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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Date: 4th October 2011     

OS X Lion: How to use Mail's Favorites bar

Mail has been updated in OS X Lion and it is now up to version 5. A number of new features have been added and one that might have puzzled you is the Favorites bar. It can be shown or hidden using the View menu, but what is it for and how can it be used? Is it to display your favourite mailboxes, the Sent folder or other folders you have created? Isn't it easier to just click them in the panel on the left?

The Favorites bar does have its uses although it is more helpful to people using small screens on MacBooks than big screens such as the 27in iMac. Here are some tips for using the Favorites bar in Mail and how you can increase the space for viewing your email messages.

The Favorites bar is just under the toolbar at the top of the window and if it isn't visible, go to the View menu and click Show Favorites Bar. You also need to have the mailboxes pane displayed on the left because we'll be using it. It's the default view, but if you have hidden it, it can be displayed using the View menu.

Any item on the left can be clicked and dragged to the Favorites bar and dropped to add it. A good one to add if it is not already there is Inbox. After adding it by dragging it to the Favorites bar, click Inbox in the bar and you'll see your inbox or inboxes listed in a drop-down menu. Selecting one displays the email messages. Other folders you have created in the left panel, perhaps to organise messages into work and personal, friends and business, archived or whatever, can be dragged and dropped on the Favorites bar to add them too.

You may think that it isn't particularly useful because you can simply click these items in the left panel to select them. Well, it means that you can now hide the mailboxes panel on the left. There's a Hide button in the Favorites toolbar to do just this, but it can also be done on the View menu.

Hiding the mailboxes panel means that there is more space for your messages and the screen layout is more compact and simpler. This is just what is needed on a MacBook Air with its small 11in screen. It's not so essential on an iMac where there are acres of screen space to play with, but if you want to keep the Mail window compact then you might prefer this view.

OS X Mail Favorites

If you use Mail to subscribe to RSS news feeds, you will find that you can drag them to the Favorites bar to add them. In fact, you can click and drag the word RSS from the left panel to the Favorites bar to add all your RSS feeds. They are then available as a drop-down menu. This is much more convenient than accessing them in a long list in the left-hand mailboxes panel.

Basically, the Favorites bar turns the items in the left panel into drop-down menus. You'll probably find that you don't need both. It's your choice which one you use and which you hide.

Just one last tip: If there is an item on the Favorites bar that you don't want, just click and drag it off. It disappears in a puff of smoke when you drop it.