Mail is Broken and it Needs to be Fixed

Update: And like that, Apple has updated to mitigate the Gmail issues. Here’s to hoping it fixes everyone’s problems!

Did you, like me, rush out and update your Mac to run Mavericks? And did you just love the tabbed finder, added notifications and all of the other goodies? And did you then open Apple Mail, listen to the fan crank up to max and wonder why it showed 130% CPU usage in Activity Monitor?

Turns out that you’re not the only one. There’s been a shift in the way that Apple Mail handles Gmail accounts in Mavericks 10.9, and since tons of people use Gmail for their primary accounts, there’s a big problem on hand. TidBITS was the first to point it out (and that’s a great place to read the technical reasons why it’s broken), but today it’s a huge issue that needs to be fixed. Now.

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A Little Background

Let’s start out by stating the obvious: a lot of people use Gmail. It’s free, it’s easy to use and super awesome with spam management — why wouldn’t you use it? And even though now it costs a bit of money to use with Google Apps for Business (what you’d use if you setup your own domain name), it’s still worth it considering the benefits. At least it is for most people.

There is no one application (that I know of) that can handle my needs the way that Mail could.

I personally have 17 websites and 12 active email addresses (technically, I have at least two more emails, but I don’t use them at the moment). Now I may be in the minority here, but I’m sure most of you have at least two accounts: personal and work. In some cases, they could both be on Gmail, or they could have a combo of Gmail and Exchange. Either way, you’ve probably got two email accounts to manage, and accessing them on your iOS device or the web may not be ideal. That’s the case for my situation, unified inbox or not.

So if you want a desktop email client, you might turn to Apple Mail the way that I did. For years, that’s been a more than adequate solution, with lots of handy filters and tools that you can use to speed up your email processing. But now all that is gone, because Mail is broken badly. Unless Apple fixes it in an update, it’s not going to be a productive tool for anyone using Gmail. Which is to say, not a lot of people (unless they like duplicate emails, missing docs and weird folder movements, then sure).

Limited Alternatives

I obviously can’t go without email, so I started looking at alternatives, starting right here at Mac.AppStorm. After going through Matthew’s recent roundup, I tried Airmail and Postbox 3, as well as a few other options including Microsoft Outlook and Inky. The results? Not good.

There is no one application (that I know of) that can handle my needs the way that Mail could. Out of my 12 email accounts, one is IMAP (iCloud), 10 are Gmail and one is Exchange — Airmail and Inky don’t support Exchange, and Postbox 3 doesn’t support whatever flavor of Exchange that server is running (which I don’t know — long story). Outlook does support Exchange and does it quite nicely. But everything else? Holy cow is it a nightmare to setup, and even when I did get it working it felt like more of a hack. Besides, I really just don’t want to use Outlook, it’s so dang ugly. Plus, I’ve become a keyboard ninja with Mail, something I can’t do with any of those options.

I wanted to like Inky, but security concerns and workflow problems kept me out of it.

I wanted to like Inky, but security concerns and workflow problems kept me out of it.

What I’m now doing is using two applications to manage my email. Outlook handles my Exchange and iCloud account, and Airmail covers the rest as well as iCloud. So why is iCloud on both?

When I first signed up for MobileMe (yup, I was that guy), I figured out that an excellent way to have all my email on hand was to dump it into iCloud. By storing my docs there, I could access any email account’s archives from just iCloud. It meant that if I had an iPhone.AppStorm email from 2012 that I needed to find, I’d just look in my iPhone.AppStorm folder on iCloud instead of going through the Gmail folders. Why the complication? Because not all of my emails for one account come to one account. I get emails about iPhone.AppStorm via personal accounts, as well as two other emails also related to our parent company, Envato. Which means that I’d have to go through at least three accounts to find one email. Doing it all through iCloud made a ton more sense.

To continue this process sans Mail, I have to keep iCloud running on both email apps. That way I can file my Exchange emails into iCloud as well as my Gmail accounts, and it’s all kept in harmony. That’s the plan, but we’ll see how that all works out.

Making The Best of It

This system is still new, but it’s just not ideal. As Matthew wrote:

Airmail’s combination of style and features would actually be nearly perfect if you’re willing to tweak things a bit and deal with a plethora of settings. The only problem is, everything doesn’t work quite right. Airmail works great when it works, but it failed far too often in our tests to make the cut.

And therein lies the problem. I really want to like Airmail because it’s just so pretty, but functionally, it’s not awesome. Postbox 3 feels like it should be my best alternative, but I hate looking at the thing and I can’t move my windows the way I prefer. And Outlook? Ugh. It makes me feel dirty just to open it up.

At the end of the day, Apple Mail may take a lot of flack, but it’s not a bad tool to use for email. And since it handled pretty much everything you threw at it, the thing worked well. But now? Not so much, and it means that I’ve got to run a virtual Rube Goldberg machine every time I get a new email. And that’s no fun at all.