Finding a good email client for Mac OSX

July 10th, 2007

About 3 weeks ago I finally got myself a Mac. The initial plan was a second-hand one, as I also needed a laptop, and money still doesn’t grow on trees where I’m from. But then it dawned on me that I could combine these needs and just buy a new MacBook. No idea why I never came up with that idea before, but there it was. Such an obvious choice!

Anyway – I’ve been experimenting with Mac OSX Tiger for just over 3 weeks now, and I can honestly say I like it. Lots of fun stuff to explore, and a very easy GUI. However, being a spoiled user when it comes to email programs, usenet clients and text editors, it’s proving less than easy to find equivalents for the Mac.

I’ll probably write a couple more posts on the latter two, but first here’s me searching for the perfect Mac email client.

On my Windows XP pc I use Outlook Express, with OE-Quotefix. I’m used to how that works, and I want a similar thing on my new MacBook. Of course I prefer a free client, but I don’t mind paying if a program meets my expectations.

These are the programs I tested:

What I wanted:

  • support for multiple accounts
  • 3-pane view
  • text-only view for received mail, even when it’s sent as HTML only
  • proper re-wrapping when replying
  • adjustable line-length

Not too much to ask I thought?

Apple Mail /features/mail/

Apple Mail comes with the OS, so naturally that’s the first one I tried out. Three pane view right away, nice. Multiple servers, no problem, and it even allows for browsing mail per mail account, as well as all accounts together. Plus: built in spam filter, that learns from being corrected.

Works very nicely, except for one thing: HTML mail is viewed as HTML mail. Once the message is displayed in the window, you can choose “plain text alternative” from the menu, but there is no way to set that as the preference for all incoming mail. Unless I missed a setting somewhere of course.

So, I Googled for other mail clients for Apple, and looked through the descriptions of each one I found. Only a few mentioned a separate HTML or plain text setting, so I picked the first one of those that sounded familiar, Eudora.

Eudora /features/mac/index.html

First thing I notice, is the toolbar that’s positioned at the top left, taking valuable vertical screenspace off my 800px high widescreen. Also there isn’t exactly a 3-pane view, but rather a 2-pane one, with an optional ‘drawer’ that lists the mailfolders. On the right, I want it on the left. Yes I’m picky 🙂

Browsing the preferences window looking for multiple account options, I find an interesting thing: Mood Watch. From what I can see, it scans your mail and detects whether the content is likely to be perceived as insulting. This is for outgoing mail, and might be a good thing to use when you’re sending email to clients for instance 🙂

There doesn’t seem to be a multiple mail account option, but there’s an equivalent: personalities. As long as you make a personality for each mail account, it works. The drawback is that you need to check mail for each personality separately, and each opens its separate window. Not what I want either, so, despite all the good reviews I remember from my Usenet past, and the extra features like Mood Watch, Eudora is out.


Next up is Mulberry. The description warns me that it is so complex (or feature rich) that it could appear overwhelming at first. Without trying it for myself, I’ll never know exactly how complex, so I download Mulberry.

Upon opening the program, I’m asked to fill out my preferences – my real name, username, mail address, pop3 and smtp servers. Not complicated at all. On the right, there are two radio buttons, one labeled ‘simple’, the other ‘advanced’. I change the setting from simple to advanced, and there’s the complexity.

On the left, 14 tabs appear, all with settings for this one mail account. Two of them, ‘message’ and ‘display’ I consider to be the most likely to hold ‘plain text only’ settings, I press ‘display’ first. The window now shows ‘display preferences’, with 5 different tabs. Each of them just leads to a bunch of tickboxes to indicate what type of text should have which colour, style or font-weight. Nothing to prevent HTML email from being displayed as such. The ‘message’ tab says nothing about either HTML or plain text, nor do the other 12 tabs.

While searching for plain text options, I encounter so many settings, that it becomes evident that for me, this client is way too complex. Not over my head, but just a useless load of settings I will never use. All I want is a simple mail client that can display my incoming messages as plain text instead of HTML. All the extra features don’t get me closer to that, so that’s the end of Mulberry on my MacBook.

Mailsmith /mailsmith/index.shtml

Next up is Mailsmith – not free. Right away it detects the other mail clients that are present, and offers to import data from them. Perfect, that saves me setting up my different mail accounts again.

The settings look promising; there are many options, including setting the line-length, configurable colours and actions, as well as setting my own keyboard shortcuts. I can even set the spell checker to British English instead of American. No more errors when typing ‘colour’ or ‘favourite’!

Wrapping is almost perfect – when replying, a keyboard shortcut gives a nice re-wrap of the quoted text. The imperfection: hard returns get overlooked, so a list of items will result in a paragraph instead of a list. The good part is, that you can select which parts of the email you want re-wrapped, so you can omit lists. A bit of a hassle if you are having a list with items that consist of long lines that should wrap, as you’d need to re-wrap each item separately.

Multiple accounts are supported, and the way the different accounts are set in the preferences is very logical. Mailsmith even allows you to add extra custom headers, and fake the mailclient ID.

HTML in incoming messages isn’t an issue, because there isn’t any. Everything is plain text only, while messages that were sent as HTML, are available as an attachment to the plain text email and can be opened in a browser, just like I’m used to in Outlook Express.

So, why didn’t I choose Mailsmith (yet)?

Well, it’s $75 to register. A bit steep I think, especially if I can get what I need elsewhere, so let’s keep this program in the back of the head for now.

Entourage /products /entourage2004 /entourage2004.aspx?pid=entourage2004

First of all, it won’t work unless you’re using an account with administrator rights. Also, it’s part of the whole Microsoft Office for Mac package, which I don’t need.

After a bit of browsing the help files on this program, I found the deal breaker: “You can turn off HTML formatting in messages you send but not in messages you receive.” I would have thought Entourage to be a step up from the free Outlook Express, but apparently not. And that at $399. (not a typo – Entourage only comes with the entire Office package)

SeaMonkey /projects/seamonkey/

Quite a few settings, but no way to display messages in plain text. There is a setting to view in plain text in the menu, but it has no effect whatsoever on the content of SeaMonkey’s first own welcome message in HTML that’s in my inbox.

It has support for multiple pop-accounts, but.. only one SMTP account can be used. That is, one can set up multiple SMTP servers, but only one can be used at a time. That’s just not good enough, so SeaMonkey is dismissed as well.

PowerMail /powermail/

Seems to do pretty much what I want: multiple accounts, filters, HTML can be switched on or off, classic three-pane view, nice interface.

Wrapping however, is done properly only for the text I write, not the quoted text. While within PowerMail, this is a non-issue, as the program seems to only count the characters of the actual words in the line. When sending and receiving from other email clients that have a different set line-length, the wrapping gets messed up. This means that if I’m having an email conversation with more than a few levels of quoting, things get to appear less than pretty.

Also, I can’t seem to set the line-length, or the quote character at the start of each line. The standard character happens to be exactly the one I prefer though.

Cost after trial period: €49 (currently about $62) – just a bit better than Mailsmith.

GyazMail /gyazmail/

While I was looking at SpamSieve (a spam filtering program to combine with your mailclient), I saw another email client that I hadn’t tested before. GyazMail. Gave it a testrun, and it’s very intuitive. It allows for multiple accounts, including multiple smtp servers, all menu choices can be set to use custom keyboard shortcuts, and it integrates with SpamSieve naturally.

The problem, as with PowerMail, is with the wrapping. No problem when sending a message, it nicely wraps at whichever line-length I pre-set in the preferences. The problem is with replying; lines do get wrapped after the set number of characters, but the paragraph isn’t re-flowed, so after going back and forth a couple of times, the email looks like this:

>>>>>> This is one line that's longer than 72 characters, just to check what
>>>>>> this program does when replying to messages with long lines,
>>>>>> especially
>>>>>> when replying to them more than once.

Since I have a habit of having long conversations by email, this behaviour isn’t acceptable to me. I’ve sent the makers my feedback about this, and if they could fix this one problem, GyazMail could well be my pick of the pack, especially at its low price of $18.

Another reason to keep an eye on GyazMail, is that they have plans for NNTP support. Finding a good newsreader is next on my to-do list, and so far things are looking pretty bleak in that respect. Who knows GyazMail could fill that void.


I would certainly consider GyazMail, as soon as the re-wrapping of replied to paragraphs has been taken care of. Until then though, I’ll have to decide between only two options: Mailsmith and PowerMail.

I’m not sure yet which I would like most in the end. I’ve been using PowerMail for over two weeks now, and have 13 days left on my trial account. That is, if I’m willing to delete a bunch of messages, as the demo only allows for 200 messages, and the number is up.

Mailsmith has been waiting in the background for proper testing, and since I have 18 days left on the demo of that one, I think I’ll switch to Mailsmith for now, and see if I think it’s better than PowerMail. If it really is better, I don’t mind paying a bit more.

While I’m testing, if anyone has any motives for liking or disliking either of these programs, please don’t hesitate to comment – you never know what I may have overlooked that would change my opinion on them. Same goes of course if you know of any other Mac email client that meets the requirements I listed at the start of this page. I still have 13/18 days to decide on a different program 😉

What I’d like especially, is a ‘Quotefix for Mailsmith or PowerMail’. One that does re-wrapping of quoted text automatically, while keeping the hard returns in. Anyone know of such a thing?

Update August 5:

After having tested both PowerMail and Mailsmith for two weeks each, I’ve decided on Mailsmith. The price was actually better than I thought, as it includes a copy of SpamSieve, thus saving US$ 25. But what made me decide, was the wrapping. Although not exactly like Quotefix, it still actually does the trick when I press a key or two, while PowerMail doesn’t offer a manual way out at all once the re-wrapping gets messed up. That, and I like that Mailsmith lets me assign sounds to different events, so I can actually hear *who* is sending me mail when I’m not looking at my screen 😉

6 Responses to “Finding a good email client for Mac OSX”

  1. Rich Siegel says:

    <cite> What I’d like especially, is a ‘Quotefix for Mailsmith or PowerMail’. One that does re-wrapping of quoted text automatically, while keeping the hard returns in. Anyone know of such a thing?</cite>

    Mailsmith has it built-in, on the Text menu: "Rewrap Quoted Text".

  2. Els says:

    Hi Rich,

    I’m aware of that option, but it’s not quite like Quotefix.
    It requires my action, and it doesn’t honour hard returns within a block of text. Quotefix does it entirely automatically, and correctly; it rewraps the soft-wrapped text while leaving hard returns in place.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m still quite happy with how Mailsmith handles it, it’s just that if it could be just this little bit better even… I’d be even happier 🙂

  3. Toby Inkster says:

    Can’t really recommend a mail client as I don’t often check my mail on my Mac, but as far as text editors go, TextWrangler all the way!

  4. Els says:

    That’s the first one I tried and I agree that it’s very good (probably my favourite of all the editors I looked at), but it’s missing one important feature, which I didn’t find in any of the other Mac editors either.

    I’ll be trying to explain this ‘feature’ (it’s a behaviour rather than a feature, which is why it isn’t even documented afaics) in my next post. Somewhere this week 🙂

  5. SteveH says:

    I think you have opted for an excellent mail client in Mailsmith. For someone who wants to work in plain text there is nothing better. PowerMail is very similar in many ways but I would say that nothing handles quoted text as easily as Mailsmith.

    It sounds like you may be using Mailsmith 2.1 from your comment on the spell checking. In case this is the case and you are not aware of it, there is a beta of 2.2 that adds in-line spell checking, better Unicode support, Format=Flowed quoting (not as per Apple Mail) and a load of other features. It may be worth a try.

  6. Els says:

    Indeed I’m using 2.1, and hadn’t heard of 2.2 yet. Sounds like I should definitely give it a try.

    One thing I don’t understand: what is the difference between in-line spell checking and regular spell checking?