Next up in my mini-series detailing my initial impressions with Lion is the PIM suite: Mail, iCal, and Address Book. (Be sure to read parts I, III, and IV of the series.) I won’t say I’m a heavy email or calendar user (I’m not a manager or anything… ;-)), but I am an email admin, and a persnickety one at that. I expect my mail and calendaring applications to behave in a certain way, and when they don’t, my feathers get ruffled and I get annoyed. Continue reading for a (probably too lengthy) list of pros and cons about Lion’s PIM suite.

Mail

I should start by saying that we use Exchange at the university as our central email system, so my account in Mail is an Exchange 2010 mailbox (as are my iCal and Address Book accounts). However, I think most of the following points would apply to any account type.

After opening Mail for the first time in Lion, my initial reaction was something like, “holy crap, what did they do?” Apple’s changes to the Mail application are so extensive that it’s one of the “Top New Features” of the OS. Ever used Mail on an iDevice? Yep, that’s pretty much what your initial view is. The layout works on a tablet or small device, but I think it’s terrible on a full-fledged computer. So, step one of my “Mail remediation program” was to show my folder structure on the left-hand side again, and step two was to find the “use classic layout” option in Preferences to put the message list back on top of the preview pane–you know, where it should be. (Apple, you do not have to follow Microsoft Outlook on this stupid side-by-side view. It’s cluttered. It is in Outlook, and it is with Mail, too.) I think I also turned off the conversation view on my Inbox, but that’s neither here nor there, really. I leave conversation view disabled on the Inbox, but enable it for folders of listserv mail.

On to the pros and cons.

The Negative

  • The application still doesn’t retrieve the user’s server-side rules from an Exchange 2007 / 2010 server. I know EWS exposes this. I was actually surprised this functionality wasn’t included. Guess I’ll have to continue to use Outlook or OWA to manage my inbox rules.
  • Initially, header details in the preview pane are limited to From, Subject, and Date. No “To:” line. “CC:” isn’t there either. That’s just way too limited for me. Fortunately it’s as simple as clicking “Details” on the right-hand side of the preview pane to get a more useful view, and thank heavens that preference is sticky between messages.
  • Viewing “Raw Source” of a message opens up a new window instead of changing the view in the preview pane.  Okay, this is probably personal preference and me being way too nit-picky, but I liked how Mail used to just change the view in the preview pane. I think it was cleaner than having to deal with a pop-up window.
  • Replying or forwarding a message makes the preview pane “hop out” into a new window.  What is this I don’t even… It makes the app feel childish. Apple should have resisted the urge to animate every little thing about Lion.
  • The Send button is now just an icon of a paper airplane.  Because clearly, that’s the sort of icon you’d think to click to send an email. (Yes, that stupid icon was in previous versions of Mail, and I tolerated it then only because the word “Send” was right below it.) Again, this is a personal thing. Using a paper airplane for an icon neither enhances nor degrades the functionality of the application. But it also makes no sense.
  • The folder list font is bigger, so fewer folders fit in the view.  Another personal preference. I expect this is actually a positive for many people. Honestly, I debated whether to put this in the list of positives or negatives, and only decided to put it here because I lost a coin-toss with myself.
  • Viewing PDFs with Quick Look seems to want to “snap” to pages instead of the previous “continuous page flow” view.  By this I mean that you can’t make Quick Look span the bottom-half of one page and the top-half of the next page. If you scroll down it will just snap the view to the next page instead. This is just downright annoying. I haven’t tried it with other documents to see if it behaves the same way. I know Quick Look is pervasive throughout OS X, but I have no clue where I would look for configuration options.
  • The keyboard shortcut for the Activity Viewer window was changed from Cmd-0 to Cmd-Option-0.  Apple is taking a page out of Microsoft’s book here, by invalidating muscle memory and making me wonder if I’ve gone mad. The weird thing is that Cmd-0 (that’s a zero, by the way) is actually bound to another command (“Message Viewer”) that resides under the same Window menu , which will really mess with your head. “Why isn’t the Activity Viewer showing? I typed the shortcut! I even saw the Window menu light up, so I know the key combo registered!” Sigh.
  • Mail in Lion seems to be worse at discovering conversations than in Snow Leopard.  I subscribe to a few listservs, and I like to enable conversation view in those folders. In Snow Leopard, Mail was very good about figuring out which emails went with which thread. In Lion, however, I have one listserv that Mail just cannot figure out how to thread at all. It shows a few of the emails in threads, but by and large most emails in that folder are now unthreaded. This seems like a genuine regression to me.

The Positive

  • You can set a custom header detail view and include headers relevant to you.  Part of spelunking through a new release like this is finding things you never knew existed (or saw but quickly forgot because you weren’t actively looking for that particular feature). I have no idea if this was an option previously, but it’s there in Lion. Cool.
  • There is a “Get Account Info” option that shows folder size, Out-Of-Office settings, and some other summary data.  Again, I don’t know if this was present in previous versions, but I think it’s pretty neat. I’m fairly certain the OOF section didn’t exist prior to Lion, even if the others did. What surprised me was that it pulled my OOF settings from the Exchange server, so Apple didn’t just create a one-off client-side autoresponder setting. Of course, having this makes the absence of server-side rules in Mail completely baffling.
  • When in conversation view, clicking on the rolled-up conversation will show you a linear view of all messages in that thread in the preview pane.  Previously it would just show you a list of all messages in the thread: who sent them, when they were sent, and the subject line.

iCal

I use iCal to view my Exchange 2010 calendar as well as my personal Google calendar. I also typically have a couple of Exchange delegate calendars listed as well. I’m not really a heavy calendar user at all.

The Negative

  • The new interface looks like a desk calendar.  I guess it looks okay, but it seems less professional somehow.
  • The list of calendars is now hidden behind a “Calendars” button.  I really liked seeing at a glance which calendars were shown. This isn’t terrible in and of itself, but without the calendar list you have no legend to remind you of which appointment color goes with which calendar. Is red my Exchange calendar or my personal calendar? Which calendar is this green appointment on? (Of course, the subject of the appointment typically helps with that, but it’s still slightly confusing; especially if I have my coworkers’ calendars listed as delegate calendars, since we all go to a lot–but not all–of the same meetings.)

The Positive

  • Theoretically it supports Exchange 2010.  Of course, you can still typically use Exchange 2007 EWS calls against an Exchange 2010 client access server, which was how iCal in Snow Leopard was working with my calendar before now. Of course, iCal seemed to crash about once every half hour before, too, leading me to my next point…
  • At least it hasn’t crashed yet.  It was getting comical just how often iCal crashed on Snow Leopard on my iMac at work. The day before I upgraded to Lion was the worst it had ever been. I got into a fight with it: I’d start it, it’d immediately crash, I’d click “Reopen”, it’d crash, I’d click “Reopen”, it’d crash again, I’d click “OK” and open it from the Dock, it’d crash…I wish I was making that up.

Otherwise, I can’t find much that has really changed. It looks like iCal on iOS. Whoop-dee-do.

Address Book

Upon starting Address Book for the first time, I had the same initial reaction to it as I did to Mail: “oh no, what did they DO?”

The Negative

  • It looks like a book.  What was wrong with the old interface? Is there a particular reason that Apple decided to turn it into something I’d expect from Fisher Price? Come on, guys, people do use Macs in the corporate world, and that…thing…is just a joke. It’s awful. The old user interface was functional and didn’t look bad, dated, or otherwise in need of improvement. Ugh.

The Positive

  • At least it’s still there.  Honestly, that’s about all I can think of.

“Mail, Contacts, & Calendars” Preference Pane

This is an interesting enhancement. Instead of managing your various accounts in Mail, iCal, and Address Book, you can now manage them from a central preference pane. It also seems to handle instant messaging accounts that iChat understands. They lifted this straight from iOS, and I will say that it seems like it might be handy.

Summary

I really should have kept one of my Macs on Snow Leopard so that I could do comparisons to check whether what I thought was a new feature in Lion didn’t already exist in Snow Leopard.

Mail, iCal, and Address Book are still as functional as their predecessors, and some of the changes Apple made are welcome. By and large, most changes seem to be to the user interface, and mostly make the applications look like something you’d see on a Hasbro “My First Computer” toy. I’m a professional: please give me professional-looking applications.

Stay tuned for part III of this little series. If you missed part I, you can view it here.