How many ways can you do email on your Mac? Surprisingly, many. Sure, Mac OS X comes with Mail built in. There’s also browser email with Yahoo!, Google, and many others.
I started using Microsoft’s Entourage back in the Mac Classic days, when Apple’s Mail was, uh, well, less mature. I know why Windows users don’t desert Microsoft even faster. Once you get locked into using something there’s an element of pain to move to something else.
The latest way to do email, Mac or Windows, is with an attractive email application called Postbox, which is built upon Mozilla’s Thunderbird. If you don’t like Firefox because it smells like Windows, you probably don’t like Thunderbird for the same reason.
Postbox for Mac OS X looks like a Mac application. In fact, in many ways it looks like Apple’s Mail, but comes with a somewhat unique, uh, make that different, feature set.
Just when it looked like Microsoft was going to own everything after demolishing Netscape, the open source community got part of their act together and came up with a few attractive, competitive, more robust products.
Postbox builds on Mozilla’s Thunderbird guts by doing to email what Flock does to browsers. Make it different, improve here and there, provide a pleasing interface, enhance the feature set.
Once installed (drag and drop), Postbox looks familiar, though tantalizingly different, though not so much as to scare you away. Postbox focuses on features not handled well in Apple’s Mail.
Searching is done via the ubiquitous dark charcoal pop up windows. Email message threads are easier to follow. Messages can be tagged for easier search in the future.
There’s the necessary integration with OS X’s popular Address Book. Click on a contact and view all kinds of contact information from photo to links to email addresses.
Email tagging is an extra effort feature which, assuming you have lots of email that needs categorizing and searching, can be very handy. Click on a tag and all messages with the tag will show up.
My favorite visual features in Postbox is the Introspector Pane. Think of it as an “inspector” window within Postbox that displays inline information from any email message that you select.
Select a message with links, addresses, images, and they all line up nicely stacked in the Introspector Pane to the right of the message.
So, you’ve tried Safari 4 and don’t like the new tabs? You’re not alone, though I think they’re an improvement. Guess what? Postbox has tabs in email.
Tab your inbox, your sent email, your draft email, and more, all in a single window, including compose. All can have their own tab. Tabs are here to stay, I guess.
What’s email without a to-do list? Postbox pops up those little back windows so you can set up your own to-do list right from an email message with a single click.
Postbox does a few things behind the well ordered scene of the interface. Your messages get indexed and ready for searching.
If Flock is the first real social browser (also based on Mozilla’s Firefox), then Postbox is the first social email application. You can connect to FaceBook, Twitter, and FriendFeed. In fact, you can control your online status updates using Postbox.
Searching the web right from within Postbox is also a click away. Remember the “inspector?” There’s a version of the same thing called Compose Sidebar which shows up on the right when you compose a message.
The sidebar captures information you may need for your message, including links, email addresses, images, attachments and more.
One thing I like about Entourage and Mail is the ability to create multiple mail boxes to store messages. After a few years, those boxes stack up, get full, become cumbersome to organize. Postbox offers a way to organize messages by topics, instead of just by email account or whatever else you’ve used.
You determine what the topic is—from an event to a tag, from a business to a project. Of course, Postbox comes with the standard rich text message capability, so you can format your email, but there’s no custom templates as there is in Mail.
Yes, Virginia, there’s still spam in Postbox, but there’s also built in controls to help reduce problem mail, including malware and anti-phishing features with an automated update from a database of suspected malware or phishing sites.
If you like the Library function that stores everything in iPhoto and iTunes, you’ll like the Archive feature in Postbox, which is like another set of folders, boxes, that store older messages, and they’re all searchable.
Setting up Postbox is relatively straightforward and it easily handles accounts for MobileMe, Gmail, Yahoo!, Windows Live Hotmail and any other POP or IMAP account.
All in all, Postbox is a pleasure but missing some important email elements, and totally avoiding one feature that is a must have as an incentive for many Mac users to switch.
Postbox does not do a good a job importing Mail’s messages and mail boxes as I would like, and ditto twice for Entourage messages or mail boxes. It does import from Eudora and Communicator (is anyone still using that?).
Switching from one application to another application needs to be painless. For example, Firefox can import all your Safari bookmarks. A new email application needs the same, seamless capability. Data portability is what makes switching painless.
Postbox is attractive, fun, feature laden without being overly cumbersome with buttons and tools. I love the Inspector and Compose panes.