Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac

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postbox email clientPostbox is an email management application for Windows and Mac powered by the Mozilla platform. Surely that’s a given, since it’s made by one of the original developers of Mozilla’s Thunderbird.

But how does it compare with Apple’s Mail client?

I’ve managed to get hold of the latest beta version (beta five) of Postbox and I’m taking it for a spin. Before we begin, I should state for the record that the only email manager I’ve used is Apple Mail and I’m going to use that as the yardstick on which Postbox shall be judged.

So, as that age-old saying goes – without further ado, I give you Postbox.

Even though it is still in its beta stages of development, it launches very quickly. Compared to Apple Mail, this thing fires up like a rocket! The general view is pretty decent. Everything is sort of laid out nicely. Actually, to be brutally honest, the interface does look a bit like Apple Mail. There are several new additions, though.

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One of them is the built-in Inspector on the bottom-right hand corner. It displays all inline links and attachments (if any). Although, I don’t quite see the point of having the Inspector – if there are any links within the email, I would know to click on them. I don’t need to be shown the links again. I know they’re there. Same goes with the attachments. Moving on.

Open in new tab

Another new addition which catches my eye is the tab bar along the top. Double-clicking on an email opens it in a new tab. This gives the email client a browser-y feel. One could say that it feels slightly cumbersome. I would rather prefer for it to pop-up in a new window.

On the right side of the tab bar are shortcuts for quick searching. Attachments, Images, Links and Contacts will bring about separate new tabs to show you all of the said items. I’ll cover these views in slightly more detail as we move along.

I was set up!

Setting up my IMAP GMail account was a piece of cake compared to Apple Mail. Postbox only asked me for the type of account (GMail POP, IMAP; Yahoo Plus or MobileMe), my name and email address. Then as it logged into my account, it asked for my password.  Then boom, it showed me all of my mail.

Here’s where it differs from Apple Mail. Apple Mail will automatically download and store all of my mail for offline reading as soon as it manages to log into my account. It doesn’t care if there are 3,000 or 30,000 messages, it will download everything by default.

In Postbox, I get to choose which mailboxes get downloaded for offline viewing, if any. To be fair, Apple Mail only does that to improve searching through the messages. That said, it is the same scenario in Postbox – it can only index messages which have been downloaded.

You’ve got mail

When composing new mail, I noticed several nice implementations.

To the right of the Compose window, there are five interesting icons: Find Attachments, Find Images, Find Links, Find Places and Find References (plainly a dictionary).

The first three are pretty useful. It allows you to search for attachments, images and links used in previous messages and import them into the one currently being composed. Find Places is a neat addition – it lets you input a destination and attach that into the message. The recipient can then click on it, which brings up Google Maps and is able to find driving directions to that place.

The Crown Jewel

One of the many key features which makes Postbox so anticipated is its ability to manage media i.e. attachments and images. Let’s head back to the tab bar which plays host to the quick searches.

Attachments, quick search. Clicking on this will bring up the attachments viewer. It’s just a list of all the attachments in every email, provided all the messages have been indexed.

This is even more impressive – the images viewer.  It lays out all of the images in every email as thumbnails, allowing quick browsing of all the pictures and photos that have been sent and received. At the moment of writing, the images viewer doesn’t live refresh even after new images are indexed. The viewer has to be closed and reopened in order to be refreshed.

Next, the links viewer. Postbox grabs all the links from all my messages and displays them as a list with a short excerpt of the message body.

And finally, the contacts viewer. Postbox collects all of the email addresses from the mails which have been sent and received and lists them out like a contact sheet. The context menu within the contact viewer is the unsung hero, really. Right-click on any contact and you’ll be able to bring up all of their messages, attachments, images and links in separate tabs. That’s miles quicker than searching in Apple Mail.

Speaking of context menus, right-clicking a highlighted part of any email message brings up a very different and rather sophisticated menu.

As you can see, you can easily share the highlighted text on Twitter, Facebook or FriendFeed; or search on a variety of search engines and Wikipedia. In my opinion, it’s not as much a necessity as it is an accessibility.

Now, what I don’t like about Postbox

It’s too complicated. Is it a browser? Or is it an email client with an identity crisis? A simpler application that works well will be heaps and bounds better than a complicated one which does everything mediocrely.

The Inspector shows previews of images but not documents. Maybe it’s something the developers overlooked and hopefully they implement it in the final version.

At a certain speed, scrolling through messages becomes very jerky. Also, there isn’t a unified mailbox which shows all of my mail. That’s very possibly a deal-breaker since I have 5 email accounts to deal with on a daily basis.

Lastly and surely the most saddening – my beautiful email signature cannot be used with Postbox. It only accepts text signatures.

Spring finally comes

I’m willing to overlook most of the shortcomings of Postbox since I’m only testing out a beta version of this application. I hope that the final product is not as disappointing (email signatures, please) and at the same time, is less complicated and more to the point.

Postbox will be available for Windows and Mac starting February 9th as they launch their public beta. Sign up on their website to be notified when the public beta is ready. You can also get to see some higher-resolution screenshots over there.

Impressed with Postbox? Are you eager to try it out? What do you think – will it ruffle some of Apple Mail’s feathers? Comment it out.

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