Mail lets you compose email messages in one of two formats: plain text and Rich Text. The first is text with no fancy formatting. Rich Text adds formatting tags to text, allowing you to add fonts, font styles, and inline images. Rich Text is similar to HTML; however, Mail cannot create email in HTML format. Rich Text conforms to the Internet mail-format for enriched text and can be read (with varying degrees of accuracy) by programs such as Eudora and Outlook Express. Some older email programs can’t handle Rich Text; those programs will show the formatting tags in the message body and turn embedded images into attachments. Mail’s Rich Text is not the same as Rich Text Format (RTF), a document interchange format created by Microsoft (and also the native format of OS X’s TextEdit). Using Mail to compose messages is easy and enjoyable. Mail uses Apple’s Address Book application for addressing; addresses automatically complete as you type them, or you can drag and drop addresses from Address Book into your new message form. One annoying drawback is that if a contact has more than one email address listed in Address Book, Mail can access only the first address. You can work around this by making another address record for each email address, but there’s no way to define an email address as the primary one for a person. Spelling mistakes are underlined as you type, and you can fix errors simply by clicking on a contextual menu item. And of course, as a Cocoa program, Mail takes full advantage of OS X’s gorgeous text styling and rendering, with the full palette of antialiased fonts, styles, and text colours available. Mail displays incoming email that was created in plain text, Rich Text, or HTML formats. Unfortunately, the HTML mail display is buggy; sometimes inline images fail to display when you first view the email message. If you switch to another message, then back to the first one, the images load properly. Deficient in the details
Good filtering is an essential feature for email programs (especially to help keep the flood of spam out of your in-box), but here Mail falls short. The range of filtering criteria is too small, and you can filter only by one criterion per rule. Mail also lacks some useful features you can get in other programs, such as Outlook Express’s Junk Mail Filter, or Eudora’s text-formatting plug-ins. You’ll quickly run into some of Mail’s limitations. For example, you can search only one mailbox at a time, and you can’t redirect incoming mail. Overall performance wasn’t especially snappy on a 400MHz Power Mac G4 with 256MB of RAM; like much of OS X, Mail just feels slow, especially when opening mailboxes with many messages or resizing windows. If you need assistance, you probably won’t find it in Mail’s abysmal help files. Far from comprising a good tutorial or reference, they supply only the smallest amount of information, and they fail to explain many of Mail’s features altogether. Given the importance of email, you would expect Mail to be practically bulletproof, or at least immune to simple crashes. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The program unexpectedly quit many times during my testing, and I discovered a reliable way to crash it: simply double-clicking on a particular spot in the mailbox list.
That it’s free is one argument in favour of using Mail, but when you consider Mail’s problems, this argument may not prove strong enough. You can readily get free versions of other, better mail programs, and no one likes a program that crashes. Until Apple fixes Mail’s bugs and addresses at least some of its shortcomings, you’re better off sticking with Qualcomm Eudora or Microsoft Outlook Express.