The anatomy of the Mail window

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Below the bar

By default you will see five items below the toolbar—Show, Inbox, VIPs, Sent, and Drafts. We’ll look at the effects of clicking the Show button shortly. In the meantime, I’ll just explain that if you click one of the mailbox links you’ll see the contents of that mailbox listed in the messages pane. The number of unread messages will appear to the right of the mailbox listing—Inbox (25), for example.

The VIPs entry has a downward-pointing triangle next to it. Click this triangle and you can opt to view all VIPs or just one of your choosing. (I’ll explain VIPs in a future lesson.)

You don’t have to live with just these entries (or any of them, for that matter). To add other mailboxes, click Show to expose the Mailboxes pane and drag the mailboxes you want to link to into this area. To remove mailboxes, hold the Command key and drag them out of the area, where the entry (but not your mailbox) vanishes in a puff of virtual smoke. You can also Command-drag them to rearrange their order.

And speaking of the Show button….

The Mailboxes pane

Click Show (Shift-Command-M) or choose View > Show Mailbox List and the messages pane moves to the right to make room for the Mailboxes pane. It’s within this pane that you find a list of your mailboxes. (If you have more than one account, there will be a right-pointing triangle next to the Inbox.) If you click Inbox, you’ll see all the messages in it, regardless of which account they were sent to. This is termed a unified inbox. Click the triangle next to the Inbox entry and a list of your accounts appears. To view just the messages within that account’s Inbox, click the account’s name.

To the right of these mailboxes you may see a number. This number indicates the number of unread messages in the mailbox, not the total number of messages it holds.

Below the Inbox are other mailboxes you have. You’ll see entries such as VIPs, Flagged, Drafts, Sent, Trash, and perhaps, Archive. You’ll additionally find individual headings for your accounts—one for iCloud and another for Gmail, for instance. Under these headings will be a list of the mailboxes each account contains. If, for example, you’ve added mailboxes within your Gmail account or you’ve added mailboxes to your Mac, you’ll see them here.

At the bottom of the Mailboxes pane are three icons—a Plus (+) button, a Show Mail Activity button, and a Tools button.

When you click the Plus button you find options for creating a new mailbox or a new smart mailbox (we’ll discuss smart mailboxes at length in a future lesson). Choose New Mailbox and a sheet appears that includes a Location pop-up menu and a Name field. From the Location menu you choose where you’d like this mailbox placed. If you have an iCloud account, that’s the default location and messages placed in this mailbox will be stored in the cloud. But you can click that menu and choose to create the mailbox on your Mac or attach it to any account you have.

If that account is IMAP-flavored (which I also explained when discussing how to set up an email account), any new mailboxes you attach to it will be reflected on the other devices you use. For example, if I attached a mailbox named 'Mail From People Named Burt' to my Gmail account, when I picked up my iPhone, I’d see that mailbox listed under the Gmail heading. Likewise, if I visited my account via my Mac’s web browser, there would be the 'Mail From People Named Burt' mailbox.

The Tools menu provides loads of ways to manipulate your email.

Click the Show Mail Activity button and a small pane appears at the bottom-left of the Mail window. When Mail is up to something—sending or receiving messages, for example—you’ll see progress bars that detail what’s going on. Some people like to expose this so that they can see that their messages are being sent.

The Tools button also contains a variety of commands. Click it to see what they are. I’ll run through all these commands in a later column.

The Messages pane

As I’ve explained this is a list of the messages within a selected mailbox. By default this list is sorted by date received, but you’re welcome to change how it’s sorted. Just click the Sort by Date entry and a menu appears where you can choose to sort by Attachments (meaning that attachments exist), date, flags, from, size, subject, to, and unread. Plus you can choose ascending or descending order.

Messages in this list bear the subject heading, the date the message was sent, and the first two lines of the body text (you can elect to view fewer or more lines in Mail’s Viewing preference). Unread messages have a blue dot next to them while read messages lack the dot. If a message has an attached file, a small paperclip icon will appear to the right of the sender’s name. Select a message and you can use the tools in the toolbar above. The message appears to the right in the Message Viewer pane.

A message that's part of a conversation.

Any messages that, to the right of the excerpt of the body text, show a gray box, are conversations (also known as message threads). If you click one of these messages, you’ll see in the preview area to the right not a single message but multiple related messages. For example, you might spy your original “Who wants cake?” message with separate replies from Fred and Barney. By default, the most recent replies will appear at the top in the Message Viewer pane. And, again, speaking of which….

The Message viewer

We finally arrive at the heart of the matter—the place in Mail where you can read the scintillating messages you’ve received. At the top of the message you see the sender. Click the small triangle that appears to the right of the sender’s address and you find options for copying the address, adding it to your VIPs, creating a new email message to the sender, and adding it to your contacts. You’ll find the same kind of triangle and menu next to the To address (more helpful if the To recipient isn’t you, as would be the case with multiple recipients).

And then there’s the subject heading, date, and, if you have one attached to the sender’s contact, the sender’s icon or image. If you drag your cursor into this area, Delete, Reply, Reply All, and Forward buttons appear in the viewer, making it a tiny bit easier to invoke one of these commands.

In the main portion of this pane is the message body. This can contain text, links, images, previews of PDF files, and attachments, which you can drag out of the message to make a copy or launch directly from within the message by double-clicking them. In a conversation, you’ll also spy a See More From X link. When you click this, the conversation expands so that you can view the entire thread, along with levels of quoted text, in a single page.

And that’s the general map of Mail. In coming lessons we’ll look at composing, sending, and receiving messages; configuring Mail’s preferences, working with mailboxes and smart mailboxes; and putting some of Mail’s special powers to good use.

Next week: Making, sending, and receiving mail

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