Mac OS X’s Mail: Dangerous behaviour in ‘In’ mailbox when moving or deleting messages

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 9th, 2003 • 10:12 pm

It’s not the first time this has happened to me: While Mail is in the process of receiving (and filtering) new mail or updating the list of messages appearing in my “In” mailbox, I SELECT a message (Message #1) that is already visible in the list of messages and I drag it to a mailbox where I want to move it.

When I look at my list a few moments later, after Mail has finished updating its contents, I realize that Message #1 is still there in the list. I go to the mailbox where I thought I had moved Message #1, and I see that Mail has moved another message to the mailbox! It might be another message that was already visible in the list, but it certainly was not the one I had highlighted before dragging it and dropping it on the mailbox icon.

This affects me regularly, no doubt because I manage 18 different email accounts with Mail, and Mail always needs a few seconds to UPDATE the list of the contents of my “In” box after I have clicked on another mailbox in the drawer in ORDER to view its contents, and then clicked on the “In” mailbox icon again. I can literally see Mail gradually adding to the list until it is complete and includes mail from all 18 account-specific “In” mailboxes.

Mail is designed to UPDATE the contents of the Viewer Window on-the-fly, but when “on-the-fly” takes a few seconds, you’d better not try to do anything with any of the messages that are already visible in the list of messages!

This is, of course, on a dual 1.25 GHz, so I suspect the problem is even worse on slower machines. OTOH, I also suspect that people with a smaller number of accounts are not as affected as I am. Still, I imagine that it just takes a handful of accounts to cause this problem to occur and Mail to move the wrong message(s).

The problem is even more annoying/dangerous if you are deleting messages instead of moving them to a mailbox. Imagine that you’ve deleted the wrong message and not noticed it! You could easily lose some very precious information.

Fortunately, for some reason deleting a message in Mail can be undone through cmd-Z, so you can easily undo it right away if you notice the error.

OTOH, moving a message to a different mailbox cannot be undone. You need to manually open the destination mailbox and move the message back. This is made all the more annoying by the fact that, after you’ve used Mail’s “spring-loaded” behaviour to browse down a mailbox hierarchy to your destination mailbox several levels deep inside your mailbox drawer, as soon as you DROP the message in the destination folder and release the mouse button, Mail promptly closes all the folders and subfolders that were opened during the “spring-loading” process! I understand that this is designed to eliminate unnecessary mailbox drawer clutter, but it’s highly inconvenient. By comparison, in the Finder if you use spring-loaded folders, after you DROP your file in the destination folder and release the mouse button, the Finder leaves the destination folder window open. It only closes all the intermediate folder windows that were opened along the way. This makes much more sense.

To make matters worse, if, after you’ve accidentally moved the wrong message to a mailbox folder, you re-open that mailbox folder to retrieve the message and put it back in your “In” box, you need to be careful where exactly you are dragging the message back. If you drag it onto the “In” mailbox icon at the very top of the mailbox, it will look like it worked, but it will not work. Mail will not move the message back. It will leave it in its original mailbox folder. You actually need to drag the message to an account-specific “In” mailbox.

Again, this doesn’t make much sense. If I drag a message to the main “In” mailbox icon, this means that I simply want to put it back where it first arrived, i.e. in the “In” mailbox of the account that actually received the message! Mail should be smart enough to know this and do the proper thing automatically. Instead, it forces you to go to the appropriate account-specific “In” manually — and it also lets you drag the message to the “In” box of another account without protesting. For example, you can put an email that you received with Account A in the “In” mailbox for Account B. That doesn’t make much sense either.

All in all, the whole way the mailbox drawer is organized and behaves leaves quite a bit to be desired in terms of intuitiveness and convenience. Let’s hope that the next major revision of Mail (with Panther?) improves all this.

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