Mac OS X’s Mail: option-shift-Up doesn’t work in first paragraph of e-mail message body

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
February 25th, 2008 • 9:24 am

Here’s further evidence, if needed, that Mail’s text composing engine suffers from some serious flaws that reveals a lack of attention to text editing details on Apple’s part.

Normally, when you are in a text editor that behaves in a more or less standard way, you can use common keyboard shortcuts for text navigation and selection. For example, option-Left moves the insertion point one word to the left. option-shift-Left extends the selection by one word to the left.

In the same vein, option-Up is normally used as a shortcut for making the insertion point jump to the very beginning of the current paragraph. (This works in TextEdit, Pages, etc. Sadly, the otherwise excellent BBEdit is an exception and continues to use the shortcut for an antiquated approach based on “screens” rather than paragraphs.)

And option-shift-Up is used for extending the selection from the current insertion point position to the beginning of the current paragraph.

When composing a message in Mac OS X’s Mail, this last shortcut works more or less as expected—except when your insertion point is located in the very first paragraph of the body of the e-mail you are composing.

If the insertion point is somewhere in the very first paragraph of the body of the e-mail message, then, while option-Up works as expected and moves the insertion point to the beginning of the paragraph, on the other hand option-shift-Up does… absolutely nothing. It fails to select anything at all. The insertion point doesn’t move. The shortcut does not work.

You can find an indication of the possible source of the problem in the selection behaviour when using the option-shift-Up shortcut in any paragraph after the first paragraph.

Typically, if you are composing your e-mail messages as plain text (and even as rich text), you create paragraphs by using double return characters, because there is no “space after” formatting option in plain text and an extra return character is the only way to create a visual demarcation between paragraphs.

But in Mail, if you are in any paragraph after the first one and you press option-shift-Up to extend the selection to the beginning of the paragraph you are currently in, Mail actually goes one step beyond and includes in the selection the extra return character used as a paragraph separator above the current paragraph.

This is definitely not a standard behaviour in text editors or word processors in Mac OS X. Even if you use an extra return character between two paragraphs in TextEdit, for example, when you use the option-shift-Up shortcut in a paragraph, the selection is only extended to the beginning of that paragraph and does not include the extra return character above it.

So there is a behaviour that is specific to Mail here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it is because of this specific behaviour that the option-shift-Up shortcut fails in the very paragraph of the message body. There is no extra return character above the very first paragraph, after all!

If you combine this bug with all the other quirks and bugs in Mail’s text editing engine, it all adds up to a buggy and inconsistent user experience in Mail, which is quite frustrating considering how much time people spend in their e-mail client in this day and age. As a Mac OS X user, I expect a top-class user experience throughout my operating system, especially within Apple applications. Unfortunately, Mail, in spite of its other strengths, continues to disappoint in the very fundamental area of basic text editing and text navigation.

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