Tips and tricks: Mac OS X Mail 5

Welcome to another instalment of Tips and Tricks, the series which aims to teach you something useful about one of your Apple (s aapl) products. This time, we’ll be focusing on Mail 5, the new version that ships with OS X Lion. There a few new tips that apply specifically to Mail 5, and also some existing tricks that should come in handy no matter which version you’re using.

Show your own messages in Conversation View

The new Conversation View (View > Organize by Conversation) in Mail 5 is great for keeping up with, well, a conversation. However, by default, it doesn’t show messages you’ve sent in reply during the conversation, which makes it harder to follow exactly what is being said and why.

To show your own messages in the thread along with those you receive from others, open Mail’s preferences, either under the Mail menu in the menu bar, or by pressing Command-comma. Then go to the Viewing tab, and under the ‘View conversations’ header, check the Include related messages option. Your sent messages will now show up in Conversation view.

Use Rules to color emails from certain people

If you’d like to highlight emails which came from someone important, like your boss, perhaps, Mail has a perfect way to do so. Using Rules, you can set the background color of an email in the list.

To do this, open up Mail’s preferences again, and this time open the Rules tab. Click the Add Rule button on the right, and a sheet will slide down with some options. Set the condition to From is [the person’s email address]. Then underneath, set the action to Set color of background to [the color you want to use]. Click OK, and your rule will be added. From now on, whenever an email arrives from the address you specified, the message will be colored.

Show an unread counter in the Menu Bar

This tip will be useful to those of you who keep the Dock hidden, or have turned off the Dock unread count for Mail. This does involve downloading an extra piece of software, since Mail doesn’t support a menu bar item natively. The software is called Mail Unread Menu, and can be downloaded from MacUpdate. Once downloaded, all you have to do is run it, and you’ll have an unread count in the menu bar. There are also quite a few customization options available, such as the ability to choose the icon displayed in the menu bar for Mail, by clicking the menu item and choosing Preferences.

Change the names of Mail’s flags

In Mail 5, you can assign a colored flag to each message. There are seven colors to choose from, and they can be used for organising messages, since Mail automatically creates Smart Mailboxes for each flag you use. By default, the flags are named after the color of the flag, which isn’t very useful. There is a way, however, to change the names of the flags.

To change a flag’s name, first select a message and add the flag to it. Without adding the flag to at least one message, you can’t change its name. Once you have done so with all the flags you want to rename, you’ll see a new Flagged section in the Reminders area of the sidebar.

To rename a flag once it shows up there, right click it and choose Rename Mailbox from the menu. Then type the new name for your flag and press Enter.

Once you’ve pressed Enter, the flag’s name will change not only in the sidebar, but also in the drop down list of flags in the tool bar. This makes it much easier to remember what each of the colors means.

Flags also remember their names even if there are no messages with that flag applied to them.

Got any other tips and tricks regarding Apple’s default Mail app to share? Let us know in the comments.