Do you find yourself falling into certain habits when using programs such as Apple Mail? Perhaps you have become accustomed to using the same set of core features and tend to overlook capabilities that, while less obvious, are no less useful.

Based on our own experience and our observations of several other Mail users, we’ve compiled a list of seven truly helpful features that often go unnoticed. These are applicable to both OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) versions of Mail.

1. The Photo Browser
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve wanted to mail someone a photo and have automatically fired up iPhoto to do it. (From there you can either drag the selected image into Mail or use iPhoto’s Share > Email command.) But there’s a quicker, easier way that lets you bypass iPhoto. In Mail, choose Window > Photo Browser. A floating window will appear instantly, showing the complete contents of your iPhoto library. Find the picture, drag it into a message window, and you’re done.

2. Plain text
This may be our personal bias, but we like to receive email in plain text so that we can decide what font, size, style, and colour the messages will use. We also like to extend that courtesy to others. Mail uses Rich Text by default for outgoing messages, but you can change this by choosing Mail > Preferences, clicking the Composing icon on the toolbar, and then choosing Plain Text from the Message Format menu. (To change the format for an individual message, choose Format > Make Rich Text or Format > Make Plain Text.)

To force incoming messages to display in plain text by default (which isn’t possible for all messages), you need to quit Mail, open Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities) and enter the following command:

defaults write PreferPlainText -bool TRUE.

To revert just change TRUE to FALSE.

To switch to styled text (assuming the message was styled originally) when viewing a plain-text message, choose View > Message > Best Alternative.

3. Multiple From addresses
If an email account has more than one valid From address (for example, using [email protected] as an alias to [email protected]), you can configure Mail to let you use any of those addresses when sending a given message from that account.

First, choose Mail > Preferences, click the Accounts icon on the toolbar, select your account, and click Account Information. Then, in the E-mail Address field, enter all the addresses you might use with that account, separated by commas. Close the Preferences window and click Save. Now, when you compose a new message, you can quickly choose any of those addresses from the From pop-up menu below the Subject field. This is one way to outwit spam. See for more ideas.

4. Activity window
Does Mail seem to take a long time to check or send messages? When you’re curious to know what your email program is up to behind the scenes, choose Window > Activity (C-0) to display a floating window showing each operation Mail is currently performing. You can stop any given activity by clicking the Stop icon.