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by Kyle D'Addario
& Wincent Colaiuta


Making The Most Mail.app - Part I: Accounts & Mailboxes
May 4th, 2001

I imagine that most of you reading this column have taken a stab at using Apple's included Mail application as your OS X e-mail client. While mail is not the perfect solution for the uber-mailers amongst us, it is a solid application and will serve the basic needs of most OS X users. This column is going to provide an overview of Mail, as well as a few hints to get the most from the new application. If you have been using Mail regularly since Day One, you may not find this column to be terribly helpful. However, if you are a relatively novice user, or have not really given Mail a chance, hopefully this can be of some help. This is the first in a multi-part series on Apple's Mail application, and hopefully we can help get you up, running, and productive with the new program.

Setting Up Mail:

The first thing you should do in Mail is configure it the way that you want it. The Mailbox drawer can be somewhat confusing at first, especially if you specified an iTools Mac.com e-mail account when configuring OS X at installation. If you did this, it is likely that Mail will show your Mac.com account as a separate account in your Mailbox drawer. If you have multiple e-mail accounts, as many users do in this day and age, you have the option of having them appear as separate accounts, or as having them all listed under "Personal Mailboxes."

Most e-mail applications that you might have previously been familiar with do not list each account as a completely separate entity in the application. Not that one way is better or worse, but having all of your mail accounts treated as "one" is probably what you are used to, and is relatively simple to accomplish by changing a few settings in Mail.

In order to have set an account to be listed separately, or under your general Personal Mailboxes, you have to change some preferences:

  1. Go to Mail -> Preferences -> Accounts

  1. From there, you will be presented with a list of your current e-mail accounts. You can add accounts from this window, or edit existing accounts. For this example, lets assume we want to create a new account, and we do not want it to appear separately in the Mailbox drawer.
  2. Click on "Create Account" You will be asked to enter the typical array of e-mail account information, including SMTP and POP servers, username, and password.

  1. Once you enter the basic information, click the "Account Options" tab. This is where you are given control to customize your account configuration.
  2. Decide whether or not you want the account to be shown separately in the Mailboxes drawer. If you do, check that radio button, If you do not, which will make it feel more like Outlook Express for example, leave that button deselected.
  3. With that button deselected, you will have an option of choosing where you want mail from that account to be downloaded. For now, select "Inbox" and that will have all of your mail put into one place, cleverly enough, your Inbox.

For each account you add, you can decide whether or not you want it to be displayed separately or not. I've found that having accounts not be displayed separately is a bit more intuitive, and helps make Mail feel more familiar.

Creating Mailboxes:

Creating mailboxes in Mail is simple, but not quite as simple as it would be in, again, Outlook Express. The key to creating mailboxes, or folders, lies in the actual process of creating them. If, for example, you wanted to create a mailbox/folder called "Friends" under your Personal Mailboxes:

  1. With the Mailbox drawer open (if it is not go to View - > Show Mailboxes), select your Personal Mailboxes by clicking on it in the Mailbox drawer. When you click on it, it should highlight.
  2. To create the folder "Friends" go to Mailboxes -> New Mailbox…and name your new folder or mailbox "Friends". Click OK.

You should now have a new mailbox or folder in your Mailbox drawer called Friends. That is the easy part, but what if you wanted to make subfolders? This becomes a little bit more complicated, and it is our best guess that Apple will make this process a bit simpler and more intuitive in future updates of Mail.

For example, let us say you wanted to make folder or mailbox for a club that you were an officer in. Your club is called "OS X Rocks" and it is for fans of OS X. You find yourself getting three major types of mail related to your club; hate mail stating how terrible OS X really is, fan mail stating that OS X does indeed rock and so do you, and requests for help from those that need some assistance with getting OS X running how they want. Setting up these subfolders would be fairly simple:

  1. Make sure you have Personal Mailboxes highlighted in your Mailbox Drawer by clicking on it.
  2. Go to Mailbox -> New Mailbox
  3. In order to make a selection called OS X Rocks with a subfolder called Hate Mail, you would type, "OS X Rocks/Hate Mail" Click OK.
  4. Now you will see a new folder or mailbox in your Mailbox Drawer called OS X rocks with an arrow allowing you to collapse or expand to see the subfolder called Hate Mail.
  5. To add another subfolder, make sure that the folder OS X Rocks is highlighted in the Mailbox Drawer by clicking on it once. Once it is, go to Mailboxes -> New Mailbox, and add the subfolder called Fan Mail by typing Fan Mail and clicking OK.
  6. Now, in your Mailbox Drawer, you should be able to see two subfolders under the OS X Rocks folder, one called Hate Mail and one called Fan Mail. To add a subfolder called Help Requests, repeat Step 5.

Once you tell Mail that you want to create subfolders, the process above will get the job done every time. However, what if you decide that you want to add subfolders to the Friends folder that you created earlier? Unfortunately, you are somewhat out of luck. Once you have created a folder or mailbox as a stand-alone mailbox, Mail will not let you add subfolders to it. If you wanted to have folder called Friends with subfolders called School, Home, and Work in it, you would need to start from scratch, and go through the same process as creating the mailboxes for the OS X Rocks club above. If you would like to move mail that has been collecting in your Friends folder into these new subfolders, there is a work around for doing that:

  1. Open your Friends folder or mailbox by clicking on it in the Mailbox Drawer. You should now see all of the messages in your Friends folder in the right hand window of Mail.
  2. Select one of the messages by clicking on it. The contents of the message should now be displayed in the bottom window of Mail.
  3. Drag the message from the top window into your Inbox in the Mailbox Drawer. A little envelope icon will appear when you start to drag the message, and the Inbox will highlight temporarily when you move the envelope over it. Do this for all of the messages in your Friends folder. What you are doing is transferring messages from Friends to Inbox until you can re-create your Friends folder with the appropriate subfolders.
  4. Once your Friends folder is empty, select it in the Mailbox Drawer by clicking on it. It should now be highlighted.
  5. Go to Mailbox -> Delete Mailbox. You are now going to delete your Friends mailbox or folder. This is OK, because you have transferred all of the messages out of that folder and stored them in your Inbox.

Once you have deleted your old friends folder, create a new folder with subfolders using the same steps from above that we created the OS X Rocks folder and subfolders. Once you have your new folders created, click on Inbox in the Mailbox Drawer. All of your mail that used to be in your Friends mailbox is there, and you can now transfer it to the new Friends folder and subfolders simply by dragging and dropping it from the right hand window to the appropriate folder or subfolder in the Mailbox Drawer.

By going through these simple steps you should be able to set Mail up in a way that is comfortable for you. You can create whatever folder or mailboxes that you would like, and that will allow you to easily store messages in such a way to keep it you organized. Also if you keep all your accounts under Personal Mailboxes, rather than displaying them separately, you should feel right at home with the latest and greatest Mail application.

My next Hot Cocoa column will continue our tour of Mail, and go over some of the Preferences and hidden features of this neat application.

-Kyle D'Addario

You are encouraged to send Richard your comments, or to post them below.


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Back to The Mac Observer For More Mac News!


Kyle D'Addario is the assistant editor of The Mac Observer and has logged about as much time on Mac OS X as is humanly possible. Kyle studies Computer-Mediated Communication, whatever that is, at the graduate level, and was a founding member of the original Webintosh team.


Wincent Colaiuta runs Macintosh news and criticism site, wincent.org, and joined The Mac Observer team as a contributor in March 2001. He has worked with computers since 1984, and his interests in that area include Macs, PHP programming and security.



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