Panther’s Mail: Making simple things complicated

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
January 27th, 2004 • 11:20 pm

The fact that there is no way to browse or modify the list of existing mailboxes in Mail without selecting them in the mailbox drawer on the side, which in turn causes the display in the main viewing area of the Mail Viewer window to change, continues to be a major design flaw in Panther’s Mail application.

For example, take a very simple situation. You start a new email discussion with someone and want to archive it in one of your mailboxes. You don’t have a mailbox for this person yet, so you need to create a new one. And you want to create it inside, say, your “Friends” mailbox folder.

The trouble is that the spelling of this person’s name is a bit hard to memorize, because of weird Spanish diacritics or for whatever reason. You want to create a mailbox that bears this person’s name, but you need to keep this person’s mail in full view while doing this, so that you can refer to it and make sure you got the spelling right.

The trouble is, as soon as you click on the “Friends” mailbox folder, which is the only way to create a new mailbox inside that folder, the display in the main viewing area changes from the contents of your “In” box (where the messages from this person are) to the contents of the “Friends” mailbox, so that you can no longer see the name of the person in question in the main viewing area in order to verify the spelling. And it is impossible to prevent Mail from doing this.

So you choose to try a different approach. You go back to the “In” box, and double-click on one of this person’s email, so that you can see his name (along with the rest of the message) in a separate window. Then you click on the “Friends” mailbox again.

It still doesn’t work, because clicking on the “Friends” mailbox in the mailbox drawer causes the entire Mail Viewer window to come back to the foreground and hide the separate message window with this person’s name.

Now the only solution you have is to resize and move the windows so that both the Mail Viewer window and the message window can be seen at the same time — which of course requires a fairly big screen to begin with! Never mind the fact that the main viewing area in the Mail Viewer window is a big empty white space, since your “Friends” mailbox itself doesn’t contain any messages. (It’s just a container folder.) It’s a huge waste of screen real estate, but since you cannot select a mailbox in the mailbox drawer without viewing its contents in the main viewing area (even if it doesn’t contain anything), there’s nothing you can do about it.

Then you try a third approach. Instead of trying to view both the main window and the message window at the same time, you try to select that person’s name in the message window and copy the name to the Clipboard, so that you can paste it in the new mailbox’s name field once you’ve created it. It’s not an ideal solution, because usually you name the mailbox for Joe Smith’s message “SMITH Joe”, with the last name first and in capital letters and the first name last. And usually that’s not the way the person’s name appears next to their email address in the “From:” field. But nevermind. At least you’ll be able to paste and see the name while you are typing the proper mailbox name.

The trouble is that, when you go to the “From:” field to try and select that person’s name, you can’t! As soon as you click on the name, the entire “From:” field turns into that blue thing that’s supposed to make things easier for you. If you do a “Copy” command now, the entire field is going to be copied to the Clipboard, including the full name and the email address, which you do not want to copy! There is a contextual menu for this blue thing, but it only offers the option to “Copy Address to Clipboard”, not to “Copy Name to Clipboard”. So you’re out of luck. Either you copy the entire field, including both name and email address, or you don’t copy anything.

Pardon me for thinking that this whole process is highly absurd. I am just trying to keep this person’s name in full view while I am creating a new mailbox for him!

7 Responses to “Panther’s Mail: Making simple things complicated”

  1. Mike Lauder says:

    I’m not too sure what use it would be to be able to select a folder without showing the contents. I can see where you’re coming from on this but surely it’s good enough to be able to create a new folder at the root level while looking at the relevant email and then move it to the correct location.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I believe I took enough time to explain what use it would be to me :).

    First of all, if folders in the mailbox drawer can be pure containers without being a mailbox themselves (note the different between blue and white folder icons in that drawer), then clearly it’s an indication that at least some folders are not meant to have their contents displayed in the main viewing area. (They don’t contain anything.)

    Then there is the fact that people regularly need to rename, reorganize, move their folders around, like they do in the Finder. For all these tasks, displaying the folder’s contents is not only unnecessary, it’s an obstacle, because it slows things down, it hides possibly valuable information (see my example), etc.

    Mail is the only email client I know which doesn’t offer a separate view for mailbox folders where they can be renamed, reorganized, moved around, etc. without viewing their contents.

  3. Mike Lauder says:

    I understand what you are saying but initially I think you were saying that it would be good to be able to select a folder but continue to view what you were previously viewing. By its nature this requires two window which is something you didn’t want.

    As far as organizing folders is concerned, it would be great to be able to do it in a window as you can in Entourage. Fiddling about in a drawer isn’t really all that great which is why Camino and Omniweb now have their bookmarks in a Safari style window arrangement.

    The solution to your initial problem looks like it was meant to be implemented but hasn’t been. If you click the + icon at the bottom of the drawer the dialogue asks you to name the folder and to select a location. I don’t have any IMAP accounts so I’m not sure if this gives access to server-side folders but on my computer I can only create a folder at the route level. I’m sure it would be very easy to give a list of all folders just like Safari does for bookmarking so that you can create it wherever you like without deselecting the email you’re reading.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Right, I agree that it cannot be done with the drawer and needs to be done in a separate window. But it would be a window that would take up much less room than the Mail Viewer, because it would only need to be about the same width at the mailbox drawer. So it would be easy to open it on the side on the same screen. That’s what the “Mailboxes” window looks like in both Eudora and Mailsmith.

    And I also agree that a solution to my specific problem (creating a new folder inside an existing folder without selecting that existing folder in the drawer) could be made available through the “Action” menu at the bottom of the drawer (in Panther’s Mail). But right now the solution is not available. So my problem persists.

  5. Mike Lauder says:

    Fair enough mate. It would be good to see Apple getting these things sorted out. They were always the leader in usability but although they still hold that position they are slipping. From many accounts it seems as though some of the problems have come directly from the Next crowd. Even the most Mac-like things are starting to go amiss: Dialogue boxes that must be read in their entirety are becoming much more common. Very Windows. Bad.

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    Good to know — but it’s not exactly intuitive and too error-prone (especially if you have a folder hierarchy that’s several levels deep, as I do). What I’d like to see Apple do is take the visual approach to its logical conclusion, and provide a stand-alone “Mailboxes” window where things can be done visually.

  7. Patrick Wynne says:

    You can create a mailbox inside another mailbox by entering the hierarchy as a path in the creation dialog.

    So, with the message window containing the person’s name in front, select Mailbox > New… and enter, e.g. “Friends/John Doe”. This will create a “John Doe” mailbox inside the “Friends” mailbox without having to click on the Friends mailbox or bringing the mail viewer window to the front.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.