Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 arrives at the end of October, tempting us all with the powerful new Outlook 2011 email client (formerly called Entourage)--but the Home & Business Edition of the suite is $199. So why not take a second look at Mail, the free email client that Apple includes with every Mac? Mail is a capable application, but Apple likes to keep its software simple, so it lacks the advanced features of Outlook 2011 or even Entourage 2008. But with a few tips and some extra pieces of inexpensive software up your sleeve, you can beef up Apple Mail to be just as powerful as Microsoft’s email programs.
Difficulty Level: Easy
What You Need:
>> Mail (included with Mac OS X)
>> Various optional plug-ins and add-ons (prices vary, see below for details)
Mail Act-On ups the ante with Outbox rules.
Mail Act-On ($24.95, indev.ca) takes setting rules for your email to a whole new level. You can quickly create complex sets of conditional rules using and/or logic, manually apply groups of rules to any selected set of messages, and undo any rule that you mistakenly applied. It even lets you assign rules to outgoing messages so you don’t have to rely on searching your Sent Mail folder. Control your rules with keyboard shortcuts or through Mail Act-On’s floating window.
Control rules with key commands or this floating popup.
Flagit makes it easy to add colors and custom tags to your messages.
To quickly add colorized, customized flags to your email messages, like Entourage’s similar Assign Category function does, you need Flagit ($15, tastyapps.com). By default, Mail only includes one kind of flagging, but Flagit gives you more options, easily accessed in the contextual menu when you right-click a message.
MailTags puts a whole new world of organization at your fingertips in the right margin of every email message.
Sorting mail into folders works, but you can’t put an individual message in more than one folder. Tagging is the solution. Mail doesn’t natively offer a tag feature, but MailTags ($29.95, indev.ca) lets you append tags, keywords, projects, priorities, and notes to all of your messages.
MailHub adds a new toolbar to Mail, which makes it easy to file, delete, or schedule individual messages or entire message threads.
If you want a reminder to take action on an email at a later date, MailTags lets you link your emails to events and tasks in iCal. MailTags also modifies Mail’s list view, smart mailboxes, and rules, so that you can customize all of those elements to recognize the extra tags that you’ve created. If you just need an easier way to file your messages and schedule reminders, check out the less expensive MailHub ($19, hungerfordroad.com).
Give yourself floating notifications whenever new email messages arrive.
Entourage and Outlook have a floating notification window that appears when you receive new email, giving you a preview of each message without making you leave the application you’re working in. You can add this same feature to Mail by installing Mail.appetizer (donations requested, bronsonbeta.com) or GrowlMail (free, growl.info). Both of these programs offer much more customizability than Microsoft’s notifications.
One glance at Mail's Dock icon tells you everything you need to know about the state of your inbox.
If a floating notification window isn’t enough for you, you’ll love DockStar ($15, ecamm.com), which supercharges both your Mail Dock icon and the menu bar at the top of your screen. You can add up to five customizable badges that display the count of unread messages, flagged messages, junk messages, new RSS articles, notes, and to-dos--for any accounts or any folders that you choose.
Next Page: Soup Up Apple Mail continued »
WideMail moves your preview pane to the right of the message list.
Other email programs (cough, cough--Microsoft’s) let you display the preview pane to the right of the message list instead of underneath it. WideMail (donations accepted, daneharnett.com) and Letterbox (free, harnly.net) let you move Mail’s preview pane to the right as well, making more efficient use of your display.
MiniMail's Lilliputian interface actually lets you see and reply to all of your messages.
If you enjoy using iTunes’ Mini Player to keep your music handy without taking over your entire workspace, you’ll want to check out MiniMail ($13, indev.ca). It’s just like the Mini Player but for Mail instead.
Unlike Entourage and Outlook, Mail follows its own guidelines for whether an attachment should display inline (as in, you see the entire attachment right in the message) or as an icon (as in, you have to double-click the attachment to view it). To toggle an attachment’s display method, right-click the attachment within your unsent message and choose View As Icon or View In Place. To force attachments to always display as icons, use this Terminal command:
defaults write com.apple.mail DisableInlineAttachmentViewing -bool yes
You can finally get a handle on your attachments with Mail Attachments iconizer.
For even greater control over your attachments, Mail Attachments Iconizer ($15, lokiware.info) lets you specify whether your files should always display as icons or only after they exceed a specific size. It also fixes Mail’s behavior of always trying to render PostScript files (which can freeze Mail), and forces Mail to respect the “content disposition” that a sender’s email client requests.
Rocketbox is the most powerful search utility that we've found for Mail.
Mail can search your messages with its built-in Spotlight tool, but Rocketbox ($15, getrocketbox.com) is even better and faster. Rocketbox gives you suggestions as you type (think Safari’s search field), and it also filters your searches, restricting your queries to a specific time frame, person, or flag (replied, forwarded, flagged, and so on). Inline previews of your search results even highlight the matching search term. Best of all, Rocketbox features an advanced query language so you can easily find things like “cat OR house NOT dog”.
Auto-correction is one of the many features that Typinator adds.
Entourage automatically corrects commonly misspelled words while you type. You can enable this feature in Snow Leopard’s Mail (Edit > Substitutions > Text Replacement), but Mail uses the text substitution library in Mac OS 10.6’s Language & Text system preference, which shockingly ships with no words in it! Tidbits has an AutoCorrect Dictionary for Mail (free, db.tidbits.com/article/10567), but it’s tricky for the average user to install. Typinator (20 euros, ergonis.com) and Spell Catcher ($30, rainmakerinc.com) are user-friendly utilities that offer AutoCorrect functions.