I was never a fan of email clients. When I was 13 years old I had just learned HTML and was really getting into computers. Things were going well until I tried to learn how to use Microsoft Outlook. SMTP servers? POP3, IMAP? Wah? Well today I know all about that stuff but have been using webmail anyway even though I have a perfectly good mail application in Apple’s Mail.
So to be as efficient as possible and as not to neglect any app on my hard drive (I’m notorious for keeping track of which of my apps I use frequently, how useful each app is, etc. and deleting any app that is no longer necessary or has a more attractive alternative) I began using Mail.app. Its a great app. I don’t really see anything wrong with it but I can see how some people would. I may or may not be in the same boat as them. I’m trying to figure out if Apple’s Mail is the best email client for me. To help me decide I checked out three other email clients; Unblab, Postbox, and Thunderbird and here is the verdict.
Apple’s Mail app comes with OS X. I haven’t seen it grow from the beginning but from what I read it started out as a fairly awful program. Mail is for users like me. I have 3 email accounts - one is my personal email that only a select few get (haven’t had one spam email yet), the other is the address I give to websites to register and gets a fair amount of spam but nothing overwhelming, and the third is the email address for this website (see contact link at the bottom of the page if you want to email me) which I just opened but don’t really care if it gets spammed. I actually have a 4th but I don’t use it. Its my email address for the previous address of this website (version2point1). Managing these accounts with Mail is nothing major. Its not the easiest app to work with but it really doesn’t hinder me. I can see email from all my accounts or filter the emails to only show emails from one account at a time on the fly. I can set up smart folders to hang on to emails depending on the criteria I set and search my inboxes one at a time or all at once. Setting up Mail to send and retrieve email is relatively easy. Newbies may get frustrated trying to find the required mail server information form their webmail service but this is something standard. Most email clients need you to manually type in your details. I know a lot of apps can do it with your username and password nowadays but its still not out of the ordinary. Gmail is great when it comes to this as it gives you the server information right after you sign up and makes it readily available to you online. Apple’s Mail.app is great app and does the job. I may need to move on to something else in the future but for now Mail is the perfect fit.
Thurnderbird is Mozilla’s email client. You know that if Mozilla is behind it then its most likely good (can’t say that for the Mozilla based Songbird though… still slightly slow). Thunderbird is what Mail could be if it went to the gym every morning instead of sleeping in. Thunderbird gives you all the features of Mail plus tagging. Tagging is an essential feature not only for email but for working on a computer in general. I have a 250GB hard drive, filled with around 80GB of crap. A good chunk is my iTunes library but there are a ton of other important files like web documents, PDFs, photos (speaking of photos, look for my post on why iPhoto isn’t so great and I’ll also review Picasa for Mac soon), homework (MS Word, Pages, plain text) and more. Its important to be able to tag files for easy retrieval just as its important to tag emails that you may not want to act on at the moment. Besides this Thunderbird is much like Mail. I like Thunderbird’s user interface, very intuitive. Adding your accounts to Thunderbird is as easy as selecting a service, typing your username and password, and letting Thunderbird do the rest.
This a newcomer to the email client game. Postbox is an email client that is not a free Mac app. While it is still in beta you can get it for Windows, Mac, and not Linux (unfortunately). Postbox looks promising and almost worth the money. The interesting feature that makes it so unique is its ability to organize your emails not only by text but by their attachments. Postbox downloads and archives any attachment you receive and indexes it. I personally don’t worry too much about attachments but a lot people need a way of managing all the attachments they get. I can see this being a time-saver. People won’t have to manually deal with attachments. I could see people wasting time downloading the attachments, organizing the downloads into folders or whatever, then having a hard time finding the attachment again. This is where tagging comes into play again. Postbox supports tagging just like Thunderbird. So to understand how this app could help you, picture this: You’re working on a big project and you’re swamped. You get a thousand emails a day (well, not quite but you get the picture) and many of them contain files necessary to do your work. While you’re working on something else Postbox is in the background downloading your mail and its attachments. You check your mail and find some of the attachments you need to work. You tag them and get distracted. When you come back to your desk you need to find one of those attachments you were looking at earlier but where is it? Just search for what you tagged it with. (On a side note, it is very important to know how to tag a file properly.You should use several tags. I tag in this way: I use words that describe the file in plain language then I add tags that describe the file type and the category of the document. By category I mean an HTML file for my site’s homepage would be under “website, HTML, *part of file name*, home, homepage, site files, site, files”. A photo from my overcrowded photos folder would look like this: “personal photos, funny, retarded, monkey, pictures, *folder name*, *file name*”. Get it?)
This is an app I’m really excited about. Unblab promises to pretty much be the best email client in ever. They haven’t released a beta yet which makes me pretty mad. I’ve been on their beta signup list since January and I’ve used my blog as well as Twitter and other means to promote them because their site says that beta invitations are conditional on generating hype. I don’t know how they can really tell or if its even fair but I tried. Unblab’s goal is to help you focus on what’s important. It has this newspaper type of layout where all your emails are displayed on a grid as a thumbnail. You can read whatever text fits in the preview window and decide what do work on. Unblab claims to work on any free webmail service. I’m not so sure about this. Please correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure Yahoo! for one doesn’t allow you to use an email client with their free service. Unblab implies that you can do it with their product but also implies you can’t. If you watch their little slideshow on their site they list all (not all, but the most popular of all) the services you that you can connect to using nothing more than an email and password and the Yahoo! logo is the Yahoo! Plus logo, not the free one. There are a couple more that say plus on them too. The rest of the site implies that its the free services they’re talking about. If you search for information on Unblab you’ll undoubtedly find the majority of people are under the impression that Unblab will be able to connect to free webmail services that currently don’t allow you to use an email client. I’m skeptical of being able to use the free services but I have Gmail for two of my accounts and my own @leftofbill email address for another but I was hoping to be able to use my Yahoo! account with Unblab so I could have all 4 inboxes easily accessible in one program. I was under the impression that Unblab would be free but I’m not sure about that now. It seems like too good an app to be free. It bills itself as a revolutionary email application so I want to assume there’ll be a fee.
If you aren’t a power user you can get along just fine with Mail. If you like new toys then by all means test out one of these other apps. Power users will most likely want either Postbox or Unblab. If you’re really a power user then you could probably even make Mail work for you by leveraging less often used features with Applescript.