Aol Alto – An Odd UX Decision

Aol’s new Alto Web-based email client is beautiful and does a nice job with the presentation of organized mail. The UI is clean and the service feels modern in a way that most Web-based clients don’t. While I’ve tinkered with it, I haven’t really put it through it’s paces quite yet. That said, I noticed an odd interaction flow that seems like a significant mistake for something that has so obviously had a lot of design attention.

In the video below, you can see the issue – in order to act on one or more messages in the sidebar, you click a label titled “Actions” at the top of the screen, which then slides up and causes an action bar to appear at the bottom of the screen – about as far as possible from your current moue position. I reduced the size of my browser for the video, so the distance is much more pronounced in real world scenarios.

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

My gut reaction is that the action bar should drop in from the top, reducing the distance required to move the mouse, and making the relationship explicit. It is also a clearly established pattern to place controls above lists. Following an existing pattern is by no means required, but breaking it is a very explicit decision. I’m curious about the logic behind that decision.

Transfer Mail.app’s Junk Filter to Another Mac or Account

Close Mail.app on both machines, and then find the file ~/Library/Mail/V2/MailData/LSMMap2 on the old machine and copy it into the same location on the new machine.

This is useful on those occasions when you need to copy or move OS X’s Mail’s rules for filtering spam from one account to another, or from an old machine to a new one when you don’t want to use Migration Assistant.

The same can be done for any Rules (copy MessageRules.plist) or Smart Mailboxes (SmartMailboxes.plist) you’ve set up.

Accurate as of OS X 10.7 (Lion)

Experimentin' with Mail

Thunderbird and Mail.app icons Let’s get down to it, I like Thunderbird, having used it since it’s early beta period, but my will has been overcome by the siren song of Apple’s Mail.app. The loudest and clearest voice in the chorus emanates from Hawk Wings, a site dedicated to Mail, its plugins and tips that will improve the experience.

So, a week and a half ago I pulled Thunderbird from the Dock, forcing myself into full time usage. I like it. The shift isn’t drastic, and I don’t recommend that people change on a whim unless, like me, they like to tinker with apps, diving into the details that most people don’t think (nor care) about.

I do have one gripe so far: I lost a few of my outgoing messages as Mail didn’t detect the existing Sent folders, nor did it create a new one for its use. So, until I figured out that I could specify a folder to act as the Sent box, my messages went out, but were not copied to an archive for my later reference.
In an effort to sort all of this out for myself, and possibly provide a useful, though small resource for others, I’m writing up my experiences with Mail and documenting the changes I’ve made, the plugins I’ve installed or uninstalled and my general thoughts on the matter. There isn’t a lot of detail yet, but this entry will expand as time allows.

My Setup

OS: 10.4
Platform: Intel (MacBook Pro)
Mail Version: 2.1.1 (752.3) – at time of writing
Account Type: IMAP – this is important as it directly impacts some core functionality as all of my mail stays on the server.

Modifications

Stamp icons for Mail.app

Configuration Changes

Plugins

  • Letterbox provides a three pane view for Mail, much like Outlooks layout.
  • IMAP-IDLE adds the ability for Mail to communicate with the mailserver so it can be told when new mail has arrived instead of connecting with the server ever N minutes to check. Efficiency is a good thing.
  • MailActOn makes it easy to set up simple or complex chains of commands available at the touch of a key. I haven’t put this to any real test yet, but I think it will be a core component of how I use Mail. Works with MailTags.
  • MailTags provides the ability to assign keywords, priorities and other meta data to messages. Combine it with MailActOn for even more powerful capabilities.

Wishes

I’d be even happier if Mail would:

  • automatically set up or detect and use an existing ‘Sent’ folder for my IMAP account, and
  • allow me to define how long a message should be viewed before it is marked as ‘read’, allowing me to quickly arrow through messages to find the one I want without losing the unread status of the others, and
  • allow me to dock the activity viewer, or provide a small status bar.

I’ll expand this as I learn more, and welcome any feedback, suggestions or questions that you may have!