You Ain’t Got Mail on El Capitan: Mail, Postbox, Outlook=fail

Email is such a basic part of life that we take it for granted.  Imagine if suddenly not only couldn’t you get your e-mail, but there was, for the time being, nothing at all that could be done about it except whine and wait.

This has been the situation all northern hemisphere summer for a fair number of intrepid testers of OS X 10.11 el Capitan, now on it’s 6th developer preview and it’s 4th public beta.  As it stands, none of the major e-mail clients (Apple Mail and both Outlook 2011 and 2016) and at least one popular alternative (Postbox) are stable and fully-functional on el Capitan.  Power users who need to manage multiple accounts and rely on more than basic rules and filters are stuck in limbo.

Among the problems:capitan-mail-X

  • Apple Mail fails to import .mbox files, making migration from Outlook impossible
  • Apple Mail can no longer create an outgoing message with an AppleScript, making auto-responding rules impossible
  • Outlook 2011 crashes or hangs, making it unusable completely
  • Outlook 2016 fails to import mail from Outlook 2011 (with large volumes of mail)
  • Outlook 2016 also (less) frequently hangs, making it nearly unusable
  • Postbox cannot handle complex rules (filters), and is especially inflexible with auto-reply rules

Of the bunch, only Postbox, which is based on the solid Thunderbird codebase, seems completely stable.

But Postbox Inc.’s horrible support model makes it risky to invest your time in this client.  Though it’s feature-rich, if there is a feature you rely on in an email client that it lacks, you will ultimately find yourself at a complete dead end.

I’ve never experienced a worse or more frustrating support model in my decades of dealing with software producers.  One expects the titans like Microsoft or Apple to be non-responsive. But at least there are multiple user forums and other ways to seek assistance and provide feedback. A bug report submitted to Apple will frequently get an engagement about the issue from engineering, even if just an acknowledgement that it’s a known issue.

Postbox Inc. offers no free support and no user forums.  They rationalize the first in terms of keeping prices low ($15 for the app). That makes some sense. However, I’d gladly pay significantly more in order to feel I could get some assistance when needed, rather than having to face immense frustration and waste precious time fruitlessly searching for an answer among their out-dated, poorly written, incomplete support documents. Or simply stabbing in the dark. All while needing to weigh the value of my own time.

Most egregiously, Postbox Inc. rationalizes the lack of a user forum in terms of fearing responsibility for data loss:

A lifetime worth of email… permanently deleted. While most Postbox users are fairly tech-savvy, many are not, and some subtleties could get lost in translation… If recommendations are provided [on] a page that has our company name and logo on it, we’re ultimately responsible.

That is pure B.S.  The lack of a user forum seems designed to force people to pay for support incidents. If they had any sense of responsibility to their users, wouldn’t they have a more flexible support model than “figure it out yourself or pay up”? (Sales refused to respond to even minor pre-sale tech questions.)

Don’t believe for a second that the option to pay for support will entitle you to any, let alone get you any.  After wasting many hours trying to figure out how to accomplish an important objective, I finally broke down and purchased a $10 support incident.  Their response took over 24 hours, and when it came, it was canned.  They asked for system configuration information when my inquiry had to do with how to achieve an objective. It had nothing to do with my specific configuration.  It was a question of whether the software could do what I needed or not.

(Incidentally, what I needed was to be able to reply to an incoming message from an address other than the recipient address, and to use the reply-to: header instead of the from: header for the recipient of the reply. I presume Postbox currently can handle neither.  It also does not support executing an AppleScript as a filter action, as both Mail and Outlook do in theory. Their support staff did not even bother to pretend they’d consider these as feature requests.)

What happened next was astounding.  After waiting days for a further response, I followed up 3 times over a full week. Finally after my 3rd reminder – a week after opening the support incident – I was told that they had already refunded my support incident fee. This turned out to be true. But they had not even bothered to alert me to that fact.

I’m aware that what began as a gripe about the lack of a usable email client (for power users running el Capitan beta) has turned into a bit of a rant about Postbox. That’s just because it’s such a shame that the only company offering a truly stable and feature-rich option at the moment has such a closed attitude, and that its otherwise promising product is consequently so stunted.

Update, October 15, 2015:

With release versions of Microsoft Office 2016 and OS X 10.11 El Capitan both now in the wild, the problems with Outlook 2016 have still not be resolved, leading to virtual mobs and rioting.  The killer quotable:

“It’s called Office ‘2016’ because that’s the expected date it ‘might’ work, although when in 2016 is not clear, assuming we are using the Gregorian calendar!” wrote someone identified only as “bluedolphin” in a Tuesday message on the longest thread dedicated to the crash issue.

To be fair, the situation is probably also Apple’s fault, I suspect related to the tightened security “SIP” system introduced in El Capitan.

On the bright side, Apple Mail has mostly been fixed to allow AppleScript to create outgoing messages, though it’s implementation is a bit quirky.  I’ve not yet tested the .mbox import problem on El Capitan release version, but since it has been a reported, unresolved issue for years, I doubt it has been fixed now.



  1. You should look at Mail Pilot as well, though it lacks features, its seems good for now.


  2. 100 Watt Walrus · · Reply

    I’ve been using Postbox for years, and their support is not only expensive and difficult, but their help team has a bad attitude about helping people, and yes, starts every conversation with a canned reply.

    Used to be that you could email the developers directly (they don’t reply to such emails now). Used to be that support was free. And most importantly, they used to have a GetSatisfaction page where users did much of their work for them.

    But in my opinion, the real reason they shut down the user forum isn’t to drive traffic to their $10/incident Help Desk — it’s because they fear user criticism. Postbox’s GetSatisfaction forum was shut down several years ago after a release that included some slowly-resolved bugs and a controversial partial redesign. Complaints were many, and rather than brave the waters, Postbox soon pulled the plug. (There’s a part of me that doesn’t blame them — people can be asses on the internet.)

    There is a Google Group (!forum/postbox-discussion), but it’s not very active — probably because few people know about it.

    I’ve had a little success TWEETING to @postbox and @postbox_support — public shaming seems to get their attention.

    But the fact that you can’t even ask a simple question about Postbox without jumping through hoops, paying $10, or posting in an obscure forum is wrong in every way.

    If I could find an app that does most of the things Postbox does — and there are many exclusive features to which I’m now addicted — and offers reasonable support, I would bail.

    Unfortunately, it’s the most feature-rich email app available — at least for Mac — and the only one that isn’t just a variation on the same themes as Apple Mail, etc.

    /I miss Eudora


  3. Postbox is, the only email program that I found better then the rest, even Thunderbird, it can do it all. Yes, there is no support, plain and simple; we are all at the mercy of what the developers think of, but so far, so good. I just wish the support would even once, go to the Google Group Postbox forum and ask for suggestions, interact with paid users for a week, they would know who they are by verification for, one week only, then close the door, so to speak.

    One week of interacting with support would open alot of ideas paid users could throw at them.


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