So I’ve upgraded my late-model Powerbook to Tiger, and I’ve decided also to give Apple’s built-in Mail app one more chance. Switching email programs is a risky business—different products store messages on you computer in fundamentally different ways. I myself have been burned more than once, so please allow me to share what I’ve learned…
The email apps that I’ve encountered use one of three basic filesystems: Databases, Mbox and Emix.
These include Microsoft Entourage and Bare Bones’ Mailsmith. I jumped on board with Entourage as soon as I got my copy of the Office 2001 Suite for Mac; though its email functionality is no different than the Mac version of Outlook Express, Entourage could sync my addresses, calendar events and other good stuff with my Palm PDA. The arrangement worked out perfectly, until some cheap RAM on my computer corrupted my mail database, and destroyed all the email I had accrued since my last backup.
Entourage stores your mail in a proprietary database, which you can only access using Entourage. You can compact it, rebuild it and sometimes even repair it from within the program, but if something bad ever happens then there’s little you can do. To be fair, you can export your mail into other readable formats, but if you can’t easily re-import them then what’s the point?
I’ve also downloaded a 30-day trial of Mailsmith, but trashed it as soon as I realized that it too stored mail in a proprietary database. Fool me once…
Enter the Mbox
After my Entourage email disaster, I found myself reunited with an old friend called Eudora. Eudora uses the “mbox” format, just like Mozilla and Thunderbird. The big advantage here is that these mboxes are more or less text files, readable by any word processor. I’ve got archived Eudora mail from eight years ago, and I can still open it with my current version without issue. I can even open a Eudora mailbox in another computer across a network, with the necessary permissions, of course—and that’s pretty cool!
Sadly, Eudora’s interface is anything but. It hasn’t changed all that much since I first started using it, and with Mac OS X’s shiny new buttons it looks downright hideous. So I decided to give Jaguar’s built-in Mail program a try…
Version 1 of Apple’s Mail app also stores mail in mbox format, but with separate preferences and other proprietary files added to the mix. One day I booted up my mail program and got a message that one of these files was corrupt, and that was that. All my mail, gone. I suspect that Apple’s mbox files weren’t really up to standards, as I had a 3MB one sitting on my computer that I couldn’t do a thing with. So back I ran into Eudora’s ugly embrace.
Arguably Apple’s most innovative new feature in its Tiger OS is Spotlight, giving the user the ability to quickly find anything on the computer, including specific email messages. To accomplish this, version 2 of Apple Mail stores each individual message as a separate file, with .emix suffix tacked on to the end. Certainly not your standard file extension, but it works—I’ve tried searching for obscure keywords hidden deep in long emails, and Spotlight has caught each and every one.
For this alone I’m willing to give Apple Mail another chance. If something goes wrong you’ll be sure to hear about it here. In the meantime, if you’re using or thinking of switching to one of the other products mentioned above, hopefully you can learn from my pain and not repeat any of my mistakes!