Learning to Live with Lion

Tame Lion’s Mail

The Lion version of Apple Mail ( ) not only alters the email program’s overall user interface but also changes numerous features behind the scenes. Some of these new or revised features behave in ways one might not expect, but with a few key pieces of information you’ll be ready to use them to their full potential.

Quick shortcuts for favorites

Used to pressing Command-6 in Snow Leopard’s Mail to display the contents of your Junk mailbox? Lion brings a surprise. Instead, pressing Command plus any of the numbers 1 through 9 displays the contents of the corresponding item on the new Favorites bar. (This slim line of text buttons appears below Mail’s toolbar. Choose View -> Show Favorites Bar if you don’t see it.)

To make Command-6 display Junk again, simply drag your Junk mailbox onto the Favorites bar, making sure it’s the sixth item from the left (conveniently, the Favorites bar contains five items by default). Use this trick whenever you want an easy shortcut to a Mail folder.

Rename your flags

It's now easy to find your flagged messages under the Reminders category in Mail's sidebar. You can rename flags and add ones of different colors.
If you like using flags to call attention to messages you need to remember or take action with, you’ll be glad to hear that Mail now supports not just a single flag, but seven different colored flags. You can’t change the colors, but you can change the names of the flags.

To do this, first apply a flag other than Red to a message—for example, select a message and choose Purple from the pop-up flag menu in the toolbar. Then look at Mail’s sidebar (if it’s not currently visible, click the Show button on the left of the Favorites bar). Here you’ll see the Reminders category, which now shows flagged messages, much like a smart mailbox, in addition to notes and to do items. If you see only the word Reminders, hover over it with your pointer and click Show to display its contents. Then, under Flagged, look for the flag (in this example, Purple) whose name you want to change. Double-click it, type a new name—for example, Business or Family—and press Return. Repeat as desired for other colors.

Set Exchange out-of-office messages

Out-of-office messages
Although Apple didn’t put it in an obvious place, if you know where to look you can set up Exchange out-of-office messages from within Mail.
If you use Mail to connect to a Microsoft Exchange account, you can set up an out-of-office message without having to open your Web browser. To do this, click the gear-shaped Action menu in the bottom left corner of the Mail window and choose Get Account Info from the pop-up menu. In the window that appears, select your Exchange account from the Account pop-up menu at the top; then click Out of Office. Select the Send Out of Office Replies checkbox, choose either Until Disabled or While Scheduled from the pop-up menu next to it, and if the latter, fill in the starting and ending dates. Enter your desired message text and close the window.

Manage Conversations

The Lion version of Mail enhances the existing support for displaying conversations—related strings of messages and their replies—in several ways. But some ways of interacting with conversations may not be clear, especially if you’re using the new default three-column view rather than the “classic” layout. (If you decide you want to change the layout back to the old way, go to Mail -> Preferences, click Viewing, and then select the Use Classic Layout option.)

The View -> Organize by Conversation command still groups related messages in the message list; it can be selectively enabled or disabled for each mailbox. With it enabled, you select a conversation in the message list and view its constituent messages in the preview pane on the right. Some of the details of working with conversations in this view might need a bit of explanation:

Expand or collapse conversations When Organize By Conversation is enabled, the message list ordinarily shows just the most recent message in a conversation, along with a number in a small bubble indicating the total number of messages; the preview pane shows all the messages, in order. (In cases where a message bottom-quotes an earlier message, the quoted text is hidden; click the “See More” link to display it.)

If you want to be able to skip directly to the message you want without lots of scrolling, select the conversation in the message list and click the tiny arrow next to the number of messages, or press the Right Arrow key, to expand it. (Messages other than the most recent one display just the sender and the date.) To collapse the display, click the arrow again or press the Left Arrow key. (You can do this for all the messages in a given mailbox at once by choosing View -> Expand All Conversations or View -> Collapse All Conversations.)

Conversation list
You can expand a conversation within the message list to see an overview of its constituent messages.

Change the message order By default, Mail displays conversations in reverse-chronological order, like blog entries. Many users—count me among them—think this is backwards; I prefer to read entries from top to bottom, since that’s the flow of text within any given paragraph and it’s jarring to have to keep switching directions. But the order is easy to change: choose Mail -> Preferences, click Viewing, and deselect the Show Most Recent Message At The Top checkbox. When you return to the conversation view, older (lower-numbered) messages appear at the top, newer (higher-numbered) ones at the bottom.

Move an entire conversation If you want to move all the messages from a conversation (except those you sent yourself, which remain in your Sent mailbox) to a new mailbox, you can do so most easily if Organize By Conversation is enabled for the current mailbox. If it is, select the conversation in the message list and drag it to a new mailbox, or choose a mailbox on the Message -> Move To submenu. If Organize By Conversation is disabled, begin by selecting any message in the conversation; the other messages are then highlighted in the message list. Select all the messages (you can Shift-click to select a contiguous range, or Command-click to select discontiguous messages) and then drag them to a mailbox or use the Message -> Move To submenu.

Move one message within a conversation Conversely, when Organize By Conversation is enabled, you may want to move just one message from the conversation to another mailbox. It’s possible, but a bit trickier. One way is to hover the pointer over the horizontal line dividing the message header from its content. When it turns into an open hand shape, drag the message to the mailbox of your choice. Alternatively, click in any message within the preview pane to select it (as indicated by a blue outline around that message) and then choose a mailbox from the Message -> Move To submenu.

Unfortunately, if you use Indev’s excellent $20 Mail Act-On plug-in ( ) to file your messages, it ignores individually selected messages and always moves entire conversations when Organize by Conversation is enabled. According to the developer, this is a consequence of changes in Mail’s design and is the behavior some people prefer, but it may be possible in a future version to enable moving individual messages again when Organize By Conversation is enabled.

Work with related messages

An entirely new way of working with conversations in Lion is Show Related Messages, which you can activate by selecting a message and then clicking the button by that name in the toolbar or by choosing View -> Show Related Messages; you can use this feature whether or not Organize by Conversation is enabled.

What Show Related Messages does is display, in the preview pane to the right of the selected message, all the other messages in the same thread, including ones you’ve sent, regardless of which mailbox they’re in. Messages in the current mailbox are clearly numbered, with older messages having lower numbers.

By default, the display of related messages is fleeting—as soon as you select a message outside the thread or a different mailbox, the related messages no longer appear, even if you reselect the original message. If you prefer Mail to display related messages all the time, no matter which message you select, choose Mail -> Preferences, click Viewing, and select Include Related Messages. But note that this is a global setting; you can’t turn it on for just certain mailboxes or messages.

Senior contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of the ebook Take Control of Upgrading to Lion.

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At a Glance
  • Read the full review


    • New layout optimized for widescreen displays
    • Improved conversation display
    • Upgraded search capabilities
    • Better integration with webmail and Exchange accounts


    • Most innovations already available in other programs
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