Auto-configure E-mail in OS X Lion

There are some interesting and helpful changes to the way e-mail can be configured in OS X Lion. Safari and Lion together can detect a web mail login and then configure the Mail app account settings for you. Here’s what to expect.

In Snow Leopard, at first boot out of the box, the setup manager asks you for your Apple ID and password. Of course, the set up process can be coded to have at its disposal the protocols for MobileMe mail, for example, the SMTP server and the IMAP protocol. So it has everything it needs to configure your new Mac’s e-mail account preferences. For example, it will look like this. (This screen shot is Lion, but the idea is the same.)

Lion mail 1

Thanks to that auto configuration and the IMAP nature of MobileMe e-mail, the first time you click on the Mail app in the dock, you’ll see all your e-mail already there — if you had some before on another Mac.

OS X Lion and Safari 5.1 add something new. Let’s say you’re logging into Google’s web mail for the first time in Lion.

Google mail login

Safari will detect the website and e-mail login information you’re entering and then drop down a sheet, a mini-window, to ask you of you’d like to configure the Mail app with this information. (Note, I have obscured my own Google username with a green bar.)

Safari asks

If you agree, then you can select which services you’d like to set up with Google:

Select services

Again, the OS has all the information it needs about Gmail protocols, so it can go ahead and auto-configure your Mail app account settings. Mine looks like this now. Note how an entry for Gmail has been added and the fields populated.

Mail app - Account

As an aside, note that Lion adds a new iOS-like configuration in System Preferences called “Mail, Contacts & Calendars.” This is where you can also configure accounts to use with Address Book, iCal and iChat in addition to e-mail.

New System Preference

If you select “Add Account,” next to the plus sign, you’ll see something very familiar from the old days when you had to select an e-mail service and manually configure it yourself. Of course, you can still do it that way, assuming you know how to populate the account settings, instead of waiting for Safari to detect your web login.

Automatic setup services

All this is a very nice addition to Lion. Apple can code Lion to know all those details of the e-mail protocols so you don’t have to guess. It’s the little things like that that move OS X closer to being as easy and fun as the iPad.