MailboxAfter having a lot of fun installing software and getting familiar with all the new toys included in the Mac OS over the past few weeks, it’s time to begin getting down to the nitty gritty of what my new laptop is primarily for — work. So I have begun focusing on what core applications I need in my average day. The cornerstone of business day is e-mail, so I figured I better try a few applications to see which e-mail client would work best for how I work.

Since I use IMAP as my mail protocol, trying out different programs isn’t a big deal. Techinically speaking, I could have multiple e-mail clients configured on the same machine and use them interchangeably, but I was looking for “one to rule them all.” There are a ton of e-mail applications for the Mac, but I narrowed the choices down to three: Apple Mail, Entourage and Thunderbird.

Apple Mail
The first e-mail client I tried was Apple Mail. There are a lot of fans of the built-in e-mail application, including many of my Mac friends. Having read plenty of posts on 43 Folders and Summit: The Makalu Media Blog, among others, I wanted to give this application first crack at becoming my new best friend.

When first starting my MacBook, I setup a 60-day demo of .mac and in doing so, Apple provided me with an e-mail address. As part of this process, the startup routine configured Apple Mail for the address. So Apple Mail was already setup and running before I even launched the program. All that was left for me to do was to add my ” Über-IMAP” account to Apple Mail and begin playing.

What I Like
First and foremost, I like that Apple Mail works with the Apple Address Book. The built-in Address Book is one of the reasons that I opted to switch to the Mac. Since I use Palm OS devices pretty heavily, I yearn to be able to have one central address book for both my e-mail and my Palm. As a Palm Desktop user in Windows, I haven’t had that luxury for the past 10 years.

I also like the clean design and layout of the application and with the MailActOn plugin that I learned about in this article, I think I can have a very GTD style e-mail experience similar to what I was used to in Thunderbird on Windows. I’m told the SPAM protection is really good to, same as Thunderbird, so it was beginning to look very promising.

What I Don’t Like
The first thing that hit me when using Apple Mail is that there isn’t an option for having “multiple identities”. I have over 10 e-mail addresses that all forward to my one “Über-IMAP” account. I detailed my migration to this format in this article, but suffice to say that there’s no way I’m going back to individual accounts. With “multiple identities”, I can reply to a message using any one of the many addresses I have, but still only use one e-mail account. Thunderbird does this very easily, but Apple Mail doesn’t have this feature. There may be a work around, but so far I haven’t found it yet.

The second stumbling block I ran into was that I couldn’t find a way to manage my IMAP folders. There are some folders that I don’t need to subscribe to and then there are others that I need to integrate within Apple Mail. For example, Junk, Drafts and Sent folders need to be on the IMAP server and not local. Since I can’t manage the folders, I can’t find a way to map those local folders to their online counterpart.

Entourage comes with Office:mac 2004 and since I haven’t purchased Office, you’d think that there would be no way to test it out. Well, there is. The new MacBooks come with a 30-day trial of Office:mac 2004 pre-installed. That being said, Office:mac is for PowerPC based Macs, so it runs under Rosetta. I understand that Office:mac runs quite well under Rosetta, but I think Microsoft will release a Universal Binary next year. I don’t want to have to pay for Office:mac twice, so I decided not to even demo the application. Besides, I’m not a fan of Outlook, so the usual lure of Entourage is a bit lost on me. Add the fact that it doesn’t interface with Apple Address book and it just became a non-starter for me.

The last stop on this journey to e-mail bliss, was to try my old buddy Thunderbird. I’ve been using this program for several years on my Windows machines and it’s evolved into a very nice, robust program. Since Mozilla designs their products to be platform independent, I was able to easily install and setup Thunderbird on the Mac.

What I Like
After the initial install, a couple of plugins and I was exactly where I was on my Windows machine. Keyboard shortcuts, look and feel, you name it — everything was exactly the same.

What I Don’t Like
Of course having everything the same isn’t always a good thing. Like I’ve stated earlier, I’m really looking forward to using the built-in Address Book. Unfortunately, that isn’t supported by Thunderbird at this point in time. There are some custom builds available, but these aren’t issued by Mozilla. I’m just not willing to walk down that road right now. It’s a little too bleeding edge for me.

If you’d like to dig deeper on the whole Apple Mail versus Thunderbird comparision, I recommend that you check out this entry on Hawk Wings blog.

The Bottom Line — For Right Now
The most important thing for me right now is to make the switch to Mac OS as seamless as possible. Since e-mail is such a critical part of my business, I can’t afford to have much down time while I play around and explore new applications. So, for right now, having something that is exactly like.

In time though, I hope to make the switch to Apple Mail. I haven’t begun to sync my Palm OS devices, but when I do, I’ll be wanting to sync with Address Book and that will be the push to make the switch. what I’m used to is a good thing. It’s not ideal, but I know that it definitely works. Until then, I’ll plug along with Thunderbird until I become more comfortable with the OS and it’s applications.