Mailplane: Gmail on your Desktop

Of all the web apps that threaten to replace their desktop brethren, Gmail is the grandaddy of them all. A web-based email app that has enough functionality to compete with the likes of Apple’s Mail or Mozilla’s Thunderbird, Gmail is used by many people around the world as their primary email service. But if you’re like me, sometimes you really wish it had some of the features common to its desktop counterparts, like the ability to drag and drop images into a message, or integration with Address Book.

Mailplane steps in to bridge the gap, bringing the functionality of your desktop mail applications to the comfort and familiarity of Gmail.

Overview

Compose New Message

Compose New Message

Mailplane is a site specific browser (SSB), similar to Fluid or Mozilla’s Prizm, built on the Webkit rendering engine. While other SSBs have generic functionality, Mailplane has features tailored to make your Gmail experience feel more “desktop-like”, like drag-and-drop capability, iPhoto and Address Book integration, and Growl notification.

The killer feature for me, however, is the ability to access and manage multiple Gmail accounts from a single application. Be it a standard Gmail or Google Apps for Domain account, Mailplane handles them all seamlessly, with no need to log in and out constantly to check different accounts.

The Interface

Mail Icons

Mail Icons

At first glance, you don’t even notice the interface. Why should you? The main interface is Gmail itself, the same as if you opened it in any other browser. It’s only when you take a second look at the browser chrome do you realize that this isn’t your grandma’s Gmail. This is in fact, a full application dedicated to controlling one thing.

Icons

Icons

The toolbar provides the same type of features that any regular mail application has, such as the New, Reply, Forward, Send, and Discard buttons. While those are great, they duplicate functionality that is already provided by the Gmail interface, so they go largely unused by me. The toolbar buttons that do catch my attention are on the top right corner of the application, each one representing functionality exclusive to Mailplane.

Screenshot

Taking a Screenshot

Taking a Screenshot

I use the built-in screen capture in OS X for quick grabs, or LittleSnapper, so the screenshot ability of Mailplane isn’t all that special. It is useful if you’d like to send a quick screencap to someone while composing an email. If you click the Screenshot button while composing a message, Mailplane allows you to take a screenshot and automatically attach it to the message. Handy!

Email

Inserting an Email Address

Inserting an Email Address

This button connects to Apple’s built-in Address Book, allowing you to compose a message to, or insert into the current message, the email address of someone in your contacts list. While this is a nice feature if your contact list is managed in Address Book, if your contacts are all managed by Google already then the feature is slightly lacking. If Mailplane were to also sync your Gmail contacts with your Address Book contacts, then we’d really be talking.

Media

Inserting Media

Inserting Media

The media button opens up a media browser window that lets you scan through your computer easily to find photos, audio, or movies that you want to attach to your message. All of your iPhoto libraries, your iTunes music collection, and any movies/videos on your machine are available to drag and drop as attachments. It isn’t immediately apparent that I was supposed to drag them into my message, but once you figure it out it works fairly painlessly.

Downloads

Downloads

Downloads

Given that this is a browser, it makes sense that it has a downloads manager. You sometimes wonder where your attachments go? I sure do. The default Mail Downloads folder of Mail.app hidden deep in your user library is a nightmare, so it’s nice that Mailplane puts the information in front of you. A small feature, but appreciated.

Accounts

Multiple Account Support

Multiple Account Support

I have at least 3 Gmail accounts that I have to check daily. The process for each account? Log in, check email, log out. Wash, rinse, repeat. In my opinion, this is the main killer feature of Mailplane. You can set up any number of accounts to seamlessly switch between them without having to log in and out – a huge boost in productivity.

Extras

Growl

Growl

There are some hidden niceties to Mailplane that make using Gmail an enjoyable affair. For instance, getting Growl notifications of new emails is simply great, and something that I never realized I was missing from my switch from Mail.app to Gmail.

As a true desktop replacement app, you can set Mailplane to act as your primary email client, so clicking any “mailto:” links will automatically start a new message.

Google Gears

Google Gears

There is more on the way toward desktop replacement as the Mailplane beta version also offers support for Google Gears, enabling you to use Gmail while offline. Also in beta is a HTML signatures feature that makes it much easier to have complete customization of your signature line.

Conclusion

Mailplane could be better. There are some features that almost feel like they were thrown in because of a need to differentiate the app in the marketplace. That said, I feel that it does offer a good productivity-increasing solution for anyone who uses Gmail.

The desktop integration brought by Mailplane, in my opinion, certainly justifies the $24.95 price of this Gmail extending application. But don’t take my word for it, download the Mailplane demo and try it out. I’m sure you’ll like it!


  • http://kimsokol.com Kim

    I adore Mailplane for one simple reason: I have two mail accounts, and it can notify me on both at once. Plus, I got sick of my browser logging me out of the account I use for analytics, Google Reader and so forth every time I wanted to check my other mail.

  • http://dbj.pixelpimps.de Phil

    i just put my gmail accounts in mail.app using IMAP. it works like a charm, its a REAL real mail software, and its free.

    • http://www.blog.massiveProCreation.com mpc

      I do the same, I have 3 email accounts ;)

    • http://www.hipervinculo.net Raul Riera

      Yup, plus you get Push Email Notifications with that

      • Erik

        I found idle (or push as you call it) to be flaky at best when using Gmail in Mail.app. That, plus the advantages of using the web interface (labels and threaded messages) made me switch to the web interface permanently – not MailPlane though.

    • http://paperplanes.de Mathias Meyer

      I’ve used Mail.app with GMail before, but I just wasn’t happy about it. GMail’s concept of labels doesn’t mix that well the Mail.app, at least for me. I just recently switched to just using the web interface with Mailplane, and I’m quite happy with it. The desktop integration isn’t really the killer feature for me (apart from the default mail client stuff), it’s the convenience of having multiple accounts without having to use a) Mail.app or b) multiple browser windows.

      I was pretty sceptical about the price at first too, in fact I didn’t see the point. But then I just used it for a week, and I was sold. It’s not for everyone sure, but now that I’ve used the GMail interface through the web for a few weeks, using Mail.app just doesn’t make sense to me any more.

  • garfield

    I don’t get it – I have about 5 different e-mail accounts and manage them all from one. If in GMail you go to Settings -> Accounts and enable whatever account you want (GMail works flawlessly, haven’t tested others) you can then e-mail from that account after a confirmation.

    Then I just forward the mail from that account to the one I’ve just authorized and archive it. It’s that simple, really. If you have different e-mail accounts for different reasons, Labels and scripts like Folders4Labels can help out with that. Just because you have multiple accounts doesn’t mean you have to use a desktop client.

    Also, Google Notifier acts as Growl support (practically) although it’s not Growl it does something very similar.

    Personally, the only use I see for a desktop e-mail client is for offline use but Gears does help solve that problem. Thought I should add what works for me.

    • http://twitter.com/RafBM Raf.

      There’s also Gmail Notifir, without the E, that really uses Growl, supports notifications for multiple accounts, is open source and doesn’t install anything you don’t want on your Mac.

  • http://www.alexanderdrewniak.com Alex Drewniak

    Mailplane is nice. Have been using it for quite a while now. Not sure if it’s worth the money considering you can do virtually the same thing on your own with Fluid or the likes.

  • Nuno Campos

    To check several Gmail accounts on the website without loggig in and out you just have to use the Stainless browser, open single session tabs for each account, log in, save them as bookmarks and there you bookmarks with specific cookies. Much simpler.

  • http://www.tehdik.com David Klein

    I’m a huge fan of Mailplane. However, I wish it supported Google Calendar and Contacts.

  • http://flickr.com/fiz FiZ

    Honestly, I was not impressed with Mailplane. I heard great things about it, but I couldn’t even find it useful enough to keep if it were free. Right now, I tend to just use Mail.app for most purposes, and Postbox is useful for a few special tasks. I really haven’t found a reason to use any of the other desktop webmail apps.

  • http://www.josefrichter.com Josef

    You can have simplier Mailplane version for free by running Gmail in Fluid or Prism, with Gears enabled. Here is how: http://www.josefrichter.com/blog/offline-gmail-google-docs-helvetireader-etc-using-fluid/

    Enjoy

  • Tony

    I’ve been using Mailplane since the early beta, and love it. It’s running all the time on all of my computers. Using Mail.app with Gmail/IMAP is no comparison. Not even close.

  • http://dangayle.com Dan Gayle

    I’ve used every method that has been described above, other than the Stainless app idea, and Mailplane still is the easiest. When you use Mail.app it’s far to easy to mess things up. (Believe me, I’ve done it before. I lost 2 years worth of IMAP mail because of that app.)

    Pulling other accounts into Gmail is fine, if you can stand using POP3, which I hate.

    As to using Fluid.app, that’s actually the way I was using Gmail before Mailplane.

  • http://www.marcelray.com/ Marcel Ray

    Mailplane is an indispensable part of my app arsenal. I use the drag/drop attachments feature almost daily and the Accounts drawer makes switching accounts painless. While moving all of my accounts to one sounds nice in theory, sometimes I want to make sure I’m emailing from the correct account and am keeping things separate. As mentioned above, Mail.app or Fluid solutions just don’t cut it right now.

  • Paul Russam

    I’ve been using Mailplane for over a year and love it.
    Along with the above mentioned features its worth pointing out that OSX sees Mailplane as an app not just a wrapper for Gmail therefore you can set it as your default mail app in the likes of iPhoto. Also any customisation you do in Gmail (change colours/theme, add features etc) will appear in Mailplane.

    Best feature? Probably the drag and drop of files to be attached. Drag an image and Mailplane will offer to resize it.

    Updates are regular and nearly always contain new or improved features not just fixes, also when Google go and change something Mailplane’s developer(s) are very quick to adapt to it.

  • Jikeb

    I think that doing the same thing for google reader gonna be much more useful !!

  • http://dangayle.com Dan Gayle

    For Google reader, then Fluid is definitely your best choice. Since that’s the kind of account you only ever log into once, I put it into Fluid and turn it into a Menu Extra SSB so it always sits in my menu bar. Good stuff.

  • Pingback: links for 2009-06-03 | BlueWave Media

  • Michael

    What can this do that apple’s mail client can’t?

  • http://simplyblog.net Miguel | Simply Blog

    Thanks for the interaction folks, everybody’s comments are quite helpful. :) Never got into Fluid? Maybe I should give it a second look. Mailplane looks fun but I’m not sure about the price.

    • http://simplyblog.net Miguel Wickert

      okay, so I picked up mailplane after I realized they offer a student discount. Ye yes. It’s fast, simple and kinda fun. :) Thanks again for sharing!

  • artmania

    as a new mac owner and long years gmail user, I’m going to try now ;) thanks for the info

  • Pingback: Christmas Giveaway Day 18: Mailplane – Mac.AppStorm

  • http://eimbu.com daulex

    Thunderbird ftw. I have 2 of my gmail accounts linked to it and my companies work email account in it, it handles everything beautifully!

  • HBB

    i tried postbox when it was in beta now it’s too pricey. thunderbird3 is coming out n stilll trying to find out if it is better than postbox.btw, how to change snow leopard dock anyone and how to change stacks image in snow leopard

  • http://www.mci.ir sbgsr

    sorry

  • Kaan

    I like Mailplane for these reasons:

    1-Drag&drop attachments ( Google just introduced this feature )

    2- If you add a photo it resizes the photo automatically ( that you choose on setup menu, you can turn this functionality on/off )

    3- I dont have to sign-it & out all the time from my browser to check my gmail address and other google services. I click the the account the mailplane does the sign-in&out for me.

    For me even the auto resizing is enough reason to buy Mailplane. I hate exporting photos from iPhoto and attaching them later. With Mailplane I just drag&drop my photos on Mailplane and it does the resizing and adding for me.

  • Pingback: Ultimate Collection of Google Related Mac Apps | Design City

  • Pingback: Ultimate Collection of Google Related Mac Apps | Best Web Magazine

  • http://guitartutorialsblog.com Francis

    Thanks for the review. I’m currently using Thunderbird with IMAP to check 6 different email accounts (some are shared for client work), and when I have to search for just THAT email message it gets painful sometimes as IMAP is sooo slow.

    Using the web interface is not an option due to the number of accounts I have to check. Looks like Mailplane is a good alternative and I will be giving it a spin.

  • Pingback: Love Gmail? Mailplane makes Gmail even better. | Ministry Vault

  • http://quitest-portable-airconditioner.blogspot.com/ chloe@portable aircon

    I haven’t tried mailplane yet but I’m starting to like it. The features are good which is best for my online business. I can easily get connected with my clients. All praise for this review. I would absolutely gonna try this.

  • Pingback: Top 3 Gmail Management Apps for Mac

theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow