Mac OS X’s Mail: Pressing Return when collapsed thread is selected causes all messages to open in separate windows

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
September 7th, 2004 • 3:20 am

This is one of these behaviours in Mac OS X and Apple’s applications that make you wonder what the developers were smoking when they developed the program.

If you use Mail’s “Organize by Thread” feature (only available in Panther) and if you highlight a thread of messages in its “collapsed” form (i.e. a single line with the triangle pointing to the right), then pressing the Return key has the unfortunate effect of opening each and every message in the thread in a separate window!

By definition, threads tend to contain a large number of messages, so that causes a large number of windows to open in most situations. And there’s nothing you can do to stop or reverse the process. The only thing you can do is close all the windows manually one by one.

If there is anyone out there who can think of a situation where this behaviour might be useful, I am all ears.

As far as I am concerned, it’s just a major pain in the neck. Since the only thing that distinguishes a thread from a regular e-mail message in the triangle on the left-hand side, and since it’s easy to select a single-line thread instead of the message immediately before or after it, it’s far too easy to trigger this behaviour accidentally. And, as I said, once it’s started, you can’t stop it. If you have 20 messages in your thread, Mail will open 20 windows, and then require you to close them one by one.

In addition, the mouse behaviour that is equivalent to hitting the Return key, i.e. the double-click on the message line, does actually cause a different behaviour when the selection is a thread rather than a regular e-mail message. Double-clicking on a regular e-mail message causes it to open in a separate window, as expected. Double-clicking on a thread causes it to expand in the message list.

Obviously, that’s also what the behaviour of the Return key should be when the selection is a thread: it should simply expand the thread. However, ever since Panther was first released, the behaviour in Mail has been wrong.

It’s the kind of thing that you’d expect Apple would fix in Mac OS X 10.3.1 or Mac OS X 10.3.2. But we are at Mac OS X 10.3.5 and it doesn’t look like Mail will be updated significantly before Mac OS X 10.4. Like other major developers, Apple tends to fold such “small” fixes into the next major upgrade instead of releasing interim (and free-of-charge) updates. The smaller, incremental Mac OS X 10.3.x do include updates for Mail, but these updates tend to focus on less visible problems, and not on basic UI issues, which Apple tends to ignore until the next major upgrade, no matter how intrusive and annoying they are.

It’s unfortunate.

2 Responses to “Mac OS X’s Mail: Pressing Return when collapsed thread is selected causes all messages to open in separate windows”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for the clarification. There is indeed a limit beyond which it shows this alert. Not sure 10 is an appropriate limit, though… And anyway, the problem shouldn’t exist in the first place.

  2. MacDesigner says:

    Pierre, while I agree the accidental opening of multiple messages can be a headache, Mail does give one a chance to not open all the messages at once. When I try to open a thread with a large number of messages, I get a dialog box asking if I’m sure I want to open X number of messages, with a “No” and a “Yes” button. There may be a minimum number of messages that need to be in the thread before the dialog appears. It looks to be about 10 messages.

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