Postbox – srsly?

When I still worked on mutt, I didn’t really pay that much attention to our competition at the time, and had no idea just how sorry the state of e-mail software is these days. Eventually, Apple Mail lured me into the world of GUI e-mail software, …

When I still worked on mutt, I didn’t really pay that much attention to our competition at the time, and had no idea just how sorry the state of e-mail software is these days. Eventually, Apple Mail lured me into the world of GUI e-mail software, and so I’ve been trying some of those programs for a while.

Therefore, a few observations.

Apple Mail is, in typical Apple fashion, very simple on the surface, seems optimized for casual use, and holds up surprisingly well for heavy users as well. It’s at times a CPU hog, but mostly responsive. A recently acquired bad habit concerns its plain text e-mail: The program used to send nicely formatted “format=flowed” e-mails that look good in mailing list archives. More recently, it has started to send the equivalent of really long lines (one per paragraph) — that’s rather bad style, looks bad in archives, and is just plain unnecessary.

When Thunderbird 3 came out, I figured I’d give it a try. The UI suggests that it’s optimized for heavy use, the plaintext e-mail produced is pretty. But things like the absence of useful behavior on flaky networks, lack of clear error indications (Apple Mail does that better!) didn’t bode well. And then it started indexing. And started indexing. And started indexing. For a few hours. Thanks for trying, Thunderbird!

Next try, Postbox, a commercial and pretty-looking piece of software based on Thunderbird. The indexing problem seems mostly solved (or perhaps they’ve moved it to a background thread so it doesn’t block the software for hours at a time); there’s a really nice “conversation” view for browsing long threads (evidently inspired by Gmail) which usefully pulls together messages across several folders (yay!), and it’s overall more responsive than Thunderbird. But, alas, a wrong click somewhere, and it spends some minutes to change a flag on all messages in an inbox (seriously, how long can it take to flip one bit for 10,000 messages, on current hardware?). “Reply in plain text” from the conversation view, and you see placeholders form a template that isn’t filled in. Import from Apple Mail, and you’ve got the results of a few obvious mailbox parsing errors in front of yourself. Ick! And, again, bad behavior with flaky connections, to the point of having to restart the software to actually make it fetch new mail. On the way out, I was’t able to export things into mbox format folders — another case of “how hard is this, again?”

I’m now back to Apple Mail and will continue to keep a copy of mutt around mail folders that have all my current mail.