Sparrow, a very Macintosh way to do email

I’ve said many times that the reason I use a Mac isn’t the hardware, it’s the software. Almost all the best software solutions are on the Mac – thanks mainly to the platform’s unparalleled independent developer base.

For writing I have WriteRoom and Scrivener. For blogging, nothing compares to MarsEdit 3. And for images there is a wealth of brilliant programmes, such as LittleSnapper which nails screengrabs, and Pixelmator — a hugely powerful Photoshop alternative. Twitter, Chat, note taking, GTD, RSS etc. All my favourites are on the Mac.

The glaring gap in the Mac’s dominance over Linux and Windows, is the absence of a great Macish email client.

Apple’s bundled Mail application is bloated and not suited to the poweruser. Also, in my experience at least, it’s shocking with IMAP. I’ve been using Thunderbird 3 for a while. It’s okay, but it tends to be a bit buggy and slow, and it doesn’t blow me away like all the other programmes mentioned above.

The best current solution is probably Mailplane, but it’s Gmail only, and while I’ve trialled it twice, I’ve not be impressed enough to buy a license (that said, it does have some very cool functionality, like the way it handles attachments).

I had great hope for, but that project imploded, leaving me without my killer email client.

But wait… there is a new player in town: Sparrow — a new email client native to the Mac. If you’re a Tweetie for Mac user, you’ll feel right at home. Sparrow takes a great deal of inspiration from Loren Brichter’s benchmark Twitter client, and boy does it look sweet (Loren is impressed, too).

Sparrow is IMAP only. The BETA is even more limiting, allowing only Gmail accounts (Yahoo! and MobleMe IMAP support is coming). But it looks and works brilliantly.

Shortkeys are intuitive, although I wish they’d gone with ⌘↵ (Command + Carriage Return) — à la Tweetie — for sending email, rather than the Apple Mail ⌘⇧D (Command, Shift + D) combo. Also, Sparrow’s implementation of Gmail’s threaded conversations is very impressive.

Like the awesome Alfred, Sparrow is showing that innovation is alive and well on the Mac, even if Apple’s focus is elsewhere.

It’s worth noting that Sparrow is only a BETA, so don’t be angry, if like Techcrunch’s MG Siegler, you find Sparrow sucking your CPU cycles or leaking memory. I’m sure these guys will address these issues before long.

So yeah, VERY impressed. The reason there are so many Twitter apps and so few email apps, is that Twitter’s API is a lot easier than dealing with the peculiarities of email. So a programme as polished and functional as Sparrow, is super impressive.

The BETA is a very promising start, and with a bit of polish and a few tweaks, I’m confident it will join the pantheon of apps that I yearn for, whenever I crack the lid on my Windows work laptop.

UPDATE: It seems the guys were on the case. BETA v3 has just been released, with “Improved performance CPU/Memory”. Sweet.