As is usual for me, this is a long story, and it’ll take a little while for me to get to the point.
So, n the days of the Classic Mac OS, which seems a century ago (and more or less it was), I used Claris Emailer as my email client of choice. It was originally created by Fog City Software and acquired by Apple’s subsidiary Claris, which also (and still) publishes FileMaker.
I settled upon Emailer because of its support not just for regular Internet email, but to such online services as AOL and CompuServe. Indeed, it was reportedly the only email client licensed to manage AOL. As a former member of AOL’s forum staff, at the time this was the best possible solution.
To me, the features beyond the basics were not important. Being able to manage my growing collection of messages was upfront and center.
Now I can’t make any guesses as to why Emailer went under, beyond lack of sales, or just Steve Jobs’ desire to fine-tune the company of which he was CEO and make the product lineup simpler and more understandable. So the final version, 2.0v3, arrived in 1998. While it continued to function under the Classic Environment under Mac OS X, that too was discontinued after version 10.4 Tiger.
Long before that, however, I had been seeking alternatives.
For a while, I chose Microsoft’s Outlook Express, which had a reasonable set of features and was a free download. Indeed, when Emailer perished, some members of its development team went to Microsoft, bringing along some feature parity. Still, it had its issues, the major one of which was frequent database corruption. It was also a resource hog.
Come Mac OS X (now macOS), Apple bundled its own email app, called simply Mail. While it seemed all new with the arrival of Apple’s Unix-based OS, it had a long history, it actually originated with Jobs’ other computer company, where it was known as NeXT Mail.
At the start, Mail had a bare-bones feature set, but it seemed reliable enough, which is why I adopted it early in the game. Naturally it supported such Apple features that were known then as Address Book, iChat, and iCal. It also sported its own rules feature, and a proprietary junk mail filter, which exists to this very day.
With each succeeding macOS release, Apple continued to flesh out Mail. While it could stall out at times, it was usually reliable, with an all-too-simple, accessible interface.
As for Microsoft, in moving to Mac OS X, it added a variation to its business email app, Outlook, known as Entourage, to the package that featured Excel, PowerPoint and Word. It took most of its influence from Outlook Express, and added a serviceable contact manager. But it didn’t quite cater to the needs of the business community, because it did not fully support Exchange email.
Over the years, Microsoft continued to refine its feature set, enhancing Exchange support and, by 2011, it morphed into Outlook. Over the years, it would share more and more features that brought it closer to the Windows version. You see, in those days, Microsoft released Mac versions of its Office productivity apps a year or two later than the Windows version, which also had a larger feature set.
At first, Outlook for Mac’s interface remained serviceable. It had all the features one might expect in a business email client if you weren’t into flourishes that only power users care about.
Alas, Encourage for Mac and its successor inherited some of the worst features of Outlook Express, including feature bloat, poor performance, and that dreaded unstable database. For years, I couldn’t use it for more than a brief period before those dreaded launch messages about corruption reared their ugly heads.
Office has become Office 365, and Mac and Windows versions are mostly on a par. Over the years, Microsoft has slimmed down Outlook and attempted to refine its interface. It’s awful ribbon replaced the standard toolbar, but the latest version has a neater interface with a simple toolbar. Back to basics.
When it comes to basics, in its efforts to ease the transition from Apple Mail, it has shed features. At one time you could set Trash to automatically delete messages after a period of time, the better to slim the size of your account. Now you can’t. It has to be done manually. In addition, Junk Email Preferences is pared down to the ability to add addresses to a blacklist, to block them. You still have to delete items in the Junk folders manually.
It’s good that the email providers I use, PolarisMail and IONOS, both offer the ability to delete Junk after a given period. That is a decent substitute. But not the lack of auto-deletion of Trash.
To this day, Microsoft has yet to do anything with a key message management feature. So when you delete a message from the list, rather than taking you to the next message, if there is one, to focus turns to the previous message. It’s enough to get you into the habit of reading newer email first, which makes even less sense.
In case you’re wondering, I have complained to Microsoft about this questionable approach from time to time. I remember encountering their Entourage developers periodically at Macworld Expos and pressing my case. At least I could talk to the right people. With the expiration of that event, that door was closed.
At least I don’t confront database corruption anymore.
With a fancy new interface, I do like the basic look and feel of Outlook except for its feature lapses and navigation glitch. But I mostly stick with Mail’s serviceable, utilitarian interface on my Mac, because it is capable of automatically deleting both Junk and Trash messages after a given number of days. In the iOS and iPadOS versions, there’s the option to automatically remove Deleted Messages after a day, a week, or a month; there is no comparable choice for Junk.
For now, I stick with Mail. I’ve grown used to it. It stutters from time to time with larger numbers of messages, but remains efficient and has the features I need. Microsoft has made Outlook fairy quick overall, and I understand its desire to clean up the interface. But this was done at the expense of removing features that have to be useful to more than one person.
Now with social networks such as Facebook and, while it lasts, Twitter, some have passed email apps behind. Not me. I still find it much easier to manage all or most of my messages in a single app. To me, Mail remains the lesser of two evils. But Microsoft could change that with just a few refinements.
And, yes, I realize email is destined to die some day, but hopefully not too soon.
THE FINAL WORD
Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.
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