Get to Know the Apple Mail Window on Your MacBook - dummies

Get to Know the Apple Mail Window on Your MacBook

By Mark L. Chambers

To begin your epic e-mail journey, click the Mail icon in the Dock on your MacBook. Don’t worry if your display doesn’t look just like the Mail window shown. What you’ll see depends on whether you’re using a new MacBook with a fresh copy of Lion or upgrading from an earlier version of Mac OS X, and whether you provided e-mail account information within the Setup Assistant.


Besides the familiar toolbar, which naturally carries buttons specific to Mail, you find the following:

  • Title bar: This heading at the top of the Mail window displays information about the current inbox — typically, how many messages it contains, but other data can be included as well.

    As with many other Mac OS X Lion applications, you can switch Mail to a full-screen display (which hides the title bar, window controls and menu bar). To switch to full-screen view, click View→Enter Full Screen, or click the full-screen button at the top-right corner of the Mail window.

    If you need to use a menu command, move your mouse cursor to the top of the screen, and the menu bar will temporarily reappear. To return Mail to a windowed display, display the menu bar and click View→Exit Full Screen, or just press Esc.

  • Toolbar: Yep, Mail has a high-powered, convenient-as-all-get-out toolbar of its own — and you can customize the Mail toolbar just as you can a Finder window toolbar! Click View→Customize Toolbar and sit back in awe of the range of menu items and features that you can activate with just one click.

    If you don’t use the toolbar and you’d like to reclaim the space it takes in your Mail window, click View→Hide Toolbar, or right-click the toolbar and choose Hide Toolbar. For a “lite” version of the toolbar that takes less space, right-click the toolbar and choose Text Only.

  • Message list: This resizable scrolling list box contains all the messages for the folder that you’ve chosen. To resize the list larger or smaller, drag the handle on the bar that runs across the window. You can also resize the columns in the list by dragging the edges of the column heading buttons.

    To specify which columns appear in the message list, choose View→Message Attributes. From the submenu that appears, you can toggle the display of specific columns. You can also sort the messages in the message list from the View menu; by default, messages are sorted by the Date Received.

  • Mailboxes: The pane at the left of the main Mail window is the Mailboxes list. You can click any of the folders to switch the display in the message list.

    The Mailbox list can be hidden or shown from the View menu by clicking the Show Mailboxes item, or you can press the Command+Shift+M keyboard shortcut to hide or show it — there’s even a Hide/Show button at the top-left corner of the Mailbox list.

    To widen or narrow the Mailboxes list, click the divider at the right side of the list. Your mouse cursor turns to a line with double arrows, and you can drag it in the desired direction.

  • Preview pane: This resizable scrolling pane displays the contents of the selected message, including both text and any graphics or attachments that Mail recognizes.

Mail uses the following folders (some of which appear only at certain times):

  • Inbox: Mail you’ve received already.

  • Outbox: Messages that Mail is waiting to send.

  • Drafts: Draft messages waiting to be completed.

  • Sent: Mail you’ve sent already.

  • Trash: Deleted mail. As with the Trash in the Dock, you can open this folder and retrieve items that you realize you still need. Alternatively, you can empty the contents of the Trash at any time by pressing the Command+K shortcut or by choosing Mailbox→Erase Deleted Messages.

  • Junk: Junk mail. You can review these messages or retrieve anything you want to keep by choosing Message→Move To. After you’re sure that nothing of value is left, you can delete the remaining messages straight to the Trash. (Junk mail filtering must be enabled from the Junk Mail settings in Preferences before you see this box.)

  • RSS: Messages from an RSS news feed that you’ve subscribed to.

  • Notes: This folder displays notes that you’ve made, like those all-important reminders about washing the car, paying taxes, and picking up dog food on the way home.

You can add new personal folders to the Mailbox list to further organize your messages. Choose Mailbox→New Mailbox or click the Add button at the bottom of the Mailboxes list. Choose a location where the mailbox will appear in the list and then type the name for your new folder in the Name box. Click OK to create the new personal folder.