You’ve got mail. I’ve got mail. We’ve all got mail. Specifically, email.

On previous incarnations of this blog I’ve written multiple times about my frustrations with modern email software and this is yet another occasion. I’ve had a startling change of heart in the last week and I thought it was time, once again, to air my grievances and this time explain why I’ve gone back into a fold I swore I’d leave behind forever.

That fold is Google. I’m one of those people who are somewhat creeped out by what Google does. Some time ago I had decided I wanted to leave them behind. In fact, had it not been for the excellent value I get out of Google Plus, I likely would have. Well, that and the moderate difficulty of extracting myself from a domain which is tied up in the Google Apps ecosystem and which supports mail addresses for 3 other family members as well. Now I’m sort of glad that I never finally tore myself away because I am in the process of crawling back with my tail between my legs.

What changed? Nothing. And that’s the problem. I’ve numerous times misquoted Winston Churchill that Apple Mail is “the worst email client, except for all of the others.” I first used the version that came with OS X Lion and I hated it. It has improved in important ways since then, but it still has a couple of critical flaws that I hate working around.

Most critically, it is buggy. It’s not so bad if mail just arrives and is read, but any time I try to manage my mail, add or change accounts or, worst of all, try to migrate any mail between accounts I run the gauntlet of bugs which send or receive mail multiple times, fail to display what I know is present, refuse to use accounts that were previously working fine and no-one has touched, send emails but leave them in the Drafts folder also, show every email in one user’s VIP “folder” and more.

Next most critically is its architecture. By which I mean the way it handles the basic building blocks of email. I get that some people want a unified inbox and I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem with the entire interface being predicated on this concept. Email accounts have numerous mailboxes within them including special ones like Inbox, Sent and Archive. That’s mailboxes within accounts. Mail turns that relationship on its head and displays a single heading for, say, Inbox and within that each Inbox from all of my accounts. Then a Sent heading, with all those mailboxes, then Archive, etc. One of the reasons I have multiple email accounts is because I want to separate the email between them for different purposes. Personal mail, podcast mail, business mail. When I sit down to look at email, I’m most often wanting to look at one of those classes of email, but there is no way to hide away whole accounts that I am not currently interested in.

Then there are the numerous little annoyances like the inability to allow images from trusted accounts. Mail insists on all images or none. The inability to preview an email and not have it marked as read. And its inability to cooperate with iCloud to handle spam in a sensible manner.

I’ve tried numerous other Mac email clients. Most recently AirMail 2 which, quite brilliantly I thought, had the little bug of displaying NO content on any email I opened for the first time. It also seems to be hanging on for dear life to my default mail setting, although that may be an OS X problem.

I’ve tried Sparrow (when that existed), the original AirMail, PostBox, AirPlane and probably others and none of them stack up to Mail for simplicity of seeing, finding, acting on email without a lot of fanfare.

The irony in all this is that the best email client I ever used was written in the early 1990s by a student I knew. If you can stomach Microsoft Windows, the second best I ever used, around the late 1990s if I recall correctly, was called The Bat! and is still available. Fifteen plus years and a lot of technological advancement does not seem to have benefited email clients that much and even Gmail, while it is now my preferred choice, has its own problems. But that’s for another day.

I’ve started cleaning up my configuration in Gmail, have reset some of my older email address redirects to head there and am currently working up the courage to switch one of my newer accounts from another 3rd party provider. I’m never keen mucking with DNS records, but it needs to be done.

So there you have it. I’m creeped out by Google, but I prefer that to the mess that is modern OS X email client software. 

Banner image by Craig Sunter.

Categories: Tech


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