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Mailsmith 2, A Light, Fast E-Mail Client

Review - Mailsmith 2, A Light, Fast E-Mail Client

by , 3:30 PM EDT, October 16th, 2003


Mailsmith 2
Contact And Other Information
Manufacturer: Bare Bones Software
Product Home Page: Mailsmith 2
Description: Mailsmith is a POP3 & SMTP e-mail client built around the BBEdit text engine.
Address: P.O. Box 1048
Bedford, MA 01730
Price: US$99 - Bare Bones (competitive upgrade for US$79)
Telephone: (781) 687-0700
Fax: (781) 687-0711
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later required; Mac OS X 10.2.6 or later strongly recommended (Use of the Apple Address Book integration requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later).
System Used
For Testing:
800MHz DVI PowerBook with 1GB RAM

Author's Note: I want to preface this by saying that I get a lot of e-mail. No, really, I do. It's all I can do to keep it from becoming a nuisance. Due to that, though, it's very important that I get along well with my e-mail client, and it's a relationship that I've ventured to change not once, but twice lately. Starting in 1994, I used Eudora until about a year ago. I changed because Eudora had not kept up with the times, and there was no way to read HTML-based e-mail, causing me to be unable to read certain things I needed to see. I was well committed to Mac OS X at that point, so I figured I'd deepen the bond and move to Mail.app. All-in-all, I felt pretty good about the switch -- heck, I could see my HTML e-mail. But then Mail started to rub me raw -- its constant recompacting, the sluggishness when moving from message to message -- it's just not built to handle any significant volume of e-mail (not yet, anyway). And then Mailsmith 2 was released. Being a big fan of BBEdit, I figured I might ought to give it a try.

With all the options we have for e-mail these days, sometimes it's hard to make a decision as to which mail program to use. Let's face it, migrating from one e-mail program to another is no small undertaking, and the last thing any of us wants to have to do is move back after making the switch. We took a quick look at Mailsmith in its infancy, and decided it wasn't worth making the switch -- it just had too far to go before it could be a real contender. All that changed, however, with the release of Mailsmith 2.

The Basics

The first thing that won our hearts was how Mailsmith handled that tricky HTML e-mail. You see, Mailsmith is a 100% text-only, straight-ahead e-mail program. It don't do HTML. Period. Well, except if you want to. Then all you do is click the little "Safari" button in the corner of an HTML message, and it opens that e-mail up in Safari for you, showing you the contents. It seems like a pain, but it's not: this is a beautiful thing. When perusing your e-mail, you needn't worry about all those "questionable" messages you get about enhancing your life (or body) in some way. You'll never accidentally view the contents of an HTML e-mail again (which has the added benefit of knowing you aren't automatically loading those pesky spam-confirmation images, either!). That said, when you DO choose to do it, you're viewing it in a REAL BROWSER, which is way better at displaying HTML than any e-mail client (including Mail.app) can do.

The second thing we fell in love with was Mailsmith's searching capabilities. This thing is built by nerds, and we mean that in a good way. You can do searches ranging from real simple stuff all the way through regular expressions, and everywhere in between. In addition to manual searches, Mailsmith's on-the-fly filtering is very powerful, allowing you to do just about anything with the messages coming in. If that's not enough, Mailsmith has a very deep level of AppleScript support, as well, so anything you can't do with its unlimited number of internal filters, you can farm off to AppleScript to handle for you.

Speed, you ask? Mailsmith is fast. Not just with the searching and filtering, with everything. Moving from mailbox to mailbox, reading mail, scrolling, filing, everything is fast and clean. As for composing messages, well, it's got the guts of BBEdit right there inside it, making it perfect for editing and viewing messages of any size.

The Company Behind the Software

Because Mailsmith is developed by a company whose business it is to produce exactly this type of software (instead of, say, a company whose primary business is to make operating systems and sell computers), updates come at a brisk pace. Features are added, bugs are fixed, and with regular updates from the developers (you can even join a mail discussion list to keep up on the latest and greatest ideas going into the product).

Spam for Nobody

Mailsmith 2 comes with SpamSieve, a true Bayesian filter for finding and identifying keywords in messages, and then analyzing them to decide what is spam. It learns as you go, and after two months (and 10,000 messages) SpamSieve has gotten to the point where it's catching 85% of our incoming spam, and has only caught 1 false positive (out of 10,000, that is). Though SpamSieve is a separate product, its integration with Mailsmith is so tight that it feels as though it's a part of Mailsmith itself (and it's included free with your Mailsmith purchase, to boot!). All interaction with SpamSieve is done through Mailsmith's menus, and as such you hardly notice that SpamSieve is running.

Mac OS X Integration

While we're talking about integration, Mailsmith also integrates seamlessly with Mac OS X's Address Book if you wish it to do so. Address auto-completion works splendidly, and Mailsmith even lets you right-click on an address and add it to Mac OS X's address book right away. As with SpamSieve, the integration is so well done that you'll forget that you're using something external.

Mailsmith will import from a variety of e-mail programs, and makes the transition as smooth as possible. However, we did experience a series of problems pulling in data from Mail.app. Quite a few mailboxes came in without all of their contents (and there was no warning as to which ones were ok and which weren't). The folks at Bare Bones are aware of this problem and tell us they're working to correct it (after working with us on this they found that, though Apple's Mail.app appears to store data in a format similar to that of the universal "mbox" standard, it's not entirely in that format, which is the source of the problem here, and likely will cause problems with anyone trying to import from Mail.app under the false "mbox" assumption). The fact that Bare Bones replies to and addresses problems is, as stated above, a wonderful thing in today's world.

The Final Word

Mailsmith isn't everything for everyone -- it lacks in-line spelling (all spell-checking is provided via an on-demand menu item). While that's not a problem for some, it is most definitely a feature that users expect these days. Bare Bones tells us that it's high on the to-do list, and hopes that we'll see it in an update "Real Soon Now." Mailsmith is also a POP3/SMTP only client, meaning it does not support IMAP in any way. If that's a requirement, you're out of luck here.

All that said, Mailsmith is a strong contender and is well worth the price of admission, especially considering the fact that they'll let you download a fully-functioning, free 30-day demo version. If your e-mail usage is moderate or heavy, Mailsmith does a fantastic job of doing what you need it to and staying out of your way at the same time.


Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Thumbs Up)
3.5 Thumbs Up
Pros Fast, Easy to Use.
Extremely configurable, but not confusing.
Bundled SpamSieve 2 filters Spam effectively.
Successfully keeps HTML e-mail from being a hassle.
Mac OS X Address Book integration is seamless.
Bug reports and feature requests are taken very seriously by the manufacturer.
Cons No in-line spelling.
No IMAP support.
Problems importing from Mail.app.

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