By Jason Snell
August 31, 2018 9:41 PM PT
Applications Folder: MailPlane 4
To think there was a day when I was excited about email.
When I went to college, I got my first Internet access, and discovered that while we were banned from using the real-time chat protocol
talk, you could still have free instantaneous chats with friends by sending email back and forth. My first use of Internet email was, then, to send text messages via a unix command-line.
It was in the fall of 1992, at UC Berkeley, where I finally got email on my Mac, courtesy of a version of the free Eudora email app that was hacked to dial in to a command-line server, connect itself to your account, and download your mail directly. A few months later I got a legitimate internet dial-up account from the University and thus begun 25 years (!) and counting of reading email on the Mac.
At some point Eudora died, and at some point after that I finally gave up on it. For a while I tried Apple Mail, but it frustrated me—it was slow and unreliable. Searching in particular left me frustrated—Spotlight would often find endless streams of emails I never wanted to see, but search in the Mail app itself somehow could never find what I wanted. And of course, there was the lag—I’d get a new email, click on it to read it, and Mail would just spin and spin for a minute or two before finally showing me the message.
If an email program failed at the basic task of displaying your new messages promptly when you clicked on them—Mail was always too busy syncing other mailboxes in the background to load my inbox?—I decided it was not an email program I wanted to use. (I know, I know, Mail has gotten better since then, and I’ve used it sporadically for testing, but I’ve never gone back to it.)
I abandoned Mail and switched to Gmail’s web interface, something that sounded bananas when my friend Adam Engst first revealed that he’d done it. (Adam was, at one point, the biggest supporter of Eudora on the planet.) I hated the idea of keeping a web-browser window open to check my mail. But I loved the idea of instantly reading messages and having immediate access to extremely robust email search.
What allowed me to switch was Mailplane, a $30 app that takes the Gmail web interface and makes it something that feels like a Mac app. It runs in its own process, so I never close the window accidentally when I’m doing something in my web browser. It uses Mac-native keyboard shortcuts, instead of the (very unix-inspired) shortcuts found in Gmail proper. It wraps a bunch of other features, such as drag-and-drop attachments, notification center, multiple accounts, integration with other apps, and even support for isolating Google Calendar and Contacts as well.
I would not be using Gmail as my primary interface for mail were it not for Mailplane. If you’re a Gmail user and a Mac user who has been frustrated by how weird it is to read your email in a web browser, give it a try.
Somewhere in the last 25 years, I lost my enthusiasm for email, but it’s necessary. Combined with Sanebox—disclosure: they’re a sponsor of some of my podcasts—it’s made triaging email less of a chore than it was before. At this point I’m going to call that a win.