The Mail app that arrives with Windows 8 is essentially a web mail system and has no tools to set mail rules or automate spam deletion. But can one man get by on that alone?
In my last column, I discussed the new IE10 available on the Windows 8 modern UI. The other apps I use frequently on the Windows Surface RT are Mail, People, Calendar, and News.
The Mail app was initially disappointing for my partner, who has been a long-time user of Outlook on the desktop. It is essentially a web mail system and has no tools to set mail rules or automate spam deletion, etc. These functions are now moved to your mail server, and whether it may be Gmail, Exchange, or Outlook.com/Windows Mail, you are expected to set up any of those requirements on the server using a browser. Outlook users may also be confused by not having an integrated Contact list and Calendar, until they realise that these are now separate apps — although they have the same degree of interconnection as Outlook.
Mail offers the familiar three-column view of Outlook, with your mail providers and folders in the first column, a list of emails, and the content of a selected email in the third column. You may select multiple emails by right-clicking with the mouse or a making a tick gesture with a finger. This will also pop up a bottom menu allowing you to move the emails to other folders, or mark them as read or unread. You can also use the Trash icon at the top right of the screen to delete them.
Clicking or selecting the Add or Reply button at the top right of the screen will take you to a full screen to compose your message. As you begin to type in the To input field, it will display a scrollable list of matching People, or you can simply click or touch the plus sign next to the field to directly select from the People app.
When you are entering your text, you can swipe up from the bottom or right-click to display the text-formatting controls. These allow for font selection, bold/italic/underlined text, colour, and emoticons. You may also save a draft, add attachments, or paste information or images. The More button gives you formatted lists and Undo and Redo.
Adding an account or editing account properties is, as usual, available with the Settings charm.
Account properties will vary depending on the type of account, and Mail will support Exchange or Outlook accounts as well as the familiar Gmail. POP3 accounts are not supported. You may redirect mail from these accounts to Outlook.com or another web mail server to retrieve them in Mail. Microsoft also suggested seeing if your email provider supports IMAP or EAS instead. Nevertheless, the lack of support for POP3 accounts may cause difficulty for some potential users.
Account settings allows you to select how often to download new emails, what type of content to sync (which may include contacts and calendar), whether to automatically download email images, and whether to use an email signature.
I'm used to the complexity of Outlook, with its multiple icons and menus, as well as browser-based email systems, so the deceptive simplicity of the Mail app was at first a little confusing. For a mouse user, right-click no longer brings up menus but instead selects emails, there's no drag and drop, but the usual Ctrl/Shift with mouse left-click selection functions. I was puzzled as to how to select multiple emails with touch, until a quick web search showed me the tick gesture (touch the email and then slide to the right).
However, the consistency of the modern UI makes it easy to use even unfamiliar apps. Your Search and Settings are available from the right side of the screen, context-sensitive bottom and top menus will appear if you swipe or right-click, and clicking or swiping the left side of the screen will display your currently running apps and allow you to swap between them.
I've now replaced my Outlook desktop and web applications, as well as browser access to my Gmail account, with the Mail app on Windows Phone 8, Surface RT, and Windows 8 desktop. Having my email available under the same tile on multiple devices is worth it, despite some of the restrictions I've mentioned.
However, despite the spam winnowing of my various mail servers, I'm still getting spam (although the most offensive seem to be disappearing) and having to go to the browser to use the tools on my web mail servers to block domain names etc is annoying. I hope there will be some improvement in this area in future updates.