For many years I was a Mozilla Thunderbird user; I even used the beta builds back in 2003, long before its final 1.0 release. Though I still use it at work, where I deal with large volumes of email, at home it was overkill, and so I bought a copy of Sparrow which was simpler and lighter. Except last summer development of Sparrow basically stopped, thanks to Google taking over the Sparrow team.
Sparrow still works okay but with its future looking similar to that of Twitter’s official app I decided to start looking for alternatives. And I found one in a very unexpected place – already on my Mac.
When I switched to a Mac back in 2005, I carried on using Thunderbird, as back then I was still keen on its extensions and its flexibility, so I never bothered with Mail, which is the native email client available on all Macs. And in the almost 8 years since I’ve never bothered to revisit Mail, bar a couple of times out of curiosity when I’ve found it to be a bit over-complicated.
But then I found this article: Turning Mail.app Into the Best Mac Email App, linked from Lifehacker, which explains how to customise Mail to make it more effective. The article has a number of workflow suggestions which I don’t bother with, but it does also suggest how to simplify the interface to make it look, well, more like Sparrow.
It took some time; I have three personal email accounts (one on this domain, plus Gmail and Outlook.com) and Mail defaults to storing saved messages and drafts on local folders, so I had to teach Mail that I actually wanted to use the relevant IMAP folders for this. This involves opening each folder – which Mail confusingly calls ‘Mailboxes’ – and then marking it by clicking the Mailbox menu and using ‘Use this folder for’. Sparrow and Thunderbird both do this through Account Settings, and they both correctly configure Gmail automatically anyway.
Once done, though, I had a nice, clean and simple setup, with a unified inbox view of all three email accounts. Mail’s actually relatively efficient when it comes to system resources and, broadly speaking, uses about the same amount of RAM as Sparrow did.
Maybe I should have taken a fresh look at Mail sooner. It gets an update in each new version of OS X, and doesn’t cost anything extra.