Miscellaneous Ramblings

Will Mac OS X Mail End Email Diversity?

Charles W. Moore - 2001.03.26

One of the features in Mac OS X that I haven't seen discussed a great deal by commentators and reviewers is Mac OS X Mail - the email client built into Apple's new operating system.

Apple calls email a "killer app." However, one wonders whether it what it is going to kill will not be the present rich diversity of choice among third-party Mac email clients.

If it does, that would be a shame. I like having a lot of software choices. I'm a heavy user of email, and have about 20 email accounts, which I manage using four different email client applications - Eudora Light, Eudora 5.0.1, Nisus Email, and SweetMail.

Each of these products has particular strengths and shortcomings, which suits them to different email tasks. I could get along with just one email client, but I wouldn't want to.

I'm not suggesting that OS X Mail isn't a good email client. I haven't really used it in service, but I did play with it enough in the OS X Public Beta to determine that it is a very nice email application. My son, who has already switched to the final version of OS X, says Mail is now even more polished and capable, and he has decided to use it instead of PowerMail and SweetMail, which had been his previous favorites.

If that tends to be the trend followed by most OS X users, it doesn't augur well for the future of third-party Mac email software.

Currently, SweetMail, Eudora, Mulberry, and Fizzila all have beta OS X native email software versions available, and there may be others that I haven't heard of yet.

Of course, one upside to this is that fewer Mac users will be lured into entrusting their email to Microsoft because Outlook Express is bundled with the Mac OS. I'm assuming that OE is still shipping with OS X on the included OS 9.1 CD, but no longer will it be "the" email client that comes with new Macs (once OS X starts shipping with new Macs). Mail is a much better email client than Outlook Express.

Being a plain text email advocate, Apple's blurb, "Send email that goes beyond words," does not exactly warm the cockles of my heart. Apple says, "Mail enables you to communicate in ways you've always wished you could - quickly, easily and elegantly. Add sound, pictures, and movies to your messages and - if you choose - decorate your words in picturesque fonts and bright colors." Guess they all have broadband in Cupertino.

Mail has borrowed and enhanced Eudora 5's on the fly spell checking. When you type in a word Mail doesn't recognize, the program underlines the questionable word. Simply control-click on it, and a popup menu appears offering you correct spellings to choose from. That's very cool.

With Mail, you can also drop attachments directly into your messages. Just drag a sound file, image or movie to the body of your message, and that's it. It's loaded. Your enclosure is ready for sending. Also cool.

Not as cool, in my estimation is this Microsoftian wrinkle: when you start typing in a recipient's name, Mail offers matching addresses from your AddressBook. Press the tab key to pick the one you want, and your email is addressed. Thanks, but I'd rather pick from a menu.

Mail's AddressBook also gives you digital cards on which to store your contacts' pictures, home and office street addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information (such as their birthdays and website URLs).

For some reason, Apple has decided to call Mail's filters "Rules," which seems like gratuitous revisionism.

Will I use Mail when I finally switch to OS X? Probably, at least for some of my email accounts. There is a certain logic and indisputable convenience to having an email client integrated into the OS.

However, I'm not likely to give up on the slick convenience of Nisus Email's quick send feature, and I'm pretty attached to some of the things Eudora has to offer. On the other hand, I expect the time is coming to say goodbye to Eudora Light, my faithful email servant since I started using the Internet.

It will be interesting to see whether OS X Mail will break the thrall Claris Emailer, a contemporary of Eudora Light that never appealed to me, has for some Mac users. Perhaps, but a friend of mine who is running OS X on his new TiBook is still using Emailer. Go figure.

For more information, visit Apple's Mac OS X Mail page.