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Review: MailPlane - GMail Application for your Mac Desktop

mailplaneicon-1.jpgGmail is one of the most generous web based email services available. At the last count they were offering almost 3 gigabytes of email storage. Not a bad deal considering it’s FREE! I use Gmail a lot. I have several Gmail accounts which I tend to try and keep solely to business and blog email. Unfortunately due to my working arrangements I don’t have access to Mail.app during office hours. So for me Gmail is a lifesaver.

So what is Mailplane?

Mailplane takes the core functionality of Gmail and brings it to your desktop. Yes, you did hear me correctly. The ability to compose, read, delete, archive plus lots more all through a nifty desktop app. No need for a browser!

A little bit of background

Firstly let me give you a little bit of history. Last Summer, Ruben the developer was on vacation on the beautiful Island of Corsica, he started to write an iPhoto plugin that was able to automate all manual steps needed to attach a picture to a Gmail message. A few weeks later he gave it to his friends. From their needs and ideas grew Mailplane: A fully fledged mail client for Google Mail and Mac OS X.

Let’s start it up…

When you first fire up Mailplane you will be asked to enter your Gmail username and password. mailplane0.inline_250x250.jpg You will then be faced with your Gmail in a window that looks vaguely familiar, but with a few subtle extras. Firstly you will notice that Gmail now has a tool bar across the top of the page. The developer has done a great job with the user interface mailplane1.inline_250x250.jpg You will also notice an accounts bar on the left hand-side, if you have one than more this is where you can easily switch between them. So much more than an email client… I won’t bore with you the nitty gritty. You won’t be surprised to hear that you can compose, read, star, delete, archive the whole nine yards from within the Mailplane interface. What I do want to tell you about are some of the features that make this so much more than an email client.

iPhoto integration

With the history behind Mailplane, it won‘t surprise you to discover that Mailplane works seamlessly with iPhoto. As Ruben mentioned getting content from iPhoto to Gmail can be pain. Drag image out of iPhoto, open photoshop to downsize it, then log in to Gmail, send attachment, then try and remember where you saved it, etc, etc. We’ve all been there & done it. I definitely have! With Mailplane all you need to do is open iPhoto and select the photo you wish to send and let Mailplane do the rest. mailplane2.inline_250x250.jpg Once you have clicked on the email button, Mailplane takes over. Your images are resized, optimized and dropped into a new message. All at the click of the button! This is really impressive stuff and it works seamlessly. With Mailplane you have the abiltiy to specify set optimization rules. So you know that all your images will set to 800 x 600 pixels and at medium quality. These rules can be changed to suit your needs higher, lower quality, bigger, smaller pixel width. The amazing thing is, Mailplane is doing the optimization on the fly! The whole process took approximately 15 seconds! mailplane4.inline_250x250.jpg Yes it does work! And here is my Mail.App account to prove it! The optimization is very efficient and actually does a better job than iPhoto at squishing those files!
News Flash: Just as I was putting the finishing touches to my review the developer released an updated beta which include compatibility for iPhoto, iLife 08.

Drag ‘n’ Drop

One feature that is noticeably absent from Gmail is the ability drag and drop file from your dekstop into an email, like you can in Apple’s Mail.App. Not any more! This is such a cool feature and so much quicker. I’m sure anyone who has had to attach multiple files in Gmail will agree. And of course if you are attaching a photo you can take advantage of Mailplane’s excellent optimization. As you may or may not have guessed by now Mailplane has started to grow on me. But imagine my delight when I thought I’d found a chink in Mailplane’s armour. After all that’s what I’m here for. What happens if I need to send an image at full resolution? Aha! – so I hastily pinged an email over to the developer. Explaining this major discovery flaw I had found. Drat, and double drat, simply hold down the command key before you drag your image and you’ll bypass Mailplane’s automatic optimization. I guess that’s a huge portion of humble pie for me and probably seconds!

Send Screen Grabs

How many times have you tried to send screengrabs via email? Command-option 3 is definitely a very quick way to a snap a screen grab. But then you have to hunt that grab down to attach it. With Mailplane the days of browsing for attachments are numbered. Snapping screen grabs with Mailplane is a breeze. Within the toolbar you will see a screen grab button. Simply open a new message, click on the screengrab button. Navigate to your chosen window and grab! Mailplane then inserts your grab into your message. Simple as that. Very slick! mailplane3.inline_250x250.jpg

Growl notification

These are very similar to the Gmail notifier. With Growl installed you can log in and know for certain that you won’t miss another message. I have been a Growler for quite some time. If you are not aware of Growl it’s FREE, and I definitely recommend you check it out. With Growl installed, every time you send or receive an email you will get a little blue pop-up box in the top right corner of your screen. Very useful!

Snippets

With snippets you are able to add blocks of pre-defined text as sign-offs. In fact any piece of text you have to type repeatedly can be stored in a snippet. mailplane5.inline_250x250.jpg

A few improvements..

Appearance needs work and I will tell you why. Firstly when you have a screen full of browsers it is very easy to mistake GMail+Mailplane for a browser and vice versa. So you can find yourself flicking between the two until you realize your mistake. I think if Mailplane had a distinctive Gmail skin of it’s own it would it would the cherry on the top of the cake. What Mailplane needs is an identity of it’s own. This would help the developer ‘add value’ to the product, especially if he intends to offer this product for sale. Maiplane funnily enough does not support FireFox extensions. Why would it? I have a couple of extensions in FireFox that help me improve my Gmail. I use Gmail and Greasemonkey to to give me color labels to my email filters - which is nice feature. I have also recently started to use todoist.com which has a cool little extension. This annoyed me.. so if there was a way to make it work, it would be awesome. I must admit this is me being really pernickety. Conclusion: I was very, very impressed with Mailplane. The installation and configuration was extremely easy. Considering that this is still a beta, I had no crashes or any other problems with this application. To be honest I couldn’t find any fault with Mailplane’s functionality. But I’m not paid (in fact I do this for FREE) to hand out 5 star glowing reviews willy nilly. My job is to put pressure on these apps and see if I find any cracks. Maiplane is a totally new approach to using Gmail, and I have nothing but admiration for Ruben the developer – he has done an awesome job. Unfortunately the product is not yet for sale, but if you visit mailplaneapp.com you can request a beta invite. 4.5 out of 5 by macwingnut