Review: MailTags, Mail Act-On and Mail Perspectives

To turn Apple’s Mail into a time and contact management system, all you need is a copy of MailTags and Mail Act-On by Indev. If you also want to literally get different views of your mail, you’ll also need Mail Perspectives by the same developer. Suddenly Mail becomes a power instrument to manage your tasks, projects, and contacts.

MailTags and Mail Act-On were what Indev, the Canadian developer, started out with. Mail Perspectives is an evolved version of what used to be MiniMail, originally developed by another company. The three together make up for a strong offering if you want Apple’s Mail to be as powerful — or even more — than Microsoft Outlook.

Starting with MailTags, this plug-in gives you direct access to iCal and OmniFocus synchronisation. It also allows you to create OpenMeta tags (the same sort of metadata as supported by Tags), organise messages using colours and priorities, as well as set projects, iCal events and two different types of tasks (one being the iCal task, the other being a tickler tasks that only exist in MailTags but that enable you to easily see how a due date expires).

Keeping multiple Mail windows open simultaneously

MailTags’ tags are immediately recognised by the program “Tags” which enables you to add OpenMeta metadata to any file on your Mac. If you know that EagleFiler, a PIM, also supports OpenMeta tags, it becomes obvious MailTags is part of a very powerful management suite for Mac desktops.

Personally, I found MailTags’ synchronisation with OmniFocus a good feature. OmniFocus can pull in messages with an OmniFocus shortcut key, while MailTags automatically pulls in project names from OmniFocus. This synchronisation process takes a bit of time — about 3 minutes — during which both applications must remain open.

When synchronisation has completed, you can tag a message with a project and then send it to OmniFocus with the project automatically set. This saves time, but also opens perspectives for faster task and project management than is possible with Mail and iCal or OmniFocus by themselves.

The Tickler date is my second favourite. You can set up Smart mailboxes based on Tickler dates expiring — very handy to see what is due, and what is past due without having to set up an alarm in iCal.

Except for these two, MailTags is fully scriptable and has rules parameters of its own, so you can use MailTags based criteria to set up rules in Mail. Furthermore, MailTags allows you to set an independent message colour (text or background) and a Notes section that can be set as subject replacement.

MailTags has a natural companion, which is Mail Act-On. This plug-in used to be a keystroke shortcut driven message router, but in its current version it’s much more than that. Mail Act-On 2.x can be keystroke shortcut driven, but you can also set up special Act-On rules that don’t require a shortcut key, and outbound mail rules. Especially the latter are incredibly powerful for keeping together a thread so that Mail behaves much like Microsoft Outlook. In fact, if you know Mail Act-On well enough, you can create rules that will set or remove MailTags tags on prior messages automatically.

About the only thing that I found confusing about Mail Act-On was that if I set a keystroke, Mail Act-On would only react when I keyed in the shortcut after having keyed in a groupage key for Act-On rules. This could be my misunderstanding or it might be a bug.

Whatever it is, even with an extra key to be hit on your keyboard, Mail’s routing system with Mail Act-On is a lot easier and more efficient than without.

The last plug-in by Indev is Mail Perspectives. This plug-in allows you to minify your mail windows, adds a Mail Actions toolbar that can float above all other windows and applications, and lets you shift focus from the Inbox only to other mailboxes that you use more often. The concept of Mail Perspectives is that Mail’s screen real estate gobbling window shouldn’t be open just because you want to read incoming messages.

So, when Mail Perspectives is active, the Inbox window is reduced in size to a small message list with some cleverly designed icons and buttons. You can read messages in a tiny font size, or via Quick Look at regular size. You can also search for mail, start a new message, check for mail, etc, via the toolbar. Both the Perspectives windows — you can have multiple open simultaneously — and the Toolbar can be positioned anywhere you like and ‘fixed’ with a keystroke shortcut.

I found Mail Perspectives to be the cornerstone of a project-driven Mail experience because you can keep project mailboxes open and still see new messages incoming for other mailboxes as Mail Perspectives will pop open a “Recent Mail” window whenever it becomes necessary. And it’s flexible too: whenever you want to see the full mailbox, you just click on the green resizing button and the window will slide wide open.

In fact, that’s one feature request I would like to launch here: it would be nice if users could set a maximum window size so that rescaling the Perspectives window doesn’t simply maximize the window to its full proportions.

Additional capabilities for Mail Perspectives windows are: an alarm that can be set for messages entering any particular mailbox, icons for MailTags and dates, and the ability to see the last message in the mailbox or the list, with an easy way to forward from one message to another.

If you take the three Indev plug-ins together, they’ll quickly form a necessary add-on to Apple’s Mail which you will soon find it hard to live without. They are as essential as Mail itself if you use your mail client on a daily basis and for your business or job.

A very hot plug-in suite, and inexpensive at 45.00 Euros for the complete suite. If you want to get one of these plug-ins separately, expect to pay between 15.00 and 22.55 Euros per plug-in.