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Mailsmith 2.2 Released as Freeware from New Firm

The long-awaited release of Mailsmith 2.2 came with a few surprises. This version, coming four years after the last maintenance release of 2.1, is free – and owned by another company. The new Web site has already launched.

Bare Bones founder and CEO Rich Siegel started the new company – Stickshift Software – solely to provide continuing development and support for the email client, which, he confirmed via iChat, will remain “closed source” but a “labor of love.” Bare Bones has transferred ownership of Mailsmith to Stickshift. (Say that five times fast!)

Version 2.2 changes its data storage model, requiring an update that can be quite time consuming for any 2.1.x users who have large email collections. Stickshift recommends using an option included in Mailsmith 2.2 to create a full backup as a disk image. The new release is a univeral binary, requiring Mac OS X 10.4 or later, but the firm recommends 10.5.8.

This release has a substantial number of other changes and additions documented in the release notes. Notable improvements include the option to create a Zip archive in the Attachments tab, an overhauled and more powerful set of simple and advanced search features, and – most important to me – system-wide searching via Spotlight for specific messages. (To limit a search to Mailsmith add kind:mailsmith to a Spotlight query.)

Mailsmith continues to support only POP3 for email retrieval, omitting support for IMAP. IMAP allows synchronization of folders between a mail server and a local mail client, allowing multiple devices or computers to access the same mail structure remotely, while having optional local copies.

Mailsmith has an apparently small but dedicated user base that appreciates its text-only nature – Mailsmith doesn’t show HTML in line, but can open an HTML-formatted message in a browser. Siegel declined to reveal user numbers, as he said that data remains proprietary to Bare Bones.

With Eudora switching to an open-source code base back in 2006 (see “Eudora Goes Open Source with Thunderbird,” 2006-10-16), Apple’s continued improvements of the Mail program included in Mac OS X, Microsoft bundling Entourage with Office for Mac, and Web-hosted mail like Gmail having an increasingly vast user base, there’s little room for an alternative mail client to gain hold in Mac OS X. (Entourage itself is being discontinued, to be replaced by Outlook for Mac in 2010; see “Outlook for Mac Due with 2010 Office Release,” 2009-08-13.)

Mailsmith was spun off seemingly to take the workload and support burden off Bare Bones’ books. The company also discontinued Super Get Info, a file-information program that’s had less utility as Apple has improved Mac OS X.

This move leaves Bare Bones focused on its flagship program BBEdit, although given Mailsmith’s ostensibly small user base, this is likely more a formal change than a structural one. Its information organization tool, Yojimbo, hasn’t been updated since 06-Feb-08; TextWrangler, a stripped-down version of BBEdit for text editing, is free; and WeatherCal is a tiny utility.

Yojimbo is overdue for an update, and would benefit from an iPhone application. Yojimbo synchronizes its collection of passwords, Web page links and archives, PDFs, images, text notes, and other data via MobileMe at present. A competing program, 1Password, has desktop and iPhone versions, and uses different approaches for sync, neither of which rely on MobileMe. (1Password captures, stores, and syncs passwords, Web form entries, and notes, but not other arbitrary data.)

I’ve used Mailsmith since 2002, when Rich demonstrated the program to me during the first MacMania cruise. I was hooked, as Eudora seemed a dead end, Entourage was crashing and corrupting a huge mail database regularly, and I couldn’t stand Apple’s Mail. I also was suspicious of HTML-formatted email, because it can embed tracking images (1-by-1 pixel GIFs, for instance), and often displays poorly.

Mailsmith’s multi-year beta program for 2.2 stalled for quite a while, picking up steam over the last year. I was concerned I’d have to find a new client, migrate gigabytes of email, and give up a lot of what I loved about Mailsmith. This move to a separate firm and a free client reduces my anxiety; I can stick with Mailsmith for now.

Free also lowers the bar for those looking for an alternative mail client to try out Mailsmith without being concerned about a bill coming due after a trial period. That might increase adoption, although the lack of IMAP may still prove a deal-killer.

This change does mean that Mailsmith won’t evolve beyond what’s necessary to keep it current and functional. And with the lack of innovation and improvement in other Mac OS X clients, it’s unlikely we’ll see substantial change in how email is handled. Unlike browsers, where competition is fierce for eyeballs – partly to get those eyes to look at ads – email software for most users has hit a brick wall.

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