Talking Mail.app: Merlin Mann
Merlin MannMerlin Mann is the guy who does 43 Folders .
He uses a 17″ PowerBook that’s greatly in need of an upgrade.
HW: How long have you been using Mail.app? What other clients have you used (and why did you stop)?
MM: I’ve used Mail.app since the first non-beta of OS X I installed, although for a long time we “saw other people.” For the longest time I had this really Byzantine, IMAP-enabled system of using Mail.app for any kind of serious email work and Entourage for all other PIM-based work. I felt like one of those guys on the Ed Sullivan Show, dashing around, trying to keep all the plates spinning.
Since moving to kGTD and iCal a few weeks ago, I’m 100% off Entourage, but do use Gmail, and occasionally my provider’s web app if I’m away from home base.
I loved Eudora back in the day — it’s what I used for like 5 years starting in ‘95 — but it started to feel crufty and a bit out of date. Took me months to get used to not having all my mailboxes in separate windows — an old-school Mac practice that’s since been replaced by the ubiquitous 3-panel interface.
HW: What plugins and extensions do you use to make your email experience better?
MM: Probably the ones most geeks are using:
* MailTemplate – I would get nothing done if it weren’t for the 40 or so templates I use in this app (and which are integrated into both Mail.app and the Finder/Path Finder). Most any time I have to answer a similar email more than a couple times, I make a new template for responding. People who whine that this robs them of the uniquely entrancing quality of their handmade responses either have too much time on their hands or, more likely, never actually have tried to use templates. It’s hard for me to imagine email life without MailTamplate.
* Mail Act-On – Allows you to associate key commands with rules in Mail.app, facilitating mouse-free processing and greatly speeding up the re-organization and sorting needed to keep the old inbox at “0″.
* Mail Tags – Clever way to add spotlight metadata to specific messages. I don’t use this all too much, but I see its power for the folks who have a folksonomy (wikipedia ) they can live with.
* Mail Enhancer – An outdated (abandoned?) hack/script that adds a few nice little features, like having the Dock icon show the total number of emails unread (not _just_ the Inbox). Before Tiger destroyed its will to live, Mail Enhancer did my favorite thing ever; automagically associating signatures with any of the virtually unlimited number of “From:” addresses you use, per-account. I would kill to have this back, so if the developer is reading along and wants someone whacked in exchange for an update, the offer is on the table.
HW: What’s your favourite thing about Mail.app?
MM: I love that I can CMD-select multiple mailboxes to view the contents of more than one mailbox at a time. It’s the lack of this that makes Thunderbird a non-starter for me. Frankly, I’m amazed more mail apps don’t let you do this. It seems like such an obvious feature to me
It’s so funny. Back in the day I’d always take the piss out of Windows users for being such wussies — for only using Windows this and Windows that, and they’d always say “But, it just all works really well together,” and I’d say “Feh!” and slink off to play with the 35 crashy shareware apps I used to run the Rube Goldberg machine that was my life in the mid 90s.
The fact is, warts and all, Mail.app’s easy integration with other apps (esp. Address Book and iChat) makes it good enough for even most sophisticated users (which is not to say it’s perfect exactly…)
HW: What’s your pet hate about Mail.app?
MM: Hmm. I dunno if it’s a hate exactly, but I’m finding myself craving much more control over the interruptions that I allow into my world. I wish it were a bit easier — as in, did not require a labyrinth of handmade artisan scripts — to filter out the kind of mail that leads to which sorts of notifications.
I also wouldn’t mind more control over how it looks, I suppose.
HW: If you could tell the Apple Mail development team one thing, what would it be?
MM: You are so good-looking.
No, actually, I think I’d suggest that they try to bring the quality of Smart Folders up to where it is with Smart Playlists over in iTunes. Meaning I can base rules on other rules, plus there should be several more characteristics to filter on (beginning with “Message is Not Flagged”).
I’ve come around to the idea that like it or not, email is where people live today. Personally I think it’s daft to focus on email’s ability to constantly deliver new messages, but if I have to live in email to communicate effectively with the world, my wish list is likely to grow and grow.
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You can read other interviews with developers and Mac identities talking about their Mail.app experiences by following this tag cloud link.