The Great Mac Software Hunt

Our resident Windows expert has recently switched to the Mac and is on a quest to root out the very best Mac software. Is he making the right choices?

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Corporate E-mail: Lotus Notes 7.0.2 Finally Wakes Up to the Mac

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I started using Lotus Notes 1.1 in 1990 just as it was coming to market for Windows. Three years later, all of Ziff-Davis, where I worked at the time, was using it, and Lotus released the first Mac client with Notes 3.0. I can remember quite well how disappointed Ziff-Davis' Mac users were at being forced to move to this truly terrible package. And throughout its history since then, some 14 years, Lotus Notes has been a truly bad Mac app.

Until now, that is. Early last year, IBM made a commitment to improving Notes for Mac users, and the first real strides were made when version 7.0.2 came out in early December 2006. I've been testing it for a month.

Frustrating problems for me with Notes 6.5x included:

  1. Terrible font support, with either teeny-tiny fonts or fuzzy larger ones.

  2. No way to click a hyperlink in a mail message and have it launch in Safari (or any other Mac browser).

  3. Instability problems.

  4. Very long replication times, especially noticeable when you add a large new database to your environment. At Computerworld, it took several hours just to add my mail file and company address book on an initial setup of a new Macintosh. Notes for Windows did not have the same problem.

Lotus Notes 7.0.2 for the Mac erases all four of these problems. It is literally a no-brainer for Mac users with Lotus Notes to upgrade. Although those first two issues may sound minor, when you're squinting at your e-mail 12 hours a day and having to copy and paste URLs your colleagues send you into your Web browser, it gets old fast. Lotus Notes 7.0.2 for the Mac is a distinct improvement.

Let's hope IBM is getting hip about fixing the myriad UI breaks in Lotus Notes. But at least the Mac version is now just as good as the Windows version. I'm still not a big fan of Lotus Notes, but at least Mac users are no longer in some sort of Notes penalty box.

Personal E-mail: Still Stuck with Eudora

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My high hopes for dumping Eudora once and for all were dashed when I realized that Apple Mail can't apply e-mail-filtering rules to outbound messages. For more than a dozen years I have saved both halves of all e-mail conversations in a folder named for the person or company I'm communicating with. If you're the read-and-delete sort of e-mail user, this won't appeal to you. But if you're like me, you save most of your e-mail (well, not the spam). It's a very powerful way of working.

If you're the kind of person who ever goes back to check e-mail you or someone else wrote weeks or months later, you will find this way of storing e-mail invaluable. What's more, using e-mail rules the way I do, it all happens automatically. Messages are routed automatically to their appropriate folders, and the folders open up automatically (showing the most recent messages at the top), so I can see what's just arrived. If I'm not interested, I just close the folder.

Apple Mail has a feature called Smart Mailboxes that sort of does the same thing, but not really. It lets you create rules that will display aliases of e-mail in Smart Mailboxes. So you could create a Smart Mailbox for your best friend, Bob, and it would show both your messages to Bob and his messages to you. But the messages wouldn't actually reside in your Smart Folder; they would be pointers to the actual messages.

In Apple Mail, all the messages you sent would be in the Sent folder. With my level of e-mail use, after only a few months there would be thousands and thousands of messages in the Sent folder. Sooner or later, that folder would be overflowing, and at some point, the stability of the program would begin to erode.

What can I say? I write a lot of e-mail.

Thunderbird 1.5, which would be my next choice, has the same problem. You can create message filters to move sent messages manually out of the Sent folder to other folders, but it's not able to filter outbound messages automatically as they're being sent.

I also examined a recent build of Thunderbird 2.0, which is close to entering "release candidate" status as I write this. I found that Thunderbird 2.0 doesn't have the capability to automatically filter outbound messages either. It adds an option to put a copy of a message in the folder of a message you're replying to. That has two disadvantages: 1. If you initiated the thread, that message won't be included. 2. You're going to multiply the number of messages in your mail store pretty significantly if you work the way I do — something that I'm not willing to do.

In fact, no other Macintosh e-mail package I'm aware of (except Mozilla's slow-moving Penelope project, a future open-source edition of Eudora) is able to filter outbound messages. If you know of one I've missed, please drop me a line.

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