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Inside OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion GM: Mail 6.0 & Notes

In OS X Mountain Lion, Apple has split Notes off from Mail as its own app, mirroring iOS. Additionally, Mail gets new VIP contact, notification and search features, while the all new Notes app for OS X provides a new option for drafting ideas that are kept up to date across all your devices via iCloud.

Mac OS X Mail origins

Mail is one of the original apps Apple bundled with OS X, in large part because it was derived from NeXTMail, a key bundled app of the NeXTSTEP operating system developed by Steve Jobs' NeXT prior to its acquisition by Apple in late 1996. While Apple subsidiary Claris already had its own "[email protected]" client app, the company decided to drop it in favor of NeXT's, which despite being much older was also more sophisticated.

Leopard's Mail 3.0

Mail on OS X debuted (above) with support for such features as multiple accounts and rules-based message management. In OS X 10.4 Tiger, Apple added junk mail filtering and changed how Mail 2.0 stored individual messages to allow the then new Spotlight to index them for fast, system wide search. The company also began experimenting with new user interface concepts, including controversy-arousing new pill-shaped toolbar buttons (below).

Leopard's Mail 3.0

Mail 3.0 in OS X 10.5 Leopard incorporated RSS support and added Notes (below) and Todos, similar to how Microsoft's Outlook and Exchange Server handle specialized email messages to provide note and reminder features.

Leopard's Mail 3.0

In the following 4.0 version in OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Apple built upon that foundation by adding native support for Exchange Server 2007, including not just email, Notes and ToDos in Mail, but also supporting Exchange contacts in Address Book and syncing calendar events with iCal.

Mail 5.0 in OS X 10.7 Lion added Full Screen support and expanded Exchange support for Server 2010. In the new Mail 6.0 of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, however, Apple is focusing more on connecting OS X with iOS and its users, including a variety of new features aimed at users in China.

A reorganized Mail 6.0 in Mountain Lion

Mail doesn't drop any of its existing support for Exchange Server, but it is following iOS in reorganizing different types of messages with specialized apps. Unlike Outlook, which is a single client for mail, calendar, contacts, notes, tasks and journal features, Apple has always kept Address Book and iCal distinct from Mail.

Now, with Mountain Lion, Apple is following the path of iOS 5 by not only renaming Contact and Calendar, but also spinning todo events out of Calendar (and Mail) into their own Reminders app and similarly removing note functionality from Mail and putting them in the standalone Notes.

Another notable change is the dropped support for Mail's RSS feed parsing, which is also now missing from Safari, too. In both cases, it appears Apple has acknowledged that third party RSS feed aggregators are far more useful than the tacked on support in Mail and Safari, and that RSS feed reading isn't a core operating system feature.

New VIP features in Mail 6.0

Mail 6.0 is also getting some useful new features. In what can be described as the opposite of junk mail, users can now tag specific specific contacts as "VIPs," whose messages are then highlighted within the special VIP mailbox, categorized by each VIP contact. This allows you to, for example, see messages from your boss, team members, spouse, clients or anyone else who you want to give priority status.

Adding a VIP is as easy as ticking the star icon next to their name in an incoming email (below). Once added, that contact and all of their new and past emails will appear in a special smart folder of VIP correspondence. Just as with other smart mailboxes, this doesn't move your mails around, so their messages continue to exist in the regular inbox or in whatever static mailboxes you've manually sorted them into.

In addition to getting a priority inbox, VIP emails can also be given specialized rules, such as triggering an alert via Notification Center. In fact, any messages matching one of the configurable rules can now trigger a notification. VIP, as a feature, is really just a pre-made Smart Mailbox with some extra access in the user interface. If you already have your own system of groups or rules, you can easily add Notifications as an action that is triggered when the rule is evaluated (below).

"Sender is VIP" is now just one of the rule conditions (below top) that can be used to not only trigger a Notification, but any other sort of Rules action as well (below bottom), from an automatic reply or redirect to a more sophisticated action built in AppleScript.

On page 2 of 3: Mail 6.0's new find, share & configure features