Will Postbox replace Apple Mail?

by Milind Alvares

Will Postbox replace Apple Mail?

by Milind Alvares on April 21, 2009

Post image for Will Postbox replace Apple Mail?

postbox-mainPostbox is a new email client that helps you keep track of all the photos, attachments, and links buried in your email, as well as organize your email. Postbox is in fact based on a good chunk of Thunderbird‘s code, a lot of its company’s founders and lead developers worked on Thunderbird or other email programs at Netscape or Mozilla. In fact, 5 seconds after launching the app, I could immediately tell that it was not a native Cocoa app.

Before we go any further though, I’d like to hold up this big red (yet invisible) beta banner I’ve made for you. It’s to show that features may change, performance may be improved, and points may be moot by the time it hits final 1.0.

Getting Started

Setting up your email accounts is easy. Just have to choose between the various presets like Gmail IMAP, MobileMe, Hotmail, and Postbox will do everything behind the scenes. Depending on the indexing route you choose, Postbox looks mostly the same as Mail in its standard inbox view. The big obvious differences however are the support for tabs, Topics (like labels or tags), and an an integrated search bar that supports Firefox-like plugins.

postbox-for-mac

From a user interface standpoint, it’s busy. There’s a whole lot of buttons and functions that easily set this in the ‘advanced mail user’ category. The default settings bring you more than what Mail would normally show you. It’s a fairly good ‘mac-like’ user interface, even though it has to look similar to its Windows cousin.

Using Email

As an email client, it is your average email application. IMAP, POP3 email support. It’s got a standard three pane layout, or an alternate wide layout (though not nearly as good as Widemail). It allows you to set folders, smart searches, assign labels, the rest of the baggage.

postbox-inspector-options

Selecting a message brings up the highlights in the inspector. It will parse through addresses and present Map links, show you a list of urls in that email, gather all pictures. You can also conduct a google search right from the search bar. Anything done here opens up Google in your browser though.

Search

Postbox is very good at search. It will do a normal search, which will spit out your emails in a list, while a Cmd+Return will spring open an expanded search view. This allows you to see what part of which email that keyword pertains to, making it easier to find your email.

postbox-search
This is not the default Leopard HUD, so I could not move it to make a better screenshot

Postbox also features a more advanced search, which allows you to enter different keywords for ‘subject’, ‘from’, and such. I don’t find it that difficult to find an email using Mail.app, so your mileage may vary.

Social Networking

Postbox aims to connect your email to the social networks we have all come to love. It supports the three biggest networks (among techies at least), which are Friendfeed, Twitter, and Facebook. It all depends on how well it’s implemented though, and I can honestly say, Postbox has got it all wrong.

postbox-twitter
I thought that message would only show up the first time. Not so.

For one, when you click on “Promote » Twitter”, it springs up a default promotional message for Postbox instead of grabbing something like the subject of that email. Perhaps this is a bug that’s going to be fixed, I’m not too sure. Same thing for Facebook and FriendFeed.

Composing Emails

The reason why I kept the “composing emails” bit after “social networks”, is because Postbox digs into your Flickr and Picasa web accounts, Google and Wikipedia, Google Maps, to allow you to send out rich HTML emails. It doesn’t feature any spotlight integration for adding attachments, instead going to the old ‘attach file’ open file dialog box route. The user interface for the sidebar is nicely cut, taking up only a thin strip when those features are not in use.

postbox-compose-new-mail

The compose window also allows other rich text editing features, topic or todo assignment, as well as the usual spellchecker features.

Apart from composing emails, one feature I find really interesting is the ability to edit emails. You can potentially edit the email subject as well as content of an email on your IMAP web server. You can also create a copy of the edit instead of overwriting what was there. The only scenario I can see this useful, is deleting a particularly huge attachment while keeping your email conversation intact.

Images, Attachments, Links

Postbox features three tabs, for displaying any links, images and attachments you might have sent or received. The images tab displays a thumbnail view of all images in your mailbox, and is especially useful for finding old content. Links and Attachments are displayed with a preview of the email that contains them. Everything is nicely arranged and I can see how this can be super useful.

postbox-images-tab

Getting Things Done

Postbox features a ‘todo’ note creation system, which lets you mark existing emails as ‘Todos’, as well as create new Todo’s. It will not replace your average getting things done application, as the functionality is too basic. It will however keep you from forgetting to reply to an email and such, as you’re always rummaging through your mailbox. The big failure of this Todo implementation is that there is no central repository for your tasks. You could sort the entire mailbox by Todos first, so that they all stay on top. The rest of your emails are sorted by date. A smart folder for Todos can also be created.

postbox-new-todo

To use or not to use

Perhaps this is the kool-aid talking, but I find Mail.app to be much better designed, functional, and useful than Postbox. It does have some nice features, but they are easily stomped over by a crowded layout, the non-native feel of the app, and general feeling of things left incomplete. Again, the team has been steadily improving their betas (yes, it’s still in beta remember?) so things might change in the near future.

Perhaps the 1.0 will be better, but for now, Postbox is nowhere close to Mail. In fact, it feels like Thunderbird with a slightly better disguised to be a Mac app. There are some features like the better search, social network integration, and the inspector that I’d like to have seen in Mail, but using Postbox for those features is not my way of doing things. If you do use Postbox instead of Apple Mail, do let us know and why.

Postbox is currently in public beta, but [rumour has it it] will be free even after it goes 1.0.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam Damon

Postbox is an incredibly stable app for a 1.0 beta release. It’s a bit slow on a G4/800, but that’s hardly the crowd the developers are targeting.

It’s definitely worth a download and trial.

   

SteveP

Please check facts. You state that it will still be free after release, but the FAQ says:

How much will Postbox cost?

Postbox is currently in the early BETA stage of development and pricing has not yet been announced.

   

Caitlin

For me, the attachment sorting is the most attractive feature by far. That’s the #1 place that Mail is found lacking. If Mail picked up a feature like that, I would never consider a switch.

   

Milind

@SteveP: Rumour has it that it’s going to be a free application even after launch. I don’t know how I could have written it as a fact though.

   

Jasper

I agree. I wanted to love Postbox but I basically decided as soon as I opened it and saw the interface. Although there are some things I don’t like about Mail (attachments, lack of customisation (I don’t want reminders in there thanks!!)), I really have never used a better email client.

   

Steve m.

mail doesn’t have an attachment search because u can search anything including attachment filenames/extensions in the “content” filter of search. Spotlight is the search that defeats all searches in all apps.
search tip of the year – finder window -> [today] [yesterday] [filename] [content] & [last week] etc. tabs will seriously aid any quick recent/pas file/mail asset recovery. finder wins functionality of the year for me, regardless of any app in the organization & functionality realm.

still think this a good start to understand development opportunities in osx v. xx

keep it up developers! we need more of you dudes!

   

David McDougal

I have to say, this is the best implementation of Thunderbird that I have seen in a long time. They have completely redone the UI, and hardcoded a number of plugins to the system. I wish that the developers would have still allowed users to easily add new plugins to the system, but you can see that function has been removed.

This is the first out of the box implementation of a desktop app that I could replace my gmail with. The only thing that I truly miss is the label system, as all desktop apps translate the labels to folder, but the webui does not translate the fact a email is in a folder to being associated with that label. This is the only thing that is holding me back from using this app fulltime.

I know that mailplane is out there, and is suppose to be the desktop version of gmail, but lets be honest it is a clunky interface, that only wraps the functions in a new UI while still showing the original page ui and so it is clunky.

I still have to say hats off to the postbox people. Keep up the awesome work, and maybe I would pay for a final release version. Right now, it is just a great implementation of a free app and free plugins. Need the value add clearly spelled out to pay for it at this point.

   

Mike

Thank you for the review. It’s an older review, but I’m just now evaluating whether to move from Mail.app.

My biggest complaint with Mail.app is that it doesn’t allow default HTML encoding for email messages. There are work arounds, such as manually selecting the body of the email message and setting the font and size to something different, which forces the email message to be formatted with proper font and size tags. If you just type a standard message and hit send, what is sent is does not include any font tag.

How well does Postbox handle text formatting for outgoing and incoming emails? Does it suffer from the same quirks as Thunderbird or have those been fixed?

   

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