Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac

Jackson Chung 04-02-2009

Postbox 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.

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox general layout

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.


Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox inspector

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.

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox tab bar


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.

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox compose new mail

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.

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox attachment view

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.

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox images view

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.

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox links view

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.

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox contact

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

Postbox: An Alternative Email Client For Mac postbox context 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 How to Generate Pro Email Signatures for Free Creating a professional email signature can be daunting, but this completely free tool will generate a beautiful one for you -- no strings attached! Read More 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.

Related topics: Apple Mail, Desktop Email Client, Email Tips.

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  1. Saurabh
    February 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

    It's a gud tool for managing the mails.and provide Gud formats for sending mails.

  2. luca Filigheddu
    March 31, 2009 at 3:38 am

    Hey, you can use that signature! There are lots of tips to use it on Thunderbird, then Postbox will recognize it automatically.

  3. Dan Lovejoy
    February 18, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    It's amazing and quite sad what anonymity has done to our public discourse.

    I have been using Postbox for a little more than a week and am moderately displeased with it, but I'm not sure I can live without its features. It's quite slow to load messages, and the reading pane is actually quite un-Apple like. Text rendering, in my eyes, is quite ugly. (The Thunderbird engine is all too readily visible.) Conversation view is unintuitive - but perhaps that's inevitable - I don't think Google's conversation view is very good either.

    That said, it's better than Entourage and its search and attachment features are way ahead of Mail. I suspect I'll stick with it as they refine it. It's a very good first iteration.

  4. Leigh McCulloch
    February 17, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Good review. I'm checking out this Postbox application now :).

    P.S. You guys who are complaining tonnes: seriously, grow up.

    • kgro
      February 18, 2009 at 3:14 am

      Dude, you are giving the thumbs up to the review only because you just found out about the actual product. This is where you are missing the point. The purpose of a review is not an introduction, but the evaluation, assessment! In fact the word "review" itself kind of makes it obvious, that it is certainly not the first viewing.

      • Leigh McCulloch
        February 18, 2009 at 5:27 am

        The author reviewing the product is entitled to review it however he sees fit. This isn't obviously a technical review where specs, performance, and functionality are drilled and detailed.

        I enjoyed the review, and it was a good lead in to exploring the software myself. Had this review not existed, I wouldn't have discovered the software.

        • kgro
          February 18, 2009 at 11:23 am

          I disagree - this is a public commercial blog and with the status comes the responsibility. I don't think you would enjoy much if CNN or BBC at some point would give bogus reports and say we are the channel and we do reports the way we see fit. This is the reason behind blogs' lack of credibility - there is no consistency in objectiveness and professionalism. The stuff you are talking about is fit for personal blog.

          Mind you, there are plenty of sites, that give pretty good idea about new products on the market. The biggest blog on everything Apple is TUAW, by the way.

          Strange how many people have comfortably turned ignorance from a vice to an excuse.

        • Jackson
          February 23, 2009 at 12:40 pm

          At which point does a review have to conform to the opinions of the public? The purpose of a software review is to test out the application and determine if it does what it sets out to do. My review serves as an introduction to those who didn't know about Postbox and its features as well as its weaker points.

          Can you please list the bogus reports or conspiracies I'm spreading? I'm very interested to find out what they are.

        • Claire
          August 27, 2009 at 5:27 am

          If I didn't like the way CNN reported the news, I WOULDN'T WATCH IT. I suggest you use the same notion to choose what you browse on the internet.

  5. Travis Quinnelly
    February 17, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Jackson, I have to point out that it IS possible to embed a beautiful signature into Postbox.
    From the time I could download the beta, I've noticed how much the backend (like you mentioned) was similar to Thunderbird. That said, if you go into Account Settings, the very first page of settings there is a box that says "Attach this Signature". What I've done is to create a simple .html file that has my signature the way I want it to show up, and pointed to that file. Now all my emails have my wonderful html signature. :)

    • Jackson Chung
      February 19, 2009 at 5:22 am

      When I tried it, I could only attach text files. Maybe they implemented it finally. Thanks Travis

  6. Jim
    February 13, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Wow. You people are BRUTAL. Try a little civility.

  7. kgro
    February 12, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    >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.

    since when the ignorance has been accepted as a judge?

    >without further adieu

    dude, "adieu" means "bye" in French! You are an ignorant chap, aren't you...

    >Actually, to be brutally honest, the interface does look a bit like Apple Mail.

    does it now? What does look similar to Apple Mail to you? Is it the minimize button? Or the status bar? Or is it some other MacOS standard GUI element? Please, stop talking about things you have no clue about

    Then there are contradictions about uselessness of the link and usefulness thereof; the announcement that tabs give "browser-y" feel to the client; again, the complete ignorance about the IMAP Gmail setup and why there is no automatic option in the Apple Mail (well, Sherlock, Gmail has introduced it's IMAP after Apple Mail heavy update and before Postbox release) and other nonsense.

    Shortly, a very poor review and the author shall not be allowed close to any publishing environments. It also seems, that the author should be banned from using email - you are one of those idiots, who bloat emails by stupid signatures, that are hard to read on mobile devices. Totally agree with Mr. Hunt above.

    And now, without further ado ... adieu!

    • Jackson
      February 12, 2009 at 6:11 pm

      kgro, thanks for pointing out my ignorance. Without people like you, I don't think I can ever grow to be a better person.

      I shall attempt to follow-up on the point which is even worth thinking about: I don't understand your comments about the relationship between Gmail's IMAP and Apple Mail. All I said was that Postbox was easier to set up comparatively. And I stand by it. Did I say that there wasn't an automatic IMAP setup in Apple Mail?

  8. Isacc Hunt
    February 9, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Mulder, you sound like a complete asshole! I be you sit around all day playing with your cock and waiting for things to complain about! LMAO

  9. Mulder
    February 4, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    The idea that Postbox "fires up like a rocket" is deeply flawed. Launch times are dependent on the type and speed of the processor in your Mac, so unless you're prepared to conduct tests using comparably equipped PPC and Intel-based Macs, your review is not worth anything.

    It provides no objective or comparative information upon which to base any conclusions.

    If you're going to be engaging in this type of "review" you need to disclose all the details up-front before you tell us about any application, as well as doing the same tests on both types of Mac systems.

    • Jackson
      February 12, 2009 at 6:14 pm

      Mulder, do you know who you remind me of? Have you ever watched "The Big Bang Theory" that's playing on CBS? You totally remind me of Sheldon! He also takes what everyone says literally.