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The De-Obfusc8r: Windows 8 Mail App

Microsoft writes ponderous, lengthy, and hard-to-understand blog posts about Windows 8 and then I explain what they’re saying in plain English. In the latest post in this series, I look at this week’s Building Windows 8 blog post about the Mail app, Microsoft’s connected email solution.

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

Steven Sinofsky writes:

“Hundreds of thousands of folks have been using the ‘App Preview’ of Mail on a daily basis since the Windows 8 Release Preview. We’ve also been updating it along the way through the new Windows Store with more updates planned. In this post we go into the background of the Mail app and talk about the design and features, especially relative to Metro style design principles. This isn’t an exhaustive list of Mail features or features yet to be added and primarily focuses on the design and integration with Windows 8.”

Paul explains:

Windows 8 includes an app called Mail that aggregates email from multiple sources. It will continue to be improved in the days ahead.

Here’s what the post really says…

How people use email today

Microsoft researched how people use email and email apps before building the Mail app. Key take-aways from this research include the following facts:

  • Many people manage multiple email accounts.
  • People receiver more and more email each year.
  • Many people outside of enterprises don’t use folders to organize email. Interesting tidbit: Despite the fact that many people rely on folder-based email organization schemes, Microsoft did not design Mail to work particularly well with folders, especially nested folders. What they’re not telling you: Moving email into folders with Mail is ponderous and inefficient. The app does not support drag and drop.
  • People expect email to be immediate.
  • People (supposedly) expect desktop email apps to work like mobile email apps. Personal note: I find this hard to believe. But I’d point out that the Windows Phone Mail app has several features that Windows 8’s Mail app lacks, including a very useful Linked Inbox view.

Surprising revelation: While Mail only supports Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) accounts today, it will support “other protocols,” including IMAP, in the future. I do not personally expect Mail to support POP3-type accounts, but I suppose anything is possible.

Managing email

Microsoft made changes to Mail since the Consumer Preview to make it easier to switch between email accounts. What they’re not telling you: Microsoft has not implemented a Linked Inbox capability where you can see all your email at once, regardless of source.

Mail utilizes a three pane design that includes accounts (with related folders) on the left, the message list in the middle, and the reading pane on the right.


Microsoft struggled to determine which “commands” would be surfaced in Mail automatically and which would be hidden in the app bar, which only appears when you request it. Commands for creating, responding to, and deleting messages are always present.

The message list now shows a profile picture for those contacts that have supplied one through Facebook or other accounts.

The reading pane is optimized to be 640 pixels wide to accommodate common newsletter formats and because this width is optimal for text reading.

Writing email

The email composition screen is a two-pane design where needed elements—To: and CC: fields, links for attachments and more details, and other elements—are spread out horizontally to accommodate the touch keyboard that no one is actually yet using today.


As with the main view, many commands are hidden in the app bar, including those for formatting. But this app bar appears automatically when you begin editing the body of the email.

Designed for Windows 8

As a Metro-style app, Mail was design to look, feel, and work like a typical full-screen Windows 8 experience, and it uses system-level features as expected, including Snap (for making it easier to copy and paste between another app and Mail), Print (from the Devices charm), and Share (from the Share charm).

The Mail live tile rotates through the most recent five unread and unseen emails.

You can create a secondary tile for an email account or folder, via the Pin to Start button on the app bar. Nice touch: Secondary tiles can be separately placed on the Lock screen, too, so you could have, for example, separate email counts for your work and personal emails. Nice!


Mail supports the Windows 8 notifications feature as well.


Always up to date

Mail uses Windows 8’s new background processing APIs to work in the background efficiently.

By default, all email accounts will download new email “as items arrive” (using push), but you can configure that to happen every 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, or manually.

Mail uses Windows 8’s new metered Internet account functionality to download minimal email information when using a metered cellular data plan. When on Wi-Fi, the entire message is downloaded.

What’s next

Mail is an important app in Windows 8 and it will continue to be updated between now and RTM, and beyond.

Microsoft would like you to continue to provide feedback but doesn’t explain how to do so. Here’s how: Use the Feedback button in the Mail app’s app bar.


Note: To be fair, this post wasn't particularly ponderous by Building Windows 8 standards. It's included for completion's sake, because there are some important additional tidbits to share, and because an executive summary will be preferable to many.

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