MailForge Follows Ghost of Eudora Past

In the 1990s, the heyday of Macintosh e-mail programs, Eudora shone with a strong light. (As did Claris [email protected].) But as time passed, events conspired to force Eudora to end of life. Today, MailForge, from Infinity Data Systems, continues the spirit and tradition of Eudora as a ground up rewrite. Those who were bumped off the Eudora bandwagon and want to climb back aboard will welcome MailForge. Those who are happy with Apple's Mail.app will wonder what all the fuss is about.

To fully appreciate what Infinity Data Systems has done, one must be aware of the history of Eudora. Wikipedia has a short history, and Charles Moore, back in May 2009, summarized the development of MailForge and how it differs from Eudora 8, mentioned at the end of this review.

There are several reasons to be interested in MailForge. Some long time users of Eudora may wish to return to an app with similar look and functionality. That's not surprising. We tend to get attached to e-mail programs, and I have discovered that even today there are fanatical fans of Claris [email protected] -- and an active support group. Also, some users with an inherent distaste for Apple's Mail.app may be looking for something simpler and more focused. Finally, some users who are perfectly happy with Thunderbird 3 or Mail.app will wonder what the fuss is about and shrug. If so, then just move along. Nothing to see here.

MailForge Rationale

The goal of the MailForge app is to duplicate, to the extent possible, the features of the last version of Eudora. That was version 6.2.4 released on 11 Oct 2006 and remains a PPC application only. While it will still run under Rosetta, there are minor gotchas to deal with.

Moving to MailForge has considerable advantages. It is under active development, now at version 1.3.4, can import your old Eudora e-mail, and, like the original Eudora, is available for Mac and PC. It runs natively on Intel Macs. MailForge's FAQ says: "Our goal ... is to recreate the most commonly used [Eudora] features, with more and more of the extremely advanced (and sometimes obscure) features being added with each update."

Whether an e-mail program that thrived in the 90s and up unti 2006 can compete today is debatable. Considering how little real thought has been put into Mail.app, one might claim that Eudora -> MailForge is good enough. On the other hand, some of the more obscure Eudora features, such as the MoodWatch, seem arcane by today's standards. In addition, the developers of MailForge haven't made any statements about moving Eudora, from where it was in 2006, to include today's more common e-mail features. In one respect, a principal motivation to use MailForge is to import all your old e-mail files for the sake of posterity, history, legal reasons or research, (and maybe some nostalgia) and keep the files migrating forward in time on Intel Macs.

MailForge the App

MailForge comes in three versions. One for PowerPC and Mac OS 10.3 or later, one for Intel Macs and Mac OS X 10.3 or later and one for Windows 2000 or later. The developer told this reviewer that the Intel and PPC versions are identical, separated out simply to keep the download size small.

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Unified Mode

Some current features of MailForge include:

  • Manage POP3 and IMAP accounts
  • Quickly search through thousands of e-mails
  • Experience full Unicode support
  • View HTML or text e-mails
  • Send HTML e-mail, text e-mail... or both
  • Schedule when outgoing e-mails will be sent
  • Cut down on Junk e-mails with a built-in Junk mail filter system
  • Easily redirect messages, preserving original sender
  • Edit every facet of an incoming email
  • Enjoy multi-window or tabbed interface
  • Easily navigate through e-mail messages

 

One concession to a modern Mac app is the Unified Mode shown above. Originally, Eudora was keen on lots of separate windows for the inbox, the icon bar, and various accounts. MailForge can integrate all that into a single window. Juggling multiple windows in Mac OS X Spaces is tricky, so Spaces users will especially appreciate the Unified Mode.

While the current version is not written in Cocoa, for the sake of cross-platform compatibility, the developer lead, Matt Milano, told this reviewer that they plan to migrate to Cocoa in the future for the Mac version.

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Classic Mode

The first thing you may want to do is import your very old old Eudora Mailbox, typically found in /Users/username/Documents/Eudora Folder/Mail Folder. These are the e-mails that you perhaps didn't bother to bring into the Mail.app when you switched, if you did, and you'd just as soon keep those old archives in a Eudora-compatible app. This import gets off to a slow start and isn't highly responsive, so be patient. It'll chew up perhaps 60 to 80 percent of both cores on a C2D MBP. Mining through my own very old Eudora Mail Folders has been an interesting exercise -- almost like being transported back in time.

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Importer

If you're planning to revert to MailForge, you can also import your Mail.app files. Of course, the ability to import doesn't mean there won't be some re-organization, deletions and consolidations. As we know, it's all too easy to create e-mail folders, but soon they get out of control and become a nightmare.

To get a feel for how the app runs, I recommend looking at the supporting page of screen shots. Just click the thumbnail once. The first thing you'll notice is that MailForge, in following the design of Eudora, has a very clean UI. Sometimes, and this is lost on some developers, a super clean UI can suggest to the user what information to enter or what to do next. On the other hand, a cluttered UI can lead to user confusion. MailForge gets high marks for its clean interface.

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Account setup

Fans of Eudora will be pleased with the Sender. It has icons to alter the font, but omits some of the older unnecessary icons. Few will remember the days when we had to chose how to encode an attachment -- with BinHex as an option. Other icons, for text alignment, have yet to be implemented -- and are probably a low priority.

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The Sender

I did find one cosmetic issue in version 1.3.3.  When selecting a mailbox, the name isn't highlighted.  However, that's fixed in verwion 1.3.4. Other than that, everything I checked worked to my satisfaction. 

Also, I have never liked the way Apple's Mail.app handles signatures.  MailForge carries on the tradition of an insanely logical way to build and assign signatures.

Stability

I've been testing MailForge 1.3.3 for about two weeks now, and it has never crashed. It feels smooth, fast and stable. Combined with the simplicity and focus of the app, I think it could find a primary place for those users who aren't happy with the lack of customizability of the Mail.app. For example, one can have alternating blue bars in a Mailbox and add or omit horizontal and vertical separator lines. (Mailbox background color has not yet been added.) Years after the Mail.app first shipped, Apple has not seen fit to allow the user to customize the look and feel of Mailboxes the way Eudora users took for granted.

Documentation

Starting with version 1.3.4, there will be documentation in the form of a PDF file included. I'll update this review when I get a look at it, but I suspect it won't equal one of the classic manuals of all time, the manual for Eudora 6.x was 450 pages. We may never see that kind of effort again.

In the meantime, users have been able to search on keywords in the Help Menu and see the (Snow) Leopard blue arrow that points to various Menu functions. Considering how much time and work has been put into this product by a small team, I won't complain about the lack of documentation in the early phases. It's coming soon, and meanwhile, the design of MailForge does a good job of self-documenting.

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Preferences

Overall Impression

While this app is a work in progress, it it already a very friendly, focused, and customizable e-mail program. For those users who are using an older Mac with limited hardware resources or who just don't like software bloat, MailForge is a capable e-mail program for casual users, but not power users.

Of course, in the process of duplicating Eudora functionality and making the app cross-platform, some modern technologies haven't been implemented. For example, phishing alerts (Mac and PC) and the viewing of attachments with QuickLook (Mac). However, it's important to realize the design goals of MailForge, and those, admittedly, don't involve being the latest and greatest state-of-the-art e-mail program for the year 2010.

The final issue relates to the price. In my conversations with the author over the last year, I have the feeling that this is a work of passion. The price you'll pay for signing up for that Eudora -> MailForge passion is $39.95. If Apple's Mail.app, which is free, is all you'll ever need, then $40 will seem high. For many others, however, having the wherewithal to continue their beloved Eudora look and feel as a native Mac app, have a little bit more simplicity yet customization, $40 will seem like a small price to pay. As I said above, many users develop an unexpected attachment to specific e-mail programs.

In this case I have taken the liberty to base the rating on the software itself -- its implementation and how well it mimics Eudora 6.2. The rating is not based on an abstract concept of what the latest and greatest e-mail program could be. I should also note that I was a Eudora beta tester for over ten years, and it was my e-mail program of choice fron 1992-2006. Hopefully, this review will also serve as a contribution to the legacy of Eudora.

Eudora 8

While Infinity Data Systems is an independent developer, the official follow on to Eudora, now being handled by the Mozilla Group is Eudora 8. That's a Eudora-like shell that sits on top of Thunderbird 3. Development there has been glacial, now at 8.0b7 after two years, and not everyone has been happy with the Eudora skin on top of the Thunderbird engine. Even so, it's something to be aware of.

Version 1.3.4

Here are the release notes for 1.3.4 which is imminent:

Mailbox Interaction
- Up to 7x speed increase when opening mailboxes
- Faster transferring of email to and from large mailboxes
- Added Unsent status option
- Added direct editing of Unsent, Draft, or Sendable emails

Downloading Email
- Improved POP3 Disconnect sequence
- Fixed Content-Encoding issue with single-part HTML messages
- Fixed Charset issue with single-part HTML mesages

Sending Email
- Fixed issue with MailForge not saving the size of outgoing emails

Composing Email
- Eliminated extraneous return characters at beginning of new email
- Eliminated leading spacing on Replies
- Fixed issue with saving a Draft email

Searching
- When searching via the Classic Toolbar, Search Window positions properly

Misc
- Several stability improvements

Product: MailForge 1.3.4

Company: Infinity Data Systems

List Price: US$39.95

Rating:

Pros:

Ground up rewrite for Intel Macs of the last Eudora e-mail app, version 6.2.x. Great adherence to look and feel of Eudora, clean UI, focused, maintains tradition of UI customization, e-mail not deleted from inbox even if e-mail account is deleted.  PDF manual. Ongoing support with e-mail and published phone number.

Cons:

More expensive than many simpler apps and utilities, but still worth it for the Eudora enthusiast. Not every Eudora feature has been implemented as of version 1.3.4.