Mailplane, Gmail will replace your desktop email client

  • April 16th, 2007

One year ago, I experimented with Google Hosted – 5ThirtyOne – Google Hosted Email – and soon moved and began managing all of my email accounts using Google’s services. Why? Because it was convenient, accessible, simple, quick, and everything email should be. Because Gmail provides the option to “Send mail as:” or download mail from other accounts via POP3, there really is no limitation as far as email management is concerned. Couple both of those features with Google’s powerful search algorithm which digs deep into your archived mail, as well as filtering, forwarding, and its own POP access, deciding on your default email service can be difficult.

Desktop clients integrate with your OS & other applications

With no real plans to turn this article into a “my method is better than your method” argument, I’ll get straight to the point. Desktop email clients, like Apple Mail, offer integrated OS features which are difficult to make use of with a web based email service like Gmail. Attempting to do so requires a number of 3rd party software packages or utilities which give the feeling of tight integration.

  • Google Notifier – Google’s official OS X menu bar utility. Provides quick access to both Gmail and Google Calendars. Includes a notification pop-up window for new messages. Unfortunately, clicking on notifications will open Gmail in Safari. Disable this option and use Growl notifications in order to open messages in your default browser. Also provides support for mailto: links.
  • Gmail + Growl – Provides Growl support for the official Google Notifier. Growl notifies you of new messages; clicking on Growl notifications opens the message in your default browser.
  • iPhoto2Gmail – Quickly email images from within iPhoto. Send original images or optimized (resized) versions. Unorthodox method of sending which requires users to Export > iPhoto2Gmail in order to send.
  • Gmail Notifier (Firefox) – Notifies you of unread messages in your Gmail account. Automatically composes new messages in Gmail for mailto: links. Unfortunately, because this is a Firefox extension, no support for other applications.

If you’re hoping to ditch Apple Mail for Gmail, you’ll need to rely on one of the aforementioned utilities. As you can see, no single utility acts as a universal solution. For example, I can install the Google Notifier which in turn makes Gmail my default mail client, but in order to send images directly from iPhoto, I will need to install iPhoto2Gmail. In order to achieve the feeling of having completely integrated Gmail into your daily work flow, chances are high that you will need to make use of at least two options from the list above.

Mailplane – one application, a handful of answers

Mailplane main Gmail view screenshot

Mailplane – A special Gmail “browser” which integrates Gmail into your daily OS X work flow & applications

Ruben is hard at work creating what looks to be the solution to answer every Gmail users needs. The solution is a single application known as Mailplane. As of this posting, Mailplane is in a private beta with current users providing developer feedback to ensure that the final release is as polished as can be. To be honest, it’s practically there. Here’s an early beta look at the application which will blur the line between web based and desktop email.

Your initial reaction(s) may be that Mailplane is nothing more than a dedicated “browser” to access Gmail. In its simplest form, that is exactly what it is. The real beauty and usefulness of the application happens behind the scenes. Once installed, the 5MB application provides many of the same features provided by Apple’s Mail + your own POP3 account.

Customize how Gmail & Mailplane interact locally

Mailplane general settings Mailplane general settings Mailplane general settings Mailplane general settings Mailplane general settings

Screenshots of the current Prefence Pane application options (these may change once the application goes public)

Beyond the standard Gmail Account settings accessible directly from within your Gmail account, Mailplane provides a number of additional preference options which tie the application into your operating system and improve your overall user experience.

A whole new Gmail experience with Mailplane

Mail menu shortcuts screenshotGmail users who access their accounts from Safari, Firefox, Camino, or any other browser may be turned off by the fact that Mailplane overrides the default keyboard shortcuts. I was a little disoriented by the change, but like any application, finding shortcuts is a quick process simply by browsing through the available menus (see the Mail related menu to the left). After 5-10 minutes of use, I was well on may way – fully adjusted to the new keyboard shortcuts.

Anyone who uses screenshots to supplement their emails will enjoy the convenience of the ‘Screenshot’ functionality built right into Mailplane. ‘Screenshot’ will automatically open Apple’s Grab utility. Once you’ve made your selection, Mailplane automatically attaches the image to your current email.

The simplicity of sending attachments does not stop there. Attach images, archives, or other files simply by dragging the item directly into an open Mailplane window. If you you are not composing a message, Maiplane will begin one for you. If you have an existing email open, the file is immediately added as an attachment. See the added benefits of accessing Gmail through Mailplane below.

What’s integrated, and how will I benefit?

Screenshot of a short demo of Mailplane. Click through to see the actual video (Quicktime required)

Click above for a 5 min. (29MB) live demo of the application as I showcase some of the benefits of accessing and managing your Gmail account through Mailplane. Quicktime is required. Alternatively, view the low quality YouTube version.

  • Address Book – Use Apple’s Address Book to manage your contacts? Because of Mailplane’s integration, sending email to contacts is as simple as locating an email address and toggling the drop down menu next to each. Selecting ‘Send Email’ will open a new Gmail compose screen so you can begin your message right away.
  • Safari – Enjoy sending archived views or URLs to contacts via email? Mailplane lets you do just that. If you’re viewing a website that you want to share via email, simply select ‘Mail Contents of This Page’ or CMD+I to download an archived view which is attached to a new email. Your other option is to select ‘Mail Link of This Page’ or Shift+CMD+I to send the title of the page as the Subject line and the URL as the body.
  • iPhoto – Want to send photographs to family and friends from within iPhoto? Simply highlight the photographs of your choice and select the ‘Email’ icon at the bottom of the window. Photos are automatically resized (based on your Mailplane preference settings) and attached to a new email. Realize that you forgot to add some images? Simply drag images directly into your current compose window to have them automatically attached.
  • Firefox – Similar to the send link as email integration with Safari, Mailplane will also detect and compose a new email for any pages you designate to be sent [via email]. The page title is added as the Subject Line and the URL as the body content.
  • Global mailto: – Any applications with email requirements are handled by Mailplane.

For a better idea of how integrated Gmail becomes when accessed with Gmail, make sure to check out the 5 min. video demo (29MB – Quicktime required).

Whether or not your current work flow would benefit from a dedicated Gmail application is something you will need to experiment with when the private beta is released to the public. Feel free to address any questions or concerns in the comments below or visit the Mailplane website for more information. Now that you are aware of the added benefits of using Mailplane with Gmail, are you more inclined to make the transition to Gmail as your main email solution? Or, are you going to stick with your existing email solution? If this was helpful, consider a digg!

Business Email Solutions

If you need to set up small business email accounts you know just how hard it can be to get good email hosting. Many small businesses use outlook exchange to get their essential email responsibilities taken care of, but there are many other email options out there as well.