Postbox: New Heavyweight Email Contender

Postbox: New Heavyweight Email Contender

Shortly before Christmas, I learned of Postbox, a new cross-platform email application from Postbox, Inc. The new email client is being developed by Scott MacGregor and Sherman Dickman – both men having an extensive background at Mozilla.

According to CrunchBase, Scott MacGregor was “a lead engineer at Mozilla Corporation,” and Sherman Dickman was “Director of Product Management at Mozilla Corporation” where he “oversaw market and customer research, analytics and metrics.” Suffice it to say, these guys know something about building an email application.

Postbox grabbed some attention last fall when it was launched at TechCrunch50. You can view their demo below.

Postbox is currently in private beta. I was invited to the beta program about a week and a half ago and have had an opportunity to put Postbox through its paces.

Although I was very excited about Postbox from the beginning and really wanted to like the app, unfortunately, I am underwhelmed. Ultimately, Postbox feels like Thunderbird-dressed-up-all-pretty; which shouldn’t be surprising since this app is built on Mozilla by two former Mozilla employees.

What sets Postbox apart from other email applications?

See for yourself:

document search screen image search screen screen of the app

Some other things you can do with Postbox:

  • Twitter – you can highlight text from an email, right-click and post that text to Twitter. I’m not sure I see how useful this is, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to have the option. I’ve never felt like I just had to twitter something someone sent me in an email. They would do better, in my opinion, to build in a full Twitter client that could show a threaded conversation view. That would actually be useful.
  • Annotate Emails – I have not seen this anywhere else, but you can actually add text to emails that people have sent to you as a way to annotate them. This is a pretty neat idea. As a lawyer, however, I tend to treat emails as archival; as evidence of a communication that has occurred. That said, I feel weird adding text to an email because I feel like I’m altering the record. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid (I know you’re listening!). If you can get past the dirty feeling you get by altering a sacred digital record of communication, then this could actually be pretty useful.
  • Easy Links, Maps, Images: One of the coolest features about Postbox is the ability to very easily add links, maps, and images to your new emails. When composing new email, on the right-hand side, there is a pane where you can run a quick google or wikipedia search which will display results as you type. You can then drag any of the results over to your message to send to somebody. This can actually come in handy. Check the screenshot below.

What I don’t like about Postbox?

  • No Quick Look: As cool as Postbox is in the way it helps you collect and search your attachments, it does not (yet) include support for Quick Look. In our office, we scan all outgoing and incoming mail, pleadings, etc. These scans come into my email box with nondescript filenames. I love how Mail.app allows you to do a Quick Look at an attachment, allowing you to see the full contents of the document without actually opening up the attachment. Obviously, this is much faster than going through the emails one by one and opening the attachments one at a time. This is actually a deal breaker for me.
  • No Unified Inbox: Also a deal breaker for me is the lack of a unified inbox. By this, I mean that you can only view your emails one account at a time. I have three main email accounts that I must manage with my email client. In Mail.app, I can have all emails come into my one Inbox. I don’t have to click on my work email account to see my work email, then my personal email account to see my personal email, then my EsquireMac email account to see my EsquireMac email. Beyond this, with Mail.app, I can view all of the folders and sub-folders for all of my email accounts at one time and drag and drop emails between accounts with the magic of IMAP.
  • Slow: Postbox has some great features, but it is not fast. Mail.app feels rock solid and is the fastest email client I’ve ever used. Postbox has about the same feel to it as Thunderbird. When you click on an email, there is a definite stuttering period where it is getting its crap together so it can do you the favor of actually displaying the contents of the email you just clicked on. It is not instantaneous like Mail.app.
  • One Signature Per Account: Perhaps this is no big deal to some people, but Postbox only allows one signature per account. You actually have to create a text file containing your signature, then point Postbox to that text file to pull your signature from it. It’s a bit klugy.

Conclusion

All in all, Postbox is innovative and is taking the desktop email client in the right direction. I think they’ve already outshone Thunderbird. They’ve got some ground to cover, though, performance-wise and feature-wise, if they’re going to unseat Mail.app.

Oh, I almost forgot. Postbox will be a free application and works on Mac OS X and Windows.