At first glance, Mail seems to be a simple e-mail client, but underneath its Spartan exterior there’s actually quite a lot of power. In time-honored Apple fashion, though, you do have to root about a bit to really get the most out of Mail. Spam filtering is probably the most important feature for many e-mail users, and Mail doesn’t disappoint here, having quite robust spam filters built right out of the box. But it doesn’t catch every spam message and doesn’t, for example, respect headers added to spam messages by your ISP or mail server. To take advantage of that sort of industrial-strength spam filtering, you need to learn how to look more closely at your incoming e-mail messages and then write filters called rules that will read the relevant headers and process any spam messages accordingly. These filters are created and edited—unsurprisingly enough—in the Rules section of the Preferences, and by arranging them in a particular order, you can quite easily create very effective message filtering routines.
While writing new filters is one of the best ways to get Mail performing more effectively, there are lots of other features available that aren’t always obvious to the casual user. In this article, we’ll look at a couple of these tricks as well. Mail’s virtual mailboxes known as Smart Mailboxes are little used but actually rather useful once you understand how they work, and they tie in quite nicely with Mail’s very powerful search capabilities for finding particular messages in a hurry.
Mail gets better at spotting spam over time, assuming that you make an effort to train it. Whenever Mail marks a message as spam, take a moment to check that the message really is spam. False positives (when Mail marks a legitimate message as spam) are particularly troublesome because they can mean that might not read important messages. So always take care to click the Not Junk button if the message isn’t spam.
It’s very easy to overlook mailshots and just leave them in the Junk folder, but Mail won’t always know the difference between a sales promotion from an airline and a notification message about your upcoming flights. On the other hand, manually marking messages as spam where Mail failed to spot them will improve its built-in spam filter, so instead of simply trashing such messages, be sure and mark them as spam, and then trash them.
Figure 1 Mail’s built-in spam filters are good, but they get better with training.