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The Slacker's Guide - Beefing Up the 98 Pound Weakling: MailTags

by Chris Barylick
February 3rd, 2006

Maybe it shouldn't have come this far in the first place. For as long as I've been using Mac OS X, I've tried to make Apple's Mail.app program do everything I wanted it to do. To a certain extent, it did.

Wrangle it enough and it'll do everything you need to do: Searches, filtering, rules and actions. As good as you may feel about supporting Apple's mail client, however, having to do any wrangling in the first place is a head-in-the-sand approach often advocated by your local ostrich populace.

Mail.app has shortcomings and as much as it may pain you to admit this, other e-mail clients have more than brought them to light. Microsoft Entourage and Eudora, Apple's most visible competitors in the e-mail application markets, have managed to trump Apple's program with features. While Entourage may be considered an unholy component of Office and Eudora stands as an odd-yet-flexible application with an absolutely die-hard user base, they manage to beat Mail.app on some key levels; namely a highly searchable design, message priority settings and the ability to assign project status settings, keywords, categories, due dates and program actions for any given message.

Enter MailTags, a shareware plug-in for Apple's Mail.app program written by Scott Morrison with help from Jonathan Paisley. Filling in where Apple left off, MailTags inserts metadata functionality into Mail.app, allowing for additional functionality and features that otherwise wouldn't be available to the program. Once installed, metadata allows for full search functions of all your e-mail messages through Mac OS X 10.4's Spotlight feature (which is, ironically, metadata-based).


Indev's MailTags adds an extensive array of search options and tools to Apple's Mail.app

MailTags adds full metadata functionality to Mail.app as well as several sought-after functions such as project status headings, keywords, categories, due dates, priority settings (the double exclamation point/"Urgent!" markers tagged into a message that seem desirable in other mail clients), categories, due dates, additional Smart Mailbox functionality, comments and executable actions that can occur once rules have been set up for a given range of messages.

Simple to install, just grab the file from Indev's download link and run the "Install MailTags" file. The installer will force Mail.app to quit and install its own mail bundles. If this doesn't work, the documentation walks you through installation via Mac OS X's Terminal program. Once installed, open Mail.app, go to create a new e-mail message and the additional options will be available. Click on the tag icon to hide and show MailTag's options and features.

As of now, MailTags is shareware with a suggested donation fee of $20. The program plays nice and operates sans nag/reminder screens and is a 1.0 megabyte download. MailTags requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later to run (Spotlight needs to be activated for full search functionality) and functions in tandem with Indev's Mail Act-On program, which can map rules and actions to messages. Mail Act-On is currently an open source project with an active tracking page that can be participated in by anyone looking to contribute to the effort.

Unfortunately, there is a small downside, even though MailTags brings Mail.app up to par with everything Entourage and Eudora can throw at it, the plugin doesn't fully support the IMAP mail protocol. This is being worked on for future versions.

Though not quite perfect as of yet, this is an amazing effort, MailTags is worth trying out, and worth keeping an eye on.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,

.

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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