Mail 5.1: Favorite mailboxes and Keyboard Maestro

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
September 9th, 2011 • 6:51 pm

As Matt Gemmell notes, in Lion the Mail application now has a “Favorites” bar at the top, underneath the toolbar. This bar can be customized like the one in Safari, except that you can only add single mailboxes as buttons, so you are limited by the space available.

One of the side benefits of this new feature is that it also supports keyboard shortcuts for moving your messages to these favorite mailboxes. The mailboxes are numbered in the order they appear in the bar, and you can use the command-control-n shortcut, where n is the number of the mailbox, to move the currently selected messages to that mailbox.

Me, I didn’t wait for Apple to come up with this feature to find solutions of my own. As Betalogue readers know, I am a MsgFiler convert, and I use it for most of my message moving operations.

But for really frequently used mailboxes, even MsgFiler requires too many keystrokes for my taste. So until recently, I was also still using Mail Act-On, which is a Mail plug-in that lets you define “rules“ with simple keyboard shortcuts to perform various actions, including moving messages to specific mailboxes. With Mail Act-On, I could have simple shortcuts like ctrl-U or ctrl-H to move messages to very specific, very frequently used mailboxes.

The problem with Mail Act-On is that it’s a plug-in, and Apple’s support for Mail plug-ins appears to be half-hearted at best. Typically, every new version of Mac OS X (even the incremental updates) requires updated plug-ins. Since I am part of the AppleSeed program for testing system updates, I encounter the issue all the time, almost with each new version of each update. There are ways to cheat and make plug-ins compatible when they don’t appear to be, but it’s painful to have to do it every time.

The truth is that my use of Mail Act-On is limited to a few key shortcuts for moving messages. And now with Mail 5.1, I don’t really need it anymore. Why? Because I can use Keyboard Maestro to create macros that use the same shortcuts that I used to have with Mail Act-On, and have these macros trigger the above-mentioned command-control-n shortcuts. So, while Mail’s shortcuts are limited by this number-based scheme, Keyboard Maestro actually lets me customize the shortcuts to my liking, and I don’t have to try and memorize these new number-based shortcuts instead of the ones I am used to.

I don’t have more than 10 high-frequency mailboxes, so I am OK with the limitations of the favorite mailboxes feature. I had been waiting for a feature like this for years. But in typical fashion, it took Apple way to long to actually implement it, and I ended up purchasing third-party software to implement similar schemes, which comes with its own drawbacks, namely the cost and also the fact that third-party software is not always fully supported and as integrated as built-in features.

Now, with MsgFiler and this new customized use of the favorite mailboxes bar with Keyboard Maestro, I can reduce the amount of third-party software that I use. It is still not as good as having full customization features built in and supported by Apple directly, but I cannot afford to wait for that long.


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