Mail 2.0: What happens when you are composing plain text e-mail messages

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
May 9th, 2005 • 11:40 pm

The other day I noted a problem occurring in Mail 2.0 when using Spell Catcher X.

Thanks to terrific investigative work by Evan Gross, the developer of Spell Catcher X, we now have a clearer idea of what’s going on…

The bottom-line is that the text engine used by Mail 2.0 when composing e-mail messages appears to be a horribly screwed piece of software.

Regardless of whether you are composing an e-mail message in plain text or in HTML (“Rich Text” in Mail’s interface), the message composer uses HTML encoding while you are composing it. It’s only when the message is finally sent that Mail converts it to the appropriate format.

But that’s not all… The actual HTML code that Mail uses is some rather horrible concoction. Take a look at the following. (In order to see this kind of stuff, all you need to do is compose an e-mail message in Rich Text format in Mail, send it, and then go to your “Sent” mailbox, open the sent message and use the command “Raw Source” in the “Message” submenu in the “View” menu.)

<HTML><BODY style=3D"word-wrap: break-word; -khtml-nbsp-mode: space; =
-khtml-line-break: after-white-space; " class=3D"ApplePlainTextBody">test =
with spaces and non-breaking spaces and all kinds of other stuff<DIV><BR =
class=3D"khtml-block-placeholder"></DIV><DIV>including accented =
caract=E8res</DIV><DIV><BR =
class=3D"khtml-block-placeholder"></DIV><DIV><BR><DIV =
class=3D"AppleMailSignature" id=3D"6607C64D-0A51-11D9-A144-000393CCCBF6"> =
<DIV>--=A0</DIV> <DIV>Pierre Igot, traducteur, correcteur et =
redacteur</DIV> <DIV>Minist=E8re de l'Education de la =
Nouvelle-Ecosse</DIV> <DIV>Tel./Telec. : (902) xxx-xxxx</DIV> =

Ugh. It’s not just unreadable. It’s full of very weird stuff, including non-breaking spaces (“=A0” in quoted-printable) where there should be return characters, DIV tags all over the place, etc.

No wonder this stuff causes problems with other pieces of software!

Just what Apple was thinking when it created this particular monster, I do not know. But what appears to be sure is that it’ll take a fair amount of work and time just to eliminate all the bugs. And even after that it won’t be a particularly pretty piece of work.

I know that HTML-formatted e-mail is a fact of life, even though I personally avoid it like the plague and forcibly convert all such e-mails received from other people to plain text when replying to them. But still… Did we really have to go through this? Did we really need some kind of weird HTML composer that creates non-standard HTML code with all kinds of weird character substitutions? What was wrong with the e-mail composer in the previous version of Mail?

4 Responses to “Mail 2.0: What happens when you are composing plain text e-mail messages”

  1. Evan Gross says:

    Here’s another good one for you:

    Create a new message, type a word and return, drag in a jpg. Select All, Copy. Switch to Finder, choose Show Clipboard.

    Finder crashes.

    Try pasting any draft message (or doing a Save As…) into TextEdit, attachments appear as generic icons (or not at all).

    Works fine with that same draft message after it’s been sent.

    BIG problems with drafts in Mail on Tiger…

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Eeek. Bad indeed. Get the same crash here. “Big problems” is starting to sound like an understatement!

  3. Sonic Purity says:

    What was wrong with the e-mail composer in the previous version of Mail?

    That’s what i’ve been trying to figure out for the last half year, since discovering that Mail 2 considers “Rich Text” to be (its own nonstandard) HTML!

    Apple Mail 1.x put out nice, clean RFC 1896 Enriched Text when the “Rich Text” option was selected: Secure, standards-compliant, elegant. Lower tag overhead. Interoperated nicely with Apple’s very old Cyberdog 2 internet suite email part.

    And now this? This is progress? Why the change? If anyone knows, i’d sure like to read about it!

    Still incensed at the loss of Enriched Text sending, 6 months after discovering the change,


  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, apparently, this is progress. The actual reasons for the change will probably remain a life-long mystery. Meanwhile, we all have to live with it… «sigh» Thank God Mail still lets me use plain text!

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