Conquer El Capitan’s new Mail app

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After seeming like a neglected stepchild in OS X for the longest time, Apple’s native Mail app has received a number of major feature enhancements in Yosemite and again in El Capitan.

Among the features added in El Capitan are iOS-like interface changes to make it easier to handle screen real estate and use touch gestures.

However, as is often the case when iOS features make their way to the Mac, their implementation is a little hit and miss.

Juggle multiple messages with tabs

Tabbed messagesSay you’re composing an email, and you realise that you need information from another person before you can finish it. So you open another new message and start composing.

Then you remember an urgent message that needs to go to someone else. Then an important email comes in, and you have to reply. Your screen fills up with new Mail message windows pretty quickly.

What’s more, it can be tricky keeping track of them all.

In El Capitan, though, you can have all of these new messages appear as tabs in one window — just like in Safari. The only catch is that you have to be in full-screen mode for it to work.

But then again, if you’re the kind of power user who actually encounters this difficulty, you’re probably already using full-screen mode for Mail, right?

Open Mail, and go to the View menu and select Enter Full Screen (or press Command-F). Next time you compose a new message or reply to an existing one, it will appear as a tab in one big window.

You can close individual tabs by hovering the mouse pointer at the left-hand end of a tab and then clicking the X, or you can close all tabs at once by clicking on the red button in the upper-left corner of the window.

As an added bonus, if you need to check something in another email message, simply click on the yellow button in the corner of the window, and all of your tabs will slide to the bottom of the screen — just like what happens when you close a draft in iOS 9.

Change swiping behaviour

Before TrashIf you use a Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse, you can swipe with two fingers left across a message in the inbox to send it to the Trash.

Again, this is borrowed directly from iOS, where it makes a certain degree of sense.

Swipe behaviourHowever, in OS X, where you’re not touching the screen directly, it can be quite easy to swipe on the wrong message, or to swipe accidentally as you’re scrolling through the message list.

It’s an example of a time that a touch interface and a pointer interface really aren’t the same sort of metaphor.

The worst part is, it can result in accidental deletion of emails. If you swipe part of the way across a message a button appears with Trash on it in clear type, and you have to click that to avoid deletions.

If you swipe all the way over the message, however, it’s sent straight to the Trash without further action. If you didn’t notice that you had done that, it can be disastrous.

After ArchiveTo make sure your emails are recoverable even if you do swipe across them unintentionally, you can change the behaviour of the left-swipe. Open Mail Preferences, and click on the Viewing tab.

Among the many options available there is ‘Swipe Left To …’ and a pull-down menu with the options of Trash or Archive.

If you Archive messages, they’re simply moved to a specially created folder which will appear in the sidebar alongside your inbox and any other folders you’ve created. If you move something there accidentally, it’s trivial to recover it.

Stop the left-swiping altogether

Classic layoutIf you want to go a bit more extreme in your avoidance of accidental left-swiping deletions or even archivings, you have the option to deactivate the feature — sort of.

Also in Mail Preferences > Viewing, you’ll notice a checkbox labelled Use Classic Layout.

If you click on that, you’ll no longer have the multi-column layout for mail to which you’ve become accustomed in recent versions of OS X. Rather, you’ll have the sidebar and the message list, with a preview window at the bottom — the way Mail looked until about OS X 10.7.

And in OS X 10.7 you didn’t have a swipe-left to lose your mail feature, did you?

This is a bit of an extreme approach, especially if you like to use Mail in full-screen mode. The Classic layout is incredibly ugly and cumbersome in full-screen mode. But if you’ve accidentally swiped away important messages, it might be worth it.

Smart addresses that aren’t so smart

Smart addressesA convenience feature that was added into Mail in Yosemite and remains in El Capitan is “smart” addresses — you type the first few letters of a contact’s name and Mail fills in the address, while all you see in the window is the name.

It’s elegant, to be sure, but it’s also obscuring potentially important information.

What if your contact has multiple addresses? What if you’re sending a personal email to a contact’s work address, which may be in violation of their employer’s policies?

There are any number of circumstances in which not knowing what address you’re actually sending a message to can result in difficulties for you or the other party.

To deactivate the feature, simply go to Mail Preferences > Viewing and deselect the checkbox for Use Smart Addresses.

Mail will still fill in the address for you when you type the first few letters of a contact’s name, but you’ll see the address as well. More information is good.