Replacing Notify: Searching for the Perfect Menu Bar Mail App

A while ago, when I got my first Mac, I began using Mail for keeping up with my email. It was a very good app and I enjoyed using it, but I didn’t know how I felt about having all of my emails (both important and useless) stored in one app, accessible to anyone who accessed my computer. This wasn’t exactly a problem, until that computer got stolen, and as it wasn’t password-protected, whoever stole it or bought it now had access to a good number of my emails, and I couldn’t really do anything about it but but keep him from receiving my new emails.

A few days later, when I replaced my Macbook, I thought twice about using Mail.app again after that first panic attack. I stuck with Gmail’s web app until I found a great and very complete app called Notify. Notify was cheap, it sat on my menu bar and it even used Growl to alert me when I got new messages. It was very simple and pretty, too. It allowed me to quickly check on emails without having to leave what I was doing, and even quickly reply to them or delete them and do marvelous things with them. It synced wonderfully with Gmail. It was a dream come true.

But it didn’t last very long. After I installed Lion, I noticed it started acting weird. It still alerted me when I got new mail and it let me access its menu bar interface, but if I tried to read or reply to any of them, the app would become useless, in many ways. I thought it would get updated soon, but as time went by I got anxious. One day I looked up the app and found a blog where the developers said they weren’t going to keep developing it, and that they had just stopped selling it. I understood, but I also needed to replace the luxury life that Notify had gotten me used to. And so began my search…

 

Google Notifier

The first choice was Google Notifier; an app that I had tried when I was searching for an app like Notify back when I got my new computer. I didn’t remember much about it, but I did remember that there was something about it that I didn’t like. I decided to give it another try and downloaded it again. Well, first off, it comes with Google Calendar activated, which could be useful for some people but is really just annoying for me. Then there’s the notifications: it doesn’t use Growl, so even though they look good, they sort of break the integration of my computer, and they sometimes even overlap with the Growl notifications.

It’s really only a notifier, you can’t do anything with your mail through the app. It could do just fine as a replacement, but there are details about it that I find a bit annoying, and there’s also some missing functionality that I expect from an app like this, like having the ability to read your emails in the menu, and not needing to open up a browser window to do so.

Price: Free

Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later

Developer: Google

 

Sparrow

Even though Sparrow doesn’t exactly fit in the category of a “menu bar mail app”, it does offer a nice lightweight solution to reading your email, and it has notifications. It also has a “download on demand” setting, which fills my purpose of not keeping email stored on the computer. There’s a nice menu bar icon that alerts you of the number of unread emails, but it doesn’t do anything else other than bring up the Sparrow window.

I could see myself using an app like Sparrow. It really does deliver on “making email fun again”. It’s very pretty, light, and it has this mobile feeling that I enjoy in apps like Reeder for Mac. It’s not exactly like Notify, but sometimes change is good, right?

Price: $9.99

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Sparrow

 

Mail.app + Growl Plugins

This isn’t for me. But some of you may find it interesting. Back when I used Mail.app, I came across a few plugins that allowed you to have notifications through Growl, but while working with Mail.app. I don’t remember which one I used as there are a bunch of them, but this is the one the Growl guys recommend. Like I said, it’s not a solution for my needs, but some people will find it very nice, I’m sure.

Price: Free

Requires: Growl

 

Google Notifr

This is the app that I was the most excited to try out, because it seemed like the most similar to Notify. It’s not bad, except for the fact that it is pretty much the same thing as the original Google Notifier from Google. It actually seems a bit better, as it lets you adjust a few settings like the frequency with which it checks your email, and it uses Growl which is a very big positive point for me. It works exactly like the Google app, it just works as a notifier and a quick access button for opening Gmail in your browser. I like it better than the Google app, but it still doesn’t do enough to be considered a serious alternative to beautiful Notify.

Price: Free

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: James Chen

 

Mailbox

Mailbox is a Gmail-only menu bar app that I found in the App Store. It differentiates itself from the others because it actually uses Gmail’s mobile version and displays it when you click its icon on the menu bar. It’s great because you can do anything with it, even look at your labels and stuff like that. The downside though, is that it doesn’t display the unread count on the icon, and it also doesn’t support notifications. Close, but not quite there yet.

Price: Free

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Zentertain

 

MailTab

MailTab seemed like a great option at first. It promised everything I was looking for: notifications, ability of reading emails from the menu and Growl notifications. It even uses Gmail’s web version in a very neat way. It seemed like I had finally found what I was looking for, but there’s something wrong with it, something very wrong.

There’s a bug in this version of the app that sort of “breaks” your Gmail account. Something about the app uses a lot of resources, I suppose, and so Google tends to block your account for a while if you use the app, because of “Unusual Usage”. I would have been happy using this app, but until they don’t fix it, I can’t work with it.

Price: Free/Pro for $1.99

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Conclusion

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing like Notify. I really liked that app, everything about it was pleasant and joyful. It just a very detailed and well-thought utility, even the little noise it made when new email arrived was discrete and cool. The thing is though, there’s a lot of “mail notifier” apps out there, some of which I didn’t cover because I felt they were already represented better by another app. If you take a look at the Mac App Store, you are going to find apps like GmailDock and GotMail?, but they are either too expensive (in comparison with other apps that do the same thing for free), or too buggy to really be worthy.

And it’s strange, because I’m not exactly asking for anything extraordinary. Most of these apps have elements that I’m looking for, but none of them gather them all together like Notify did. And so, my search continues. I might try Sparrow for a while and see if I can adapt to it. If not, I’ll wait until MailTab gets updated, if it ever does. If you know any other app that gets the job done, please let me and our readers know! And if you are a Notify developer reading this, please come back!


  • http://www.nappyafro.com B-Easy

    I’ve been rocking with Sparrow for while now and it’s head and shoulders above the other options listed here (Especially with the recent new updates). The only thing I would change is the paper airplane icon.

    • Alexei

      Sparrow has a beautiful interface but it’s not lightweight like they say. It uses more RAM & CPU than Mail for example. CPU spikes above 50% when you scroll not many emails.

      • Richard Testani

        Agree, and I keep getting connection errors, its slow at searching and you cannot apply rules. It’s a nice app but I am not bowled over by it.

    • Krista

      Can always use Candybar to change the icon. :D

  • Ed

    It’s not exactly a notifier app, but I use Mailplane. I get Dock badge updates, and have Boxcar handling all my notifications so I get the Growl alerts. I don’t think that Mailplane has the download ability though.

  • Seed

    Yes Notify, please come back!

    There are two things I really don’t like about Sparrow. First, even when you set to display app in menu bar, when it starts you can see icon in the dock for a while. I know that this can be hard to do, but its still annoying me. Seconc – when you click icon in menu bar, app is showing, but when you click it again, it not disapear like official Twitter application for example. To hide it, you must click x button, it’s so unintuitive. Nevertheless Sparrow is a great piece of code.

  • Emkay

    +1
    I was shocked when I first read that development of Notify had been terminated.

    Especially because it wasn’t just a Gmail client but also very sexy generic IMAP client.

    That’s the downside to closed source software. If the developer pulls the plug it’s dead. You can’t take over, fork or continue development.
    Badly missed…

  • http://vancura.org Vaclav Vancura

    The last tribute to any app whose development stopped is to offer its sources. They should do it, there would be at least a chance someone will continue on their work.

  • Sebastiaan

    I still use the Mail app for gathering all my mails. It’s only a backup of sorts though since most of the time i’ve read all the mails way before they show up in Mail.app.

    As for a notifier, i use googlemail’s standard notifier. Works with Chrome, gives me a popup whenever there’s an email and i click it to open a window in which i can read and reply as i want.

    Good enough for me, don’t need another icon in my menubar to be honest.

  • koiyu

    Tried all of those free versions — still sticking with Notify.

    Yes, I usually have to press space bar four times in order to get the quick preview and, yes, sometimes I have to relaunch it to get the app visible; but Notify is still better than the competition.

    + The pro version is free http://vibealicious.com/apps/notify/ which is only fair considering all the bugs it has.

  • David Ferguson

    Didn’t surprise me that he killed it. The developer basically built it up enough to get people interested, take their money, then gave up on Notify to work on Flow. I feel like I got cheated personally. Don’t bring it up to the dev though, he’s been a bit of a douche every time I’ve ever tried to talk to him.

    Notify is missing too many features now days to compare to things like Sparrow. Obviously Sparrow isn’t exactly a menu bar app, which I would really like, but it is far superior to Notify.

  • Argelius

    Great write up and completely agree with your conclusions.

    The thing I miss most about Notify is the ability to quickly delete or reply to a message, without having to go to your main mail app.

    I’m using Sparrow, but wish they’d enhance the notification/menu bar icon functionality…

  • http://www.1GeekArmy.com/ @Richie__

    Herald (http://erikhinterbichler.com/software/herald/) is a better choice for me. Just notifies when a new email comes in, shows a preview and allow me to do the most common actions (delete, open in mail, reply, mark as read, forward, etc) so I don’t even have to open the Mail window. I’d like Mail doesn’t have to be running though.

    • http://www.thegraphicmac.com Jim

      Yeah, Herald is awesome. It would be great if Mail didn’t have to be open – but OS X manages its RAM well enough that I see no performance hit keeping it open & hidden.

    • JC

      Best. Plugin. Ever.

  • Alexei

    The nice thing about notifiers is that you don’t have to keep applications open (even though a notifier is one).

    Google Notifier (from Google) uses just 8mb RAM. When you receive an email you get a notification similar to Growl’s “Smoke” (the one I use as default) with a preview of the email’s content. To access it just two clicks, one in the icon and another in Inbox (or the specified email).

    Gmail Notifr is prettier but uses 80mb RAM (same as Mail.app) and you have to do more clicks to access your email. Uses growl (so it’s more configuration).

  • http://adamteece.com Adam Teece

    I love Sparrow. It isn’t always the most resource friendly, but for quick replying and completely managing my Gmail accounts, it rocks.

  • Nathan

    I know Sparrow is not like Notify, but you should definitely consider using it. It’s an awesome app.

  • http://tite.dk/quickmailer Rasmus Porsager

    Hi there.

    We’re a couple of guys with some of the same frustrations as you, though we’re not that easy to scare away from mail.app, so we started out with another approach, still dependent on mail.app, but residing in the menu bar.

    We’re working on a small app called QuickMailer which in it’s first version makes it possible to send mail directly from the menu bar through the default mail.app account.

    Files can also be dragged to the icon in the menu bar and attached to a new mail that way.

    One of our next steps is to implement preview of unread mails by right clicking the menubar icon, so that the default behavior with a left click is to quickly compose a new mail, and with a right click take a look at unread mails (with a reply function).

    But our main concern was to have an unobtrusive way of writing mail, so that’s were we put our focus first.

    Let me know if you would like to take a closer look at it.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id471864867

  • Vaskerville

    I loved Notify. I was very happy to buy the app and was very puzzled that the whole project was dropped. Even if I only paid $10 bucks I thought people deserved better treatment.

    The v2.2 beta was awesome. The only problem was that it expired (he claimed he would remove the expiration but it’s becoming clear that it’s not likely to happen). Just like the author of this article, I wait for something like it to come along again (Sparrow is not what I’m looking for at all).

    https://vibealicious.tenderapp.com/discussions/notify-22-beta/27-beta-expired

  • Ian

    I just came across Parsley on the App Store. Looks most like Notify of anything I’ve seen. Has anybody tried it out? http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id421972147?mt=12

  • Ian

    I just came across Parsley on the App Store. Looks most like Notify of anything I’ve seen. Has anybody tried it out? http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/parsley/id421972147?mt=12

  • Sheryl

    Meh… I set up mail.app to work like gmail (deleted/sent mail goes to the right place) and the little ding it makes when a new mail comes in is fine for me. I check after every few dings and I’m good. growlmail wasn’t working a while back so I just dealt with it.

    I don’t really see how notify was more secure though. Just use a fricking password.

  • dreeZ

    One that don’t have a password setup, and get a MacBook stolen, should wear an HP, windows XP, and use Facebook as mail app.

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  • http://www.massagista.org Portal Massagista

    I don’t think that Mailplane has the download ability though. Good Work!

  • Pingback: Goodbye Notify, Hello Sparrow Mail

  • http://www.avantimoto.com AvantiMoto

    I updated my iMac last Friday to Lion, only to find that Notify had gone a bit haywire. Wasn’t impressed to find no update and then see on the blog that it was no longer being developed. Decided to do some searching for an alternative (not too optimistically I might add) and came across your post which saved me a lot of time so thanks for that. I am now a happy Sparrow user.

  • http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/22042/mail-unread-menu spdandy

    Installed Mail Unread Menu about 5 minutes ago. Free, and working fine so far.

    • Tom

      Yes.. but you have to have the mail app open.. :(

  • Smy

    I’m also looking for a notify replacement…

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  • http://juan.im Juan Felipe Alvarez Saldarriaga

    Mail Unread Menu (http://loganrockmore.com/MailUnreadMenu), simple menu bar application, see how many unread email messages for FREE!, you only need OSX 10.7 ¬¬

  • Me

    Count me as yet another who was perfectly happy with Notify, and who can’t find a decent replacement that isn’t dead. I won’t be buying anything else from that developer, that’s for sure.

    If he doesn’t want to support it or sell it, the least he could do is give the code away so someone who cares can maintain it.

    None of these apps that require Mail.app are useful to me. I want to use a menu bar thing, or a tiny monitoring widget so I see incoming messages. I’ll go to GMail in a browser when I need to reply or do anything fancy.

  • http://batamdinar.com Dinar Emas

    Thanks Jorge for offering some alternatives but nothing come close to Notify when it comes to non-obstructive email notification. Unfortunately they stop supporting this great little apps and many miss what Notify bring to us.

  • http://www.albertkinng.com Albert Kinng

    If you are like me you will be happy to know that a real Notify app replacer is available in the Mac App Store it’s called Mail Call and it’s basically the same app as Notify but better. You guys here in App Storm need to review it because it seems nobody knows about it yet.

    Here: http://www.mailcallapp.com

  • lawlist

    MacBiff was updated on Feb 11, 2012, and is working for me on Mountain Lion.

  • lawlist

    +1 on Mail Call app. Needs a few bells and whistles, like a contextual menu on a right click, and being able to escape to close instead of command+h, but the essential ingredients are there.

  • T boy

    Completely agree with you …

    Notify was / is a star App – I don’t know why / what caused them to give up – and even give it away for free! – So VERY generous & appreciated.
    Come back notify!

  • Guest

    I’d say it isn’t Apple’s or Mail.app’s fault that you do embarrassingly bad at securing your own data—not even a login password. Switching away from Mail.app for that reason is just ridiculous.

    Mail.app is, for my use, and in my personal opinion, hands-down the best e-mail client for Mac. I’ve been looking at different solutions for years, and have found none.

    That said, thanks for the overview of the different apps—I did come here because I’m always interested in alternative clients.

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