Apple Mail and iSync - can they tame the beast?
February 3, 2008 4:40 AM   Subscribe

I want my email messages to be in the same state (read, deleted, filed, sent) on three different Macintoshes. Will iSync do what I want? Is there another solution to the chaos?

I have three Macintoshes, all running Leopard. I have three email accounts, two IMAP (Gmail and .Mac) and one POP (my own domain, hosted by GoDaddy). The POP is my primary account, and the two IMAPs are used maybe 5% of the time. I've set the POP account to keep messages on the server for a week after retrieval.

I use Apple Mail for all three accounts, and mail from each account comes into my Inbox. I have a large complex hierarchy of folders on my Mac that I put messages into.

The problem is that when I receive, read, and either file or delete a message from my POP account on one computer, it has no effect on the message on the other two computers. So if I don't boot up one of the computers for a week or so, when I do finally boot that one up, I get 500 new messages -- all of which I've already dealt with on one of my other computers. I want all three of my computers to by synched so that I don't have to deal with each message three separate times. Also, any mail sent from one computer appears only in that computer's sent box; I can't access it from the other two computers.

By contrast, if I delete a message from an IMAP account, it disappears from all three computers (this is good). The same works for sent messages - they appear in the Sent box of all three computers. But if I file a message on one computer, it disappears from the other two. This is not good - I want it filed on all three computers in the same folder.

(I recognize that this is the way POP and IMAP accounts work; none of what I've just said surprises me.)

What can I do so that all three computers have the same messages in the inbox, the sent box, and each of the folders in the hierarchy?

I tried using iSync, but it didn't seem to do anything; I am not sure if I set it up correctly. If I convert my POP account to IMAP, and then move a message from my Inbox to a folder on my Mac, or send a message from one computer, could I get iSync to make a copy of it to the same folder on a different Mac so that I can still access that message on my other two computers?

Also, I sort of like having a web-based way to get to my email (and having my old emails there, even if they're all unread and in the inbox) for those rare occasions when I am using someone else's computer. But this is a much lower priority than just wrangling my new messages into control.

Thanks so much. This is all rather overwhelming, and I just can't find a way to make it all manageable.
posted by Capri to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you need iSync; it's just going to confuse the situation.

Right now it sounds like you're creating local folders on each machine, and moving messages there. Instead:
1) Use an IMAP account as your primary account.
2) Create folders within that account and move messages from your inbox into those folders.

The other machines will see those folders, no configuration necessary.
posted by xil at 5:13 AM on February 3, 2008

If you can convert your POP account to an IMAP account, that should go a long way towards fixing your problem. You should not need iSynch then. Just make sure that each mac has the same account settings, and check all the "Store messages on server" buttons under "Mailbox Behaviors" on the "Accounts" preferences of I have only one IMAP account, but I read it from 3 or 4 different Macs using this, and they all stay synchronized.
posted by procrastination at 5:41 AM on February 3, 2008

n'thing IMAP as the solution to your problems. It's exactly what it was designed for, and trying to finesse POP to function like IMAP (ie: keeping the mails on the server, etc.) is just adding complication where it's not required...
posted by benzo8 at 6:12 AM on February 3, 2008

Best answer: I have this same setup exactly. You should make all of your folders reside in your .mac account so that they are IMAP folders. Then set up a rule or filter in Apple Mail to send all new messages into the inbox of your .Mac account. That will cause every message in your mail program to reside in your IMAP account. To make it easier for me, and because I only want one email account to deal with on my iPhone, I have set all of my accounts other than .Mac to auto-forward to my .Mac account, and Apple mail thus only receives email IMAP from .Mac. I can send email from any account, but mail is only received by my .Mac. All of my inboxes are now identical, whether I am on my laptop, my iMac, or my massive mac at the office, my phone - and if I check email in a web browser I only need to check the .Mac mail - which looks and feels nearly identical to the desktop application. Pure email bliss.
posted by idzyn at 6:36 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I should have added that iSync is not necessary for this, although I do use iSync to sync the account settings and filters etc. This setup does not really require any sort of syncing at all other than the IMAP emails automatic syncing of email.
posted by idzyn at 6:39 AM on February 3, 2008

As other people pointed out, IMAP is exactly what you need. I'd just like to remind you of Gmail which has free IMAP support. Setting it up will not be as elegant as .mac but it's free and Gmail's web client is still the best in my opinion.

Just make sure when you are setting up Gmail on that you follow the instructions carefully because the in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard is set up to recognize Gmail addresses but it installs the POP preferences.

It really is not as hard as it sounds. Try it.
posted by the_dude at 7:10 AM on February 3, 2008

iSync synchronizes data in iCal and the Address Book with .Mac and with devices including iPods. It has nothing to do with your email.

Move over to IMAP and your problems will disappear.
posted by filmgeek at 7:58 AM on February 3, 2008

iSync actually can sync your email account settings and mail filters between computers, so it does contain mail specific ability. Just not syncing of actual email messages and folders, which IMAP does perfectly.
posted by idzyn at 8:01 AM on February 3, 2008

Response by poster: From the OP: Thanks all.

Not sure if the IMAP solution will work, since my internet goes down rather regularly (reverse props for Charter cable, which is either down or slow about 25% of the time, vs. cheap, reliable and fast DSL that I had before moving some place where Charter was my only option). I do like having my emails saved on my hard disk for that reason, and for working on emails, looking up addresses, etc. when not in range of a wireless network.

I will still keep looking for a way to sync the messages on my hard disk. My sister has this functionality, but it was set up by an IT guy at UC-Davis who programmed it for her. She hasn't the faintest idea how I would do it.
posted by Capri at 9:25 AM on February 3, 2008

I do like having my emails saved on my hard disk for that reason, and for working on emails, looking up addresses, etc. when not in range of a wireless network.

Most email clients (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc) will have an option that lets you save IMAP emails on your hard drive for offline use. Worrying about backups shouldn't stop you from using IMAP.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:34 AM on February 3, 2008

Yeah, you can still access all of your IMAP emails through when you are not connected to the internet. I fear you are making this more complicated than it needs to be. Try the suggestions from everyone above and, if you still find it wanting, reply back with the functionality that you require. It appears from your description that you can have what you seek, it just will be different than the way that you think it "should" work.
posted by qwip at 10:42 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

A Gmail folders hint: set your "IMAP Path Prefix" under "Advanced" in the account prefs to "[Gmail]" (without the "") and your folders will appear like normal local "On My Mac" folders directly under that account name rather than under a useless "Gmail" folder.

Also, select each of the IMAP accounts' "Sent", "Drafts", "Trash", and "Junk" folders and then select the appropriate "Use This Mailbox For..." option under the Mailbox menu, and Mail will organize and summarize those under "Mailboxes" instead of having them appear under each account.
posted by nicwolff at 11:08 AM on February 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Then, go get an iPhone and take all that IMAP goodness on the road!
posted by nicwolff at 11:09 AM on February 3, 2008

Best answer: To keep local copies of everything using on Leopard:

Go to Accounts, click the account you want to modify. Select the advanced tab. Under the line: Keep copies of messages for offline viewing, make sure it says "All messages and their attachments".
posted by procrastination at 11:10 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Right - like Procrastination says - you'll always have all of your emails available as long as you choose that option. This combination should provide exactly the setup you asked for.
posted by idzyn at 8:17 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

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