The seven most underused e-mail features

If you’re anything like me, you fall into certain habits when using programs such as Apple Mail – you get used to using the same small set of core features all the time and tend to overlook capabilities that are less obvious, though no less useful. Based on my own experience and my observations of several other Mail users, I’ve compiled a list of seven truly helpful features that often go unnoticed (applicable to both Leopard and Snow Leopard versions of Mail).

1. The Photo Browser

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to mail someone a photo, and my first impulse was to launch iPhoto (and then drag an image into Mail or use iPhoto’s Share -> Email command). But there’s a quicker and easier way. In Mail, just choose Window -> Photo Browser. A floating window appears instantly, showing the complete contents of your iPhoto library. Locate the picture you want, drag it into a message window, and you’re done.

2. Plain Text

This may be a bit of a personal bias, but I like to receive e-mail in plain text (so that I get to decide what font, size, style, and colour messages use). I also like to extend that courtesy to others. Mail uses Rich Text by default for outgoing messages, but you can change this by choosing Mail -> Preferences, clicking on the Composing icon on the toolbar, and choosing Plain Text from the Message Format menu. (To change the format for an individual message, choose Format -> Make Rich Text or Format -> Make Plain Text.) To force incoming mail to display in plain text by default (which isn’t possible for all messages), you need to quit Mail, open Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities) and enter the following command: defaults write PreferPlainText -bool TRUE. To switch to styled text (if available) when viewing a plain-text message, choose View -> Message -> Best Alternative.

3. Multiple From addresses

If an e-mail account has more than one valid From address (for example, if you use as an alias to, you can configure Mail to let you use any of those addresses when sending a given message from that account. First, choose Mail -> Preferences, click on the Accounts icon on the toolbar, select your account, and click on Account Information. Then, in the E-mail Address field, enter all the addresses you might use with that account, separated by commas. Close the Preferences window and click on Save. Now, when you compose a new message, you can choose any of those addresses from the From pop-up menu below the Subject field.

4. Activity window

Does Mail seem to take an awfully long time to check or send messages? If you’re curious to know what it’s up to behind the scenes, choose Window -> Activity (Command-0) to display a floating window showing each operation Mail is currently performing. You can stop any given activity by clicking on its Stop icon.

5. Connection Doctor

If you encounter problems sending or receiving mail, you don’t need to guess at the nature of the problem. Find out exactly what’s wrong by choosing Window -> Connection Doctor. Mail then checks each of your incoming and outgoing account connections, and displays a window with a plain English description of any problems it found, usually with advice for fixing them.

6. Send Again

Suppose you sent a message to a bunch of people and you realize you forgot someone. Instead of opening the message in your Sent mailbox, copying its contents, and pasting it into a new message, just select the message, choose Message -> Send Again (Command-Shift-D), and replace the existing recipients with the new one(s). The subject and message contents remain the same as before (although you can edit them if you like).

7. Remove Attachments

Attachments – whether in messages you’ve received or copies of outgoing messages in your Sent mailbox – can chew up a lot of disk space. If you use an IMAP or Exchange account that imposes a storage quota, this can become a significant concern. Luckily, Mail can remove attachments from stored messages, and if you’ve already saved a copy of the attachments elsewhere, using this feature is a good idea. Locate one or more messages with attachments and choose Message -> Remove Attachments. Behind the scenes, Mail duplicates the message (omitting attachments) and deletes the original.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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