Mail 3.0: No longer plays sounds through alerts and sound effects channel

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
November 19th, 2007 • 11:13 am

It really is frustrating when Apple’s own engineers fail to be careful enough to follow the logic of their own operating system and make sure that they respect the design choices made by other Apple engineers before them.

Here’s a simple, yet very significant example.

For many years now, Mac OS X has had the ability to channel alerts and other sound effects through a sound output other than the default output used for sound playback in Mac OS X. The default output is selected in the “Output” tab in the “Sound” preference pane in System Preferences, whereas the output for alerts and sound effects is selected in the “Sound Effects” tab in that same preference pane.

On my machine, I use this capability to channel alerts and sound effects through a pair of Apple Pro speakers (connected to a PowerWave USB audio device), whereas my default sound output is a pair of headphones connected to my Mac Pro’s front-panel audio jack. This way, I can listen to music or play my own music with GarageBand on my headphones without being interrupted by alert sounds and other sound effects—in theory.

The problem is that, for this to work, every Mac OS X application that produces alert sounds and other sound effects needs to channel them through the appropriate output.

As noted earlier on in this blog, Apple started doing the right thing with Mail 1.3.

Sadly, it now appears that Apple’s engineers have broken this in Mail 3.0 in Mac OS X Leopard (10.5). The various sound effects played by Mail when receiving or sending mail are now again played through the default output, instead of the output for sound effects and alerts.

It is quite frustrating, because I just know that it is going to take months, if not years, for Apple to repair this error. (Needless to say, I submitted a bug report as soon as I noticed the problem.) Why? Because it’s not a deal-breaking bug. It’s one of these “convenience” bugs that only affect the “quality of life” in Mac OS X. The bug does not cause any data loss and won’t prevent me from doing my work. In addition, it requires a little effort to reproduce, because you need to have two different sound outlets available in the first place, whereas by default on a plain vanilla Mac everything is played through the same outlet. So first we’ll need to have someone at Apple who reads the bug reports and is conscientious enough to configure his own test machine properly to reproduce the bug. And then we’ll need this person to have enough clout to get the engineers to fix the problem ahead of the myriad of other priorities that they have.

Meanwhile, it is an inconvenient and unpleasant bug. During all that time, while waiting for the bug fix, I am going to have to live with Mail sound effects that intrude on my music listening experience with my headphones. (I am not going to quit Mail every time I want to listen to music or play music.)


8 Responses to “Mail 3.0: No longer plays sounds through alerts and sound effects channel”

  1. Michael Tsai - Blog - The Alerts and Sound Effects Channel says:

    […] Pierre Igot: […]

  2. dbrown says:

    Mail 3.1 has a menu item that fails to perform as suggested. “Save PDF file to web receipts folder,” a menu item found via the print dialog box’s PDF button, appears to go through the motions yet it fails to save the file – at least not in the web receipts folder.

    There is a work-a-round. A user can “view the PDF file in Preview” (it’s yet another menu selection), and then, within Preview, save that file to the web receipts folder.

    So, all is not lost here but any user should definitely be aware of the need not to rely on Mail 3.1 to actually save valuable information to the web receipts folder as Mail 3.1 suggests it is capable of doing.

  3. akatsuki says:

    Yeah, this is hugely annoying to me as well. It is a bit more serious, because I often have my alerts channel a lot softer than the music and out of a different output and when I am working with sound files, I might have that volume way up. So instead I end up getting blasted by an alert.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    dbrown: Although this is not related to the sound issue, I should note that “Save PDF file to web receipts folder” works just fine for me. In addition, this is a command that appears in any Print dialog, not just in Mail. So if it doesn’t work for you, I’d suggest that it’s another problem, which is not related to Mail in particular.

  5. David Emery says:

    The knock on effect of this is a little worse though – if you have it set so that the screen flashes when you get an alert (set in the Universal Access pref pane) you no longer get flashes when you get new mail.

    Grrr. Why break things Apple?

  6. puiz says:

    Hi, Pierre! How are you doing?

    I just dropped by to say that my Leopard Mail fails to play the “New Mail” sound at all, even though it does play all the other sounds.

  7. Paul Ingraham says:

    I have had generally strange sound behaviour in Mail since upgrading to Leopard, and I haven’t quite figured out the range of dysfunction yet, let alone tried to isolate and reproduce.

    The oddest thing that’s happening with my alerts is long, erratic delays. I have rules that are supposed to play sounds on receipt of certain emails, and sometimes they don’t play at all, and sometimes they play 30 seconds after the message arrives, and sometimes they play five minutes later.

    Even stranger, there’s a sound that I use in only a single rule, and nowhere else on my Mac, the “purr” sound. It has been playing when I send messages, perhaps 20% of them, and with none of the sluggish delays of the incoming rule-based alerts. I hit send and instantly get a purr … sometimes.

    It’s all veeery strange.

  8. Pierre Igot says:

    Paul: I have the opposite experience, with Mail playing sounds as soon as it starts checking for new mail, even before the new mail has been downloaded!

    Definitely weird—or rather, definitely buggy.

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