Getting Back to Mac – Moving the Mail

If my move back to mac was going to be successful, one of the first hurdles I had clear was getting my mail in order. As a consultant who spends a fair amount of time on the road, the communications piece of my tool kit had to be tight and tidy. I had been using Mozilla’s Thunderbird for quite some time. Unfortunately, for the past 7 years my email had been spread between two systems: Thunderbird and Outlook. I was forced to work on Outlook in two different office environments and in both cases thought it was one of Mr. Bill’s cruelest jokes. (I mean come on, mail is basic and essential! For god’s sake get it right!) While some are critical of Thunderbird in a work environment, my experiences with it were good. I found the SPAM filters in particular to be a blessing and, excepting the lack of integrated calendering, it was perfect for my needs. When I looked at my Mac options I considered staying on Thunderbird and waiting for Mozilla’s Sunbird to get it all worked out — but I had been waiting on Sunbird for a while and still was not happy with it. Mac, however, has solutions to both email and calendaring in the standard Mail and iCal. Given the presence of those apps, I decided to go with the native Mac solution. iCal seemed fine; it met my needs. With that out of the way, I turned to assessing Mail. I fired it up, set up one or two of my low volume accounts and gave it a whirl. The initial verdict was “good, not great.” I began to have second thoughts… My complaint with the system centered on the focus of Mail — it seemed both more and less than what I needed. While Mail provides notes and To Do lists and an RSS reader, I wasn’t interested in those things; I just wanted an efficient tool for handling thousands of mail messages. (I use Stickies for my Notes & ToDos and the fabulous Brief plugin for Firefox to handle RSS). I was concerned that Mail was fine for many users but not for what I wanted. On the mail handling side of things, I was concerned about the lack of control over setting priorities and limited options for sorting mail. I also wasn’t crazy about the layout of the interface. The default implementation of Mail seemed just too basic. It was useful, but hardly a business-oriented tool by my standards. Moreover, I had migration issues to sort out as my Thunderbird now held nearly 10,000 messages and an extensive address book. My attitude toward Mail began to turn for the better after a visit to the downloads section and a bit of research. First, I downloaded and installed Letterbox, which allowed me to expand the default vertical column presentation of Mail into 3 horizontal columns. Letterbox also allowed me to add additional formatting commands which improved the readability of long lists of messages. The 3 column horizontal format also works very well with the wide MBP 15″ screen. Letterbox is free of charge. (Note that the link off the downloads page for this plugin doesn’t take you to the developer’s download page. Use this link instead.) Next, I searched out a tool that would allow me more flexibility in grouping and managing all my messages. I found and downloaded MailTags. This is the application that turned me into a Mail believer. Simply put, it allows me the ability to engage in complex grouping and mail management at a level which exceeds anything I was able to achieve with either Thunderbird or Outlook. Stand out features here include the tagging system, which then integrates with SmartFolders to allow you to set up filtering with much greater granularity. The system also improves integration with iCal and allows you to schedule message action dates, and much more. While it is still in Beta for Leopard, I am having no problems with it and look for forward to the final release. MailTags costs USD$29.95 and can be found at the developer’s site, indev software. Now that I was sold on the tools, the time came to get that big pile of messages and addresses into Mail. The Apple downloads site came to the rescue again, this time with the Eudora Mailbox Cleaner. Despite the name, the Eudora Mailbox Cleaner also moves mail from Thunderbird. The system worked well, but make sure you pay attention to the ReadMe. You do have to do some additional work once you get the messages into Mail. The only real shortcoming was that I lost sub-folders. This was not a big issue as I simply set up SmartFolders in Mail and let Mail sort it all out for me. Easy. Migrating addresses was even simpler. I just exported from Thunderbird and imported directly from Address Book. Done. So there you have it. A relatively painless migration. I have been using Mail and iCal full time for over 45 days and am totally happy with the toolset. Hope your experiences are as positive! Stayed tuned for more in the next installment… (Those of you who missed the first installment, please visit Getting back to Mac – How it all began.)

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