Panther’s Mail: Can’t change both text color and background color in message rules

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
December 27th, 2003 • 12:12 pm

This is a limitation in Mail that I find is unwarranted.

When you create a new rule in Mail, in the set of actions that you can trigger whenever certain criteria are matched, you can ask Mail to color matching messages in a certain way. You have a choice of changing the color of the text of the message line or the color of the background of the message line. (This only applies to the message as it appears in List view in the main Viewer Window. The coloring doesn’t apply to the message when it is displayed in a separate window.)

The problem is that Apple has decided that you cannot change both the text color and the background color at the same time. As soon as you change either of them, the “Set Color” option in the Actions popup menu is disabled:

Color Rules

Why this limitation? Presumably, it’s because in theory you might create a set of actions where the background color and the text color are such that the text is no longer readable. (That is why the text color automatically becomes white when you select a message in the list: The dark background color of the selection might make the dark text hard to read.)

However, it seems to me that the user is rather unlikely to use such a combination of colors accidentally. Surely users who actually define rules in Mail have enough tech savvy to be able to adjust the colors if the result is not really readable.

Besides, Apple doesn’t seem to have any problems applying the thread highlighting color (which can be customized by the user in the Preferences window, under “Viewing”) as a background color to messages that form a thread in Panther’s Mail, even if the text color of such messages is already something other than black because of a user-defined rule.

In other words, it seems that the impossibility to change both the text color and the background color in the same rule is an old and arbitrary limitation and that message threading as it works in Panther’s Mail uses a coloring scheme that actually contradicts the visual principle on which this older limitation was based.

It would be better to just let the user customize message coloring to his liking. But it might also be more appropriate to use some other visual scheme for highlighting threads, so as not to conflict with background coloring applied by Mail rules.

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