Random Rant On E-Mail Slashing

After a few months’ hiatus, I tried MailActOn 2.x again and found it oddly irritating – because, you see, I only fiddled around with it for a couple of weeks on my “G5“Tiger (which I seldom use anymore) and have never upgraded from 1.3.2 on my MacBook, and so the old behavior and (lack of) UI continued to be my norm.

Today I decided to bulk re-organize my Exchange account as part of a pre-spring cleaning I do every year, and since Entourage doesn’t cut it for anything but basic flagging and moving around of items1, I decided to set up Mail.app on my Pro and have a go at slashing my way through some 3000 messages according to new criteria – after a few months of absorbing a bunch of projects managed by folk who created a folder for each topic, I’m trying to bunch things together by no more than five major areas of work2, if only because I was fed up with pecking at every little folder.

The trouble here is that you really want to go through the e-mails in bulk, because simply searching for X or Y won’t help you one whit if X worked with you (or was a topic) on project A, B, and D. So I set up a search folder listing all messages from the three-levels-deep folder tree I was wrestling with, moved the whole thing to an Unsorted folder, waited until it all settled down and e-mail threads were recognized, and then went through the list in one go.

I could probably have done it in Outlook in, oh, half the time it would take me in Entourage and four times the time it (eventually) took me in Mail.app, but there wasn’t really any point – there is nothing even comparable to MailActOn for Outlook in terms of ease of use (although I did have a go at building something once).

Back to MailActOn, then.

It might have something to do with my wanting to get the job done as fast as possible and their repeatedly getting in the way for no apparent reason, but I hate the new menu and the notification bezels.

They take up a disproportionate amount of screen real estate (no, I don’t need the icon with each notification), and even though it wasn’t really required after I bound some keys to the actions I required and avoided going through the menu at all, having to figure it out again after three months or so reminded me of how much I liked the previous version (which still works, and is free) and made me wonder what was broken.

Comparing it to the interaction model of the previous version (which was way simpler) I think it’s the number of keys you have to press in sequence, and the need to memorize the difference between the function keys in the default setup. Google Quick Search Box showed me that you could use the same key in succession to trigger actions, and that you don’t (for any reason) actually need to see all the available options at once.

Still, once I was set up, all I had to do was use Ctrl+A, B D to do things, like I was used to. But it bears noting that it would all probably have gone down a lot better with less visual clutter and Growl notifications as a default.

End of rant. And now, back to sorting out e-mail, but this time, on my personal accounts.

1 It lets you move things around by hitting Shift+Command+M and selecting a folder (it even does typeahead find in the folder tree), but the overall user experience for doing ad-hoc filtering is, in a word, bad (in two words, very bad). Entourage performs (on average) like a cow on Valium, and ad-hoc filters are particularly slow.

2 I “file away stuff on a quarterly basis”“:dev/AppleScript/Mail_Archive (one single folder per quarter), but work in progress stays on the server.