you liked the G5, but you didn't even scratch the surface before you wrote that article. And if you honestly think that OS X crashes as much as Windows, you REALLY must not have known what you were doing.

    And I qualify this as my day job is as a highly paid Windows admin / Cisco Engineer. I know Windows XP / 2k / 2k Server and Win2k3 inside and out, and they can't touch the possibilities of OS X. The only area that I'll give you is gaming. That's why I have a top-o-the-line AMD.
    Reply
  • hopejr - Monday, November 8, 2004 - link

    I'm quite impressed with this article. I'm a recent switcher (august 04) and can say that I much rather OS X to any other OS that I've used (every single released version of windows from 1.03 to Longhorn 4074, many Linux distros, and mac os from system 6 to OS X Panther).
    I didn't go for a beefed up PowerMac G5, but I did buy a 12" iBook G4 with student discount (April 04 model). I've found that these are the cheapest decent notebooks out (as I can't stand celerons :P), and for a 12" at just AU$1520, I think it was a bargain (most PC 12" laptops are twice that much with almost identical specs).
    I also like the fact that I have seemless networking with my Windows machines. Another thing I like is that I can do all the stuff I need to do on linux (for University) on my iBook because of its unix base.
    In regard to the point someone made (i can't remember which post) about this article testing multitasking on a dual processor environment, I find that my single processor G4 laptop is still much better at multitasking than the latest Windows PC with hyperthreading, or even an AMD64, that I've used. Maybe that's just me though :P.
    I've found that I'm more productive on OS X compared to windows, especially with all those keyboard shortcuts.
    BTW, post #207 is right about the choice mac users have to make, I make those choices now, and know exactly when I want a program to close, or when I just want to close a window. I also find command-H and command-option-H very useful with reducing screen clutter.
    I haven't always liked Macs. I hated them mainly because the classic OS was a pain to use in my opinion with little control over it (I am a DOS user, so I like being in control of my machine using a command prompt). When OS X came out (especially Panther), my hatred disappeared.
    Reply
  • macgruder - Saturday, November 6, 2004 - link

    Pretty good and fair review.

    I wish people would stop saying an App should quit when you close the last window. This is not useful in many situations. e.g. I'm in Photoshop, I have a window open, and I'm done with it, but am going to continue working. Close the windows, oops Photoshop quits.

    Mac users are used to making the following choice:
    a. I want to close a window (command-W)
    b. I want to quit the App. (command-Q)

    These are 2 distinct actions. To me closing a window is just that, and shouldn't be connected to the independent action of quitting an app. If I'm done and I have ten windows open, I just command-Q, and the windows(if not saved) close automatically anyway. As far as I can see Windows seems to be forcing you (correct me if I'm wrong) to do an unconnected action, when you may not want to.
    Reply
  • Humancodex - Friday, November 5, 2004 - link

    I make a link of the article to: http://www.macbidouille.com (french) in forum "switch", everybody like your "objectivité", and like you to push the Mac test trial more often! Reply

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