Mailplane, Gmail will replace your desktop email client

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.

Discuss - 58 Comments

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  4. Eric M says:

    You can also use gmail with apple’s mail.app.

    Make sure POP is selected under Account Type.
    Enter “pop.gmail.com” under Incoming Mail Server.
    Make sure Use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is checked.
    Type “smtp.gmail.com” under Outgoing Mail Server.
    Make sure Use Authentication is checked and type “465” under Server port.

    If you want you can also put in your ISP’s smtp server instead if you are only at home. Then you can send bigger files (more than 5MB) and it goes quicker to send.

    Remember that apple’s mail.app works “offline” when you are not connected to the internet.

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  6. Hans says:

    too bad it’s only for OSX as I’m on Windo$. I’ve been using gmail as my primary mail application but haven’t yet considered any desktop client like Thunderbird. I prefer leaving the mails safely in my gmail inbox since things can get wrong easily with an application. My Firefox recently crashed, taking with it all my bookmarks and bookmark folders. That would teach me to leave them on del.cio.us from now on.

    Beware since as you said it’s still in beta…. better not consider a total shift to it.. don’t you think so?

    Thanks for the great read :)

  7. Longtime MacUser says:

    I have Gmail set up as a pop account into .Mail and it works great!! Please read the tutorial on GMail page:

    http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=13275

    No need of extra software for it and the integration is complete…

  8. dupola says:

    On FireFox, I like Gmail Manager better.It’s here,have a try:
    http://www.longfocus.com/firefox/gmanager/

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  10. Christy says:

    My boss started using gmail extensively at work; I have now set my pop3 account up at work and also at home. I have several emails at home since I do have a website. It is wonderful! I love the label system they have, as well as archiving emails. It is good to know it is there if I want to search by label or a key word.

    We also utilize Google calendar and docs and spreadsheets at work. My work and personal calendar I have “shared” so that I can see both calendars at any time.

    I can’t wait to see what Google comes up with next.

  11. Derek says:

    What Google comes out with next is an online Presentation creation service. Think web-based PowerPoint. This was confirmed on TechCrunch today.

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  13. Andreas says:

    I still use Apple Mail, but I have to say Mailplane looks sweet! But I don’t use Gmail all that much. Agree with Dupola though: Gmail Manager is the best Gmail-add-on for Firefox. Supports multiple accounts and so forth.

  14. gary says:

    I use gmail with mail.app using pop3 and it works seamlessly. I also use address book and iphoto which integrate perfectly. There’s no need for a third party anything. Am I missing something here?

  15. Mads says:

    They key issue, as I see it, is that for people who uses a lot of different computers, POP3 just won’t cut it… I currently use IMAP and Gmail for that exact reason, no matter where I am and more impotantly, no matter at which of my Mac’s I use I have access to my mail (without having to use a tedious syncronization feature!), granted there is internet of course, but there is 95 percent of the places I use my computer and for the rest i have the Gmail mobile app for my Sony Ericsson K800i Mobile… Mail Plane would just make Gmail a little more userfriendly when accessing my mail on a Mac I use regularly, wheter it is at home or at work…

  16. Derek says:

    Re: Gary:

    Applications like Mailplane would be appropriate for individuals who wish to utilize their Gmail account without necessarily having to setup an application which actually downloads their email to their desktop. Although I agree, Mail could be configured to use Gmail via POP3, there are some drawbacks which I don’t necessarily believe benefit me (others may share the same views).

    * I have no need to have a local indexed mirror of my Gmail inbox.
    * I access email from my desktop, any one of my laptops, and my cellphone – POP just doesn’t cut it when it comes to syncing read / unread statuses.
    * If I were to manage Gmail via POP, deleting messages on my computer does not delete messages online.
    * No support for labels

    Everyone has their own method of managing email. Gmail’s web interface may be better suited for some, while POP access may be suitable for others.

  17. gary says:

    Mads and Derek, thanks for the quick responses. You’re correct, it’s simply a case of my email needs being different, but you bring up some good points and a few for me to think about.

  18. christianK says:

    Perhaps it’s a bit strange to say it like this, but I never got the point of GMail. Especially if people have their own webspace (or even a own server …). There are just so many really good webmail-solutions out there – free and open source. My favorite one is roundcube. Same features as GMail (several accounts, ajaxified ^^, etc – ok you won’t have the chat, but i don’t use this anyway), with an installation as easy as one can imagine, and perhaps a really important thing: it feels as good as gmail and it looks far better.

    Roundcube works as imap client, so there are no problems using your own favourite eMail-Client (let it be Thunderbird, any M$-Software, any O$-Software or Evolution, Kontakt or whatever …) if you want to parallel to roundcube webmailer …

    Of course, GMail is a great piece of software. But I just don’t see the point in using it, if i can have the same functionality with a better look for free WITHOUT giving my private information to a corp. …