The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…



Magically achieve ‘inbox zero’ in Mail…or don’t

While working yesterday, I noticed that my inbox was empty. Generally, I strive to keep it that way, but I knew it wasn’t true just then—my phone showed six messages in my inbox. Even stranger, using a Smart Mailbox in Mail, set to “show messages in inbox for Many Tricks,” revealed the six messages. It was only when clicking into the mailbox itself that I couldn’t see anything. At first, I blamed Mail…

Can you blame me, though, after my Mail search issues and the weird potential fix?

When I looked a bit closer, I spotted a clue that maybe it wasn’t all Mail’s fault. The “(0 filtered messages)” as seen in my tweet normally reads “(0 messages).” This was different, so I went looking in Mail’s menus for “filter,” where I discovered View > Disable Message Filter. Because the menu read “Disable,” that meant the feature was enabled. I selected it, the menu switched to Enable Message Filter, and bingo, my inbox messages were back!

So what happened, and why wasn’t it more obvious to me what had happened? The fault lies both with me and with Mail.

[Note: Glenn F wrote about this very issue for Macworld a few months back…sorry I missed it, as it would’ve saved some investigative work on my end!]


A possible fix broken search in macOS Mail

Over the weekend, I wrote about my totally useless search in Mail. I got so frustrated by my inability to search in Mail that I decided it was time to for a complete rebuild. I exported all my locally-saved mail, deleted my accounts, quit Mail, trashed its prefs and data files, rebooted, then rebuild it mailbox by mailbox, account by account.

I started with my iCloud account, which I barely use for anything—it has a total of seven messages in the inbox (four of which are iTunes Store receipts), and only 121 sent messages. As a test, I searched for Linea, an excellent drawing app that I had recently purchased. No matches.

At that point, I decided to quit Mail and force Spotlight to rebuild its index overnight. In Terminal, sudo mdutilmdutil -E / will do just that (and take many hours). Today, opened Mail, and search was still dead. Argh! (I had also tried this suggested fix, but it made no difference.)

But doing some random testing today, I discovered a fix! It’s a weird fix, but it seems to work:

If I move all the messages from an inbox or local storage folder into a different local storage folder, they’ll be indexed and findable. I can then move them back into the inbox or source folder, and they remain findable.

Even more important, newly-added messages seem to be properly indexed, in both the inboxes and the local storage folders.

This doesn’t make any sense to me, as any one of my recent actions—rebuilding mailbox indexes, reimporting, and redoing the entire Spotlight index—should have been enough to force a rebuild. But for whatever reason, only manually moving the messages seems to force a rebuild.

Now pardon me while I go back to manually dragging a quarter-million email messages around…

On the uselessness of search in macOS Mail

For the last couple macOS releases, I’ve had nothing but trouble searching in Mail. Note that I didn’t write “trouble searching mail,” but rather, “trouble searching in Mail.” For example, today I needed to find an email from my business partner Peter about a hidden pref in Butler. (I was hoping this pref could help a user who was having problems with the pasteboard in a certain app.)

Based on a document on my hard drive, I knew the name of the default was Pasteboard Normalization Interval, but I couldn’t remember the syntax of the defaults write command to set its value. So I searched in Mail…

So clearly, no emails in my database contain the words I’m looking for, right? Here’s the exact same search, run in Spotlight:

Not one but two email messages match my search, and provided the needed syntax for the command.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: “Ahh, look, it’s in quotes!” Doesn’t matter; searching Mail for "Pasteboard Normalization Interval" still results in zero matches. Searching on even one word of the phrase, like Normalization, also finds no matches.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, I bet the Mail index is screwed up.” Nope; even after rebuilding the index on all 250,000+ messages in my database, no matches are found. (And yes, I let the index complete its rebuild, which took hours.)

I’ve heard from others that search in Mail works for them. But it’s a no go for me, and I know, for others. So something’s wrong, but I don’t know exactly what it is, nor how to fix it.

So for now, I have to rely on Spotlight to search Mail…or a third-party app, but more on that in a bit.

Apple Mail: Classic or modern layout?

To me, the modern view in Apple’s Mail app is basically useless: I keep my Mail window at 1,020 pixels in width, because really, there’s no need for it to take up more space than that. But at that width, the modern view’s message preview is so tiny as to be basically worthless:

Obviously, that’s classic view on the left and modern view on the right. With the classic view, I can read each email as soon as I select it in the list; with modern, I have to double-click a message to open in a new window, which is a waste of time and screen space. Modern only gets truly usable if I’m willing to make the window roughly 1,500 pixels in width.

So which layout do you use? Vote in the Twitter poll for the next day (well, 23 hours and counting).

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