Matt Gemmell

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Favorite Mailboxes in Lion Mail

guide, interface, tech & user experience 1 min read

The recently released Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” (read my review of it at The Guardian) includes a new version of Mail, Apple’s desktop email client. There are several new features in Mail that I’m enjoying, and one of the least promoted is the new Favorites Bar. I think it’s very useful, particularly if you like to use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible, and so I’ve written this brief article describing how it works.

The first thing to do is make sure that the Favorites Bar is visible, by choosing Show Favorites Bar from the View menu. The bar sits horizontally below the main toolbar, and it looks like this:

Screenshot of the Favorites Bar in Mail

You can drag mailboxes to reorder them, drag them off the bar to remove them, and drag other mailboxes into the bar to add them (including Smart Mailboxes). Each one will show the unread count for that mailbox in parentheses, if it’s non-zero.

They serve as drop targets for dragged messages too (except for Smart Mailboxes, of course, whose contents are controlled by search criteria), which is handy if you’ve hidden the mailboxes list using the widget at the left side of the Favorites Bar for a more iOS-like experience.

So far, so good - but where the feature really shines is with its automatically-applied keyboard shortcuts. If you open the Mailbox menu, you’ll see that there are two submenus pertaining to your favorite mailboxes. The first is the Go To Favorite Mailbox menu:

The 'Go To Favorite Mailbox' menu in Mail

A keyboard shortcut of Command-n is applied to each of your favorite mailboxes in sequence, with n being a number starting at 1. You can trigger the shortcut to open the corresponding mailbox (i.e. to select it in the mailboxes list, displaying its contents).

Similarly, there’s a Move To Favorite Mailbox menu:

The 'Move To Favorite Mailbox' menu in Mail

Here, a keyboard shortcut of Command-Control-n is applied to each of your favorite mailboxes, again with n being a number starting at 1. With messages selected, you can move them to any of your favorite (non-Smart) mailboxes using the corresponding shortcut.

Prior to Lion, Mail was never particularly good at allowing quick keyboard-navigation between specific mailboxes, or the ability to move messages without using the mouse. The new version of Mail goes some way towards fixing these problems, and is substantially more usable because of it.

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