Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Jul 15, 2005 5:50pm

emulating gmail conversations in mail.app

I use Apple's Mail.app as an IMAP client. It means that I can also check my mail via Pine or Squirrelmail, on any of the machines I use regularly. This is good.

Gmail has an awesome design feature called conversations, where your inbox and outbox are merged into a single message stream, and you can see a complete back-and-forth exchange in one place, instead of having to rely on sane quoting practices or constantly switch between mailboxes. I don't use Gmail for a number of reasons, mostly inertia and control-freakishness. I do want the benefit of conversations, though.

One method I've thought of using to duplicate this feature is to generate procmail rules to automatically route all of my non-list inbox mail to a "conversations" mailbox, and then use that as my outbox as well. This could work, but it feels like a serious hack that could have negative consequences down the line. Since I use Mail.app as my primary mail client, I think that OS X Tiger's new "smart mailbox" feature offers a nice compromise, where I get to have a conversation view in just one of my mail-reading environments.

So, by setting up a smart mailbox with just two rules, I've got conversations and I don't need to switch to Gmail to get them. The rules are simply to include all mail that's either in my inbox or my sent folder, nothing more. This handles 90% of the cases where I might want to interleave messages, with very few drawbacks.

There are two big problems with this approach:

  1. It only works in Mail.app. I can deal with this, since the conversation view is not yet a crucial feature of my reading.
  2. Mail.app's search feature doesn't seem to work within smart mailboxes. This is probably a bug on Apple's part, or at least a lame design decision for the sake of efficiency. Maybe they'll fix it in a future release.
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