Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Mac Daddy of a Mail Problem

Written for Apple OS X users troubleshooting its Mail software.

As Joni Mitchell observed in Big Yellow Taxi,  "Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got, Till it's gone". This may apply to something as big as the shade of recently-felled Cecilia forrest pines for Capetonian hikers, or as small as Mail software to me.

After nearly four years, I had created 298 rules for redirecting in-box mails speedily to a user-friendly hierachy of mailboxes. This was my very own "Mail Monster"; alert and ready to tag junkmail, smash SPAM and support me with delivering an inbox to zero status at the end of most working days. Together with a comprehensive archive of every email I've sent and the good ones I've received, Mail had become an indispensable tool in the present and a valuable window to my past. Sob!

The trouble started innocuously enough; the same email sender and subject featured eight times in my inbox. The subject header 'Someone searched for your name on Google and clicked your profile' seemed flattering, but this was clearly SPAM. My niche research topic has way too limited appeal to attract more than one person a month ;) !

As an Anti-Gaga, I was only too happy to delete all eight emails and retain my Indier-Than-Thou status. But, no; "Your message cannot be moved to On Your Mac's 'Empty Trash' mailbox."  OK. Can't empty my Mail trash either. So, let me try to download some more emails. Although several messages were shown downloading, nothing new appeared in my Inbox. I couldn't even shift messages from the Inbox to Mailboxes... It dawned on me; I've got  a dysfunctional Mail OS X member!

A Google search for "Apple Mail error" showed an official Apple Forum. I logged into it using my Apple ID, created a username and logged my problemI also emailed Denis at for advice.

In short, four failed attempts were then made to solve this problem:
  1. Disk Utility verification and repair was run within OS X and off its Snow Leopard DVD. Sadly, repaired permissions to the disk and its partition did not fix Mail's problems.
  2. I could not complete creating a copied email account, which conflicted with Mail's original one;
  3. The technician could not run Outlook after we installed it to attempt an email import cleaning;
  4. After reinstalling Snow Leopard, I was experiencing the same old Mail problems :( !

I know the PC fanboys are going to laugh, but a big plus of Microsoft Outlook is that it can be installed  and removed separately via Windows' OS. Sadly, Mail is part of Apple's OS and it can require fixing through reinstalling the entire OS....

Fortunately, Apple's Disk Utility and Time Machine made that relatively easy. After erasing my hard drive's disk, I was able to restore it with a Time Machine backup dating from the night before before my, er, Mail impotence. After a two hour wait for the restore process to finish, I only had to download and install one security update, before testing if the Mail package was working again... 

Fortunately, the import process went well and I am ecstatic that my Mail can receive, sort and send again. Plus my precious archive is well-ordered and my Rules intact. My Mail, I promise never to take you for granted again...

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