June 10, 2005  ·  Lessig

We (Creative Commons) just upgraded to Apple’s Tiger to get the benefit of some cool new iCal features. I’m regretting the decision already. I had moved to Mail.app a while ago, after being frustrated with Entourage’s bloat. And after some tinkering, I had crafted a series of hotkeys to automatically move mail from the inbox to different folders. I have always been astonished that this function wasn’t integrated into mail applications — do you all really drag and drop the hundred of emails you file, or do you just not file email?

Anyway, though Apple proudly lists all the improvements to Mail as an inducement to upgrade, it doesn’t list the things it broke — in particular, scripting. No longer can you script within Mail. And while you can script at the system level, hot-key support for those scripts doesn’t work right now.

This is a bug, no doubt. I imagine they’ll fix it. But meanwhile, they’ve also changed the naming convention for such scripts (used to be ctrl, now ctl, etc., or something like that). All of which makes me wonder: who is it that thinks changes like this are improvements? How could you ever imagine that there’s more good than harm done by a change like this? Just part of an endless conspiracy to disable the ability to automate life in macland. Why work to automate when some genius will change a convention to force you to recode every time you “up”grade a system?

Update: I thought I had posted this update last week. Sorry for the delay. Just about an hour after I posted this, a modest coder sent along his work which solves the problem. Check out Red-Sweater’s Fastscripts. See also this free plug-in.

  • bill

    I presort my email for the most part. The rest I select en mass (i.e. everything from Bob), and drag it to the appropriate folder. I doubt a Bob-specific hotkey would be of that much use to me. I’d need too many hotkeys.


  • http://haacked.com/ Haacked

    Rather than dragging and dropping, I use the Rules engine in Outlook to automatically move incoming mail to the appropriate place. It’s powerful enough and easy enough to use that it gets the job done without scripting.

  • sarah

    it seems like there is a lot more time it takes for messages to display, for messages to download, for replies to start.. i hope they patch this soon, i am also missing the previous version of Mail.


  • http://catamorphism.livejournal.com/ Kirsten Chevalier

    I hope that email apps are going to move in the direction of Gmail, which doesn’t make users waste time filing emails into folders (or automate said process), but rather makes all messages easily searchable on any criteria. Why should user interfaces be bound by the limitations of physical space (in this case, the “file”/”folder” metaphor) when software can go beyond those limitations?

  • http://www.highprogrammer.com/alan/ Alan De Smet

    Powerful searching isn’t a replacement for sorting. Indeed, to truly handle large and complex email loads using Gmail, you really need to use “tags”. And tags are, in essence, folders you need to file things into. Tags are clearly superior (you can tag something into multiple groups, something folders handle clumsily if at all), but you still have to suffer the effort of filing them (usually a combination of filters and hand sorting).

    You can probably get away with much, much less if you’re email load is light (say 20 or so messages a day), but when you load gets heavy you need more and searching alone won’t hack it. I know I need more as someone who gets 200-300 messages a day; I suspect Lessig’s load is similar if not worse.

  • rich

    my guess would be that it was a Spotlight issue. dunno why i think that exactly, call it geek’s intuition.

    I mostly just use Rules to send various emails to various folders automatically – typically if I do any more sorting from there it’ll be to Trash. though you might want to consider looking into QuicKeys, a system-level macro engine that allows you to (among a VAST array of other things) redefine hot-keys on an application by application basis.

  • Frank Bennett

    I remember experiencing similar frustrations when the batch file command set changed with a DOS upgrade. Ah, those were the days … Everyone has their own defensive response to interface breakage. My own solution has been a localized inertia; I’ve used the same mailer (mutt) for the past six years.

  • poningru

    again I ask why a MAC shop?
    Why not a linux shop, something like Kubuntu is extremely easy to use and pretty like a mac.
    Also dont worry about switching over Hardware because Kubuntu can run on PPC.
    And dont worry about switching over your current stuff over, because most of the stuff like Thunderbird and Sunbird use the open standards ical, mbox etc.

  • Steve

    After using Entourage for quite some time, hating it, trying Mozilla Mail, Apple Mail…I’ve gone totally to Gmail.

    It’s changed my life.

    I now have access to email anywhere, anytime. On my home machine; my Powerbook; the HP; at work (with my issued ThinkPad running XP); when we travel; from a friend’s machine; etc.

    No more “oh geez…that email with attachment I downloaded is on my “x” machine”. Now I’m synchronized in one place.

    Google also uses the Ajax model with really cool hotkeys (e.g., hit the “c” key to popup to compose an email) that work similiarly everywhere.

    Also, if you really want to you can use a POP mail client for email.

    Let me know if you want one of my Gmail account allocation.

  • http://www.qdbd.com/extagen_no.htm Extagen No

    I’m having the same problem. I believe there is an upgrade you can buy but I fixed the problem with a patch on apples site.

  • sillygirl

    Its all about learning to use spotlight for more than just a simple find. Using spotlight in mail (as long as you start from the beginning) turns out sort of like gmail – without the 5 minute loading and crashing problems. Last week I couldnt get past my inbox in gmail without it crashing. grrr. Take an apple tutorial on spotlight – its much more comprehensive than you would imagine. Its not just a simple ctl-F.

  • http://giant_moose.livejournal.com Jens

    There are other, cheaper hot-key utilities too. My favorite is Butler, which is free. It lets you configure hot keys for all sorts of actions, including running scripts.

    In answer to your question, I usually don’t file messages by hand. I have rules that do it for me (mostly by mailing list, sometimes by sender or priority.) And when I do file messages, I find it easier to drag than to remember a dozen hot-keys for all my folders…

  • Davide

    As an experienced Mac user I would like to help, but I have a hard time understanding exactly *what* is your complaint about Mail 2.0.
    It seems that you manually parse your inbox and then use a few AppleScripts attached to a hotkey (probably you assigned a keyboard shortcut to a script in the Script menu). Am I right?
    I would suggest the following:
    - setup Rules instead that automatically “file” your emails to the folders you want
    - actually, Mail has an even better feature: Smart folders
    - yes, the Script menu is gone, but Apple certainly did NOT take away scripting from Mail. In fact, AppleScript is much improved in Tiger: Open Script Editor and take a look at the Mail dictionary
    - scripts are now in the Script Menu in the menu bar (yes, you can no more attach a keyboard shortcut to a script). Personally, I also feel dropping the Script menu was a mistake. I filed a bug report to Apple, but the status of that bug was updated as “behaves correctly”.
    - if you really want to duplicate the previous functionality, you could look at a few utilities that allow attaching a specific script to a keyboard shortcut. But again, I think the Rules solution is better.

    Let me know if I completely misunderstood what your problem is!

  • http://uncentered.blogspot.com Mike Fox

    I am sorry that your life has been disrupted by this new Apple “feature.” Remember, life isn’t as much fun if software works as you expect.

  • fourdeafmonkeys

    prof. lessig, not sure I understand your problem. moving mail with scripts and hotkeys into different folders?? have you ever tried the rules engine in mail? its positively powerful and sounds to me like the solution to your mail-management issues

  • joshua

    I’d recommend checking out Mail Act-On.

    I was frustrated with the same problems, but Mail Act-On has pretty much solved them. It still has a few small issues, but works pretty well. (Though you will have to set up rules for each action.)

  • Kim Gammelgård

    I do three things in Mail:
    1) rules for everything that can be moved automatically.
    2) one smart folder for all unread mail from today and yesterday
    3) one smart folder for all read mail from the past week.
    and then search for the rest. I probably could do like I do on my Work-PC too: on that I just copy stuff to a folder for each quarter, e.g. 2005Q1. Sorting properly usually does the job then.

  • Lindsay

    Not quite on point, but I had a nasty experience with Tiger. Prior to installing Tiger, I was running Jaguar. On installing Tiger I discovered that SPSS 11.0.3. did not run on Tiger. I called SPSS and they told me a patch was months away. I therefore had to downgrade back to Jaguar by means of an ‘install and archive’. Now I have lost most of my iTunes library, because they were created on a later version than 3.0.1.

    I think the lesson here is not to be the first to upgrade an operating system.

  • Joe

    I must be missing something, because this seems really basic. Mail -> Prefs -> Rules. Fill these out and your mail will be sorted as it arrives. You must be looking for something more complex, or at least I hope so.

  • billrod

    I agree with the above comment from the mac user… Mail went through a lot of changes… and one of the best improvements are SmartFolders.. Also with SpotLight you don’t need to sort as much.. Don’t think of things as bugs because you can’t do what you are use to doing. Sometimes you have to do things a new BETTER way to be even more effective… Use SPORTLIGHT more it will change the way you view tiger.. I use it to find and open everything it will change how you do everything

  • dmccabe

    I’m having the exact same issue. I’d like to create hotkeys that file mails to different folders.

    Many of the responses suggest using rules for this, e.g.:
    I must be missing something, because this seems really basic. Mail -> Prefs -> Rules.

    However, rules don’t cut it for me. All my mail coms in through the INBOX, and 3 times a day, I triage them into folders for Trash, Spam, Do-Today, Do-Later, and Archive. There’s no way I can create a rule that knows what I can do today. I’d like to use a keyboard command so that I do not have to drag each mail individually.

  • http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/it/ Lisa Spangenberg

    I think you can still do what you want; the tools you want are Automator, in your Applications folder, and then you can assign Mail keyboard commands via the System Preferences/Keyboard & Mouse/Keyboard Shortcuts/Applications.

  • Bob

    I generally don’t sort my mail.app mail at all, I’ve always used the search bar and it works fine – i.e. the Google method vs. the folders method. Works even better now with Spotlight. I can see how this wouldn’t work for everyone in every case, though.

    None of which is an excuse for the new mail.app breaking your scripts. Of course that shouldn’t happen. Still, the functionality can probably be replaced with smart folders and work even better (why use hotkeys when you can automate the sorts?).

    Poningru – unfortunately, something as simple as Flash won’t work on PPC Linux. I love Linux (especially Ubuntu – thanks Mark Shuttleworth) and support free / open source software wherever I can, but folks need to realize that the ‘network effects’ just aren’t there to make Linux suitable for every purpose (yet, anyway). Burying our heads in the sand chanting “no, no, it works perfectly! for everybody!” won’t change that reality.

  • Bob

    Lessig: Are you sure Applescripts don’t work in Tiger’s mail.app? From the Help:

    “To add the Script menu to the menu bar, open AppleScript Utility, located in Applications/AppleScript. Select the ‘Show Script Menu in menu bar’ checkbox. The menu appears on the right side of the menu bar.”

    This appears to work and all my old mail applescripts show up, including those that use hotkeys.

    Please let us all know how this works out.

  • http://paulschreiber.com/ paul

    No longer can you script within Mail.

    This really should work. Can you elaborate?

  • J.B. Nicholson-Owens

    I have no problem filtering thousands of messages into folders (ordinary mbox files, really) and keeping on top of spam with Mozilla Thunderbird. It (like every GUI email client I’ve ever used) has problems for editing — no real editors seem to come with GUI email clients. Maybe Evolution is more appropriate for you, but I don’t think Evolution runs on MacOS X. You could run a free software OS on that hardware, though. Without a more detailed description of what you want to do, it’s difficult to know what to suggest.

    I’m tempted to switch back to mutt because mutt is free (libre) software, mutt is incredibly powerful, mutt can be used remotely (via ssh), mutt works with ordinary mbox files (as is what I already have) or mh mailboxes, and it conforms to standards well (even allowing more control over attachments than Thunderbird). mutt handles large mboxes well, but I don’t know what its limits are.

    But then I’ve always found proprietary software to be overrated. NeXTSTEP had its own bundled mail client too (Mail.app) and it was quite bad for anything but a rigged demo. I don’t remember anyone from NeXT approaching anyone about making standards for things like attachments. Mail.app had its own way of doing this that was incompatible with every other mail client around. When other mail clients got attachment functionality, Mail.app had multimedia mail and did not conform to standards. This posed real practical problems for interoperability. The UI objects system-wide didn’t scale up well, perhaps they were not meant for dealing with hundreds of entries (like hundreds of emails in Mail.app, a summary of one per line in a table list). The text object was not good for serious text editing (I can’t recall how many people tried to wrap a good text editor around the NeXTSTEP text object). In the end the only software on that machine that I could rely on was the free (libre) software.

  • http://www.backspace.bz dreww

    i think the rest of us use filters, although the hot key idea is a good one for dealing with filter misses or new arrangments.

  • http://www.law.villanova.edu/facultyandstaff/facultyprofiles/faculty/carroll/carroll.asp Michael Carroll

    I stopped using Rules because I lack the discipline and time to force myself to read traffic that’s already been filed (particularly from listservs). So hotkey filing can be useful. What I’d love is an app that could display unread messages in two or three columns sorted by Rules (e.g. mail from within your institution in one column, mail from a white list in a second, and all other mail in the third). Is there such a feature in any existing mail clients?

  • Bob

    Evolution is a great client but indeed there is no Mac version, although a Windows version is in the works.

    And while technically you can run a free / open source OS on Mac PPC hardware, it’s really not practical for most people. The issues that you have with Linux or FreeBSD for x86 like driver availability are ten times worse on Mac PPC. Lots of built-in hardware like wireless just isn’t supported at all and you’ll have to add a usb adapter. There’s no accelerated 3D support at all. Bluetooth, printers, digital cameras, etc. – all spotty at best. Driver support on Linux in general is imperfect, but there are usually workarounds — on PPC Linux, there usually aren’t.

    And if you do need to use anything proprietary like Flash (which, love it or hate it, is necessary to view many websites) or Skype, you’re out of luck on PPC.

    Ubuntu PPC, Fedora PPC, and Yellow Dog are all valiant efforts but using them as a non-techie’s desktop is still mostly an exercise in masochism. If you want to run Linux on a Mac, my advice is to wait for the Intel Macs because most of these problems will disappear.

    OK I’ve helped drag us far off topic. My apologies to the professor and everyone else.

  • Juergen Fenn

    I recommend Gnus for reading your mail and news. There is nothing that cannot be done in Gnus. ;-) Of course it also runs on Mac OS X.

  • http://www.alternativ.net/~vinci thilo pfennig

    first the commet function from the main page is not reachable because it links to http://lessing.org… instead of http://www.lessing.org/

    I also do not understand your problem. I do filtering with the rules of “Evolution”. If somebody has the time I would suggest that the one should test the newest Linux Fedora Core 4 that runs on Macs! Evolution ist really a very strong application. it can even communicate Microsoft Exchange. If FC4 runs good, you could easily switch to a real FREE OS. I wonder why you did not allready. Don’t be afraid. I am sure the GNOME people or Redhat/Fedora will be happy to help organizations like yours!!

  • http://www.core-networks.de Core Networks GmbH

    I prefer open source systems but apple is not too bad. Microsoft is :p

  • http://todayspodcast.com Scott Brenner

    Check out


    I think it will help your adjustment to Mail in tiger.

  • http://www.indev.ca/MailActOn.html Scott Morrison

    To those who say use rules to file mail when it comes in are not getting the issue. The idea of an inbox is that it provides a single point of entry where things should be processed mentally and manually in accordance to whatever organizational scheme you may use (getting things done or whatever) You want to avoid having to check X different places for unconsidered tasks (which happens when your mail has already been sorted upon receipt) and risk important msgs from being buried without being seen.

    I use Mail ActOn (partly because I am the author) but mostly because I wrote it for a reason — to mentally process mail into actionable items, things needing different responses, waiting on answers etc. I have several manually applied ActOn rules to move messages to “Action”, “hold”, “waiting” etc and then as I deal with different tasks in the different folders, I then file them in different archives. The ActOn keys makes this process go so much smoother. Once I get the metadata tagging and commenting of messages done for the next version, this will be even better because I can start using Smart folders in much more sophisticated ways.

    btw Larry, You are my copyright guru — Mail Act-On is open source partly because of the ideas that you discuss/advocate in various IT conversations podcasts. When things are open we innovate more, not less. Keep up the necessary and great work.

  • http://bostonconfidential.org J.Cormier

    All you Mac Addicts might despise my parochialism for this, but I just use Gmail. Simple, straightforward, and it has a one-click labeling system.

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