At a Glance
Contrary to what the folks cavorting in cargo-pants commercials might say, no single style is going to appeal to everyone. The fact that there are so many e-mail clients competing with Apple's free Mail app doesn't necessarily mean that Mail has limitations. No, that fact is evidence of a universal truth: All e-mail users are looking for the one shining feature that grabs their attention and sets their favorite e-mail application apart from the rest. The bling-bling of Bare Bones Software's e-mail program, Mailsmith, has always been the ability to automate all the drudgy, soul-sucking aspects of having a high-volume e-mail address. This legacy continues with the Mac OS X–only Mailsmith 2.0.
Most of its standout features aren't new. Mailsmith has the same text engine as Bare Bones' power editor, BBEdit, so you have an unequaled ability to analyze and modify text with tools such as grep. Mailsmith is also aggressively AppleScriptable. Nearly anything you can do manually -- such as checking to see whether a message's recipient
is reachable via iChat, and if so, alerting him or her that you've just sent an urgent e-mail -- Mailsmith can do with a script. And what Mailsmith can accomplish with one simple filter that's then attached to several individual mailboxes can be done with Mail only via a long series of conditionals and a lot of repeated effort.
An Upgrade That Power Users Will Love
Mailsmith 2.0 has jettisoned one legacy: the profound wonkiness of its database engine. The improved database-engine performance is enough to justify upgrading -- a small mammal could have experienced a whole life cycle in the time it took Mailsmith 1.5 to re-sort a list of messages, and stored mail required regular database maintenance. These problems appear to be solved, but the app still isn't speedy.
Mailsmith 2.0 also adds tighter integration with third-party applications. If you're using Jaguar or later, it can autocomplete addresses from OS X's built-in Address Book, as well as its own, so you no longer need to maintain separate address books in two different applications. If you've downloaded and installed the privacy program PGP Personal 8.0 ( ; April 2003) or the leading spam catcher, Michael Tsai's SpamSieve 1.3.1 (see "Guard Your In-Box," April 2003, for our review of version 1.2.2; ), they'll function within Mailsmith as though they were baked right in, not as two external apps.
But Mailsmith has some serious shortcomings. There's no support for IMAP, a mail protocol that is more modern than POP and makes it easier to maintain one e-mail collection across several devices. And Mailsmith can display only plain-vanilla roman text, so pictures have to be opened as separate attachments, HTML messages are stripped of all enhancements, and many non-English messages can't be displayed at all.
And let's just say that the user interface should be the next thing the company overhauls. Apple's Mail is clean, streamlined, and friendly. There's absolutely no elegance in Mailsmith, and worse, the user interface often works against you.
For example, say that Mailsmith was unable to connect to the mail server and, as a result, a mission-critical document (due back at headquarters in 30 minutes) didn't get sent. Does Mailsmith immediately give you a huge, can't-miss-it alert box? Nope. It's up to you to notice that your mailbox labeled "(errors)" has turned red. This mailbox looks just like all your other mailboxes, many of which may also be colored red (this color indicates that a mailbox contains an urgent message). Click on the mailbox to select it, and then click on the list of its contents to reveal the error message. Subtlety should have absolutely no place in error reporting, considering the potentially excruciating repercussions of a business e-mail message that is not sent.
And man, do we miss the convenience of Mail's as-you-type spelling checker and its integrated Search filter.
Macworld's Buying Advice
For some users, Mailsmith 2.0 is unquestionably a necessary upgrade. Its lack of support for IMAP mail servers and certain non-English languages will put off some people, and the program won't benefit those whose e-mail needs begin and end at reading, writing, and simple filtering. But if you're an active e-mail user who spends far too much time managing messages, Mailsmith 2.0 could become the single most important item in your Dock.