Disabling Mail.app's To Do Mailboxes and Quasi-Debugging Mailbox Creation

Leopard’s Mail.app introduced some nice speed improvements over Tiger’s version but introduced one of the most annoying features (IMNSHO) in Leopard. System Wide “To Dos” in a garish Marker Felt font intent on polluting my IMAP mailboxes with Apple Mail To Do or ToDos.mbox seemingly placed randomly (they aren’t but when your Prefixes differ from account to account it seems random at first). Additionally when I moved servers at my host my accounts on my computer started misbehaving creating nested mailboxes continuously. In the end it’s mostly user error but I’m hoping these tips on how to disable the To Do mailbox (see the edit for the easy way) and force Mail to look properly for the right mailbox will help someone jump to the fix that will stick.

Mailbox Setup Reference

To start with for reference I have several computers and an iPhone that share 4 IMAP accounts (GMail, my webhost and one from work). The main reason I use IMAP is that it keeps them in sync - the backup on the server is just gravy. By default Mail.app uses a mailbox called “Sent Messages” and “Deleted Messages” for it’s Sent and Trash mailboxes. If they do not exist it will attempt to create them - which isn’t entirely interoperable with some webmail clients out of the box (eg. Squirrelmail and RoundCube don’t use those mailboxes by default) or other email clients such as Thunderbird (which doesn’t allow you to change your Trash mailbox in Account Settings so you can’t tell it to use Deleted Messages as well).

Changing Your Sent and Trash Mailboxes Normally

In Mail.app you can click on a mailbox (eg. Trash Man O' Doom) you’ve created and then under the Mailbox menu scroll down to “Use This Mailbox For” and set the mailbox for what you would like to use it for Drafts, Sent, Trash or as the Junk Mailbox. Nice, easy and it nearly always works. (I’ve had it not work once and that wasn’t Mail’s fault)

To Do Mailboxes Are From Hell

You may have noticed above that there was no option for a “To Do” mailbox or even an option anywhere to disable System wide To Dos which means that once iCal is opened or any To Do is intentionally or accidentally created Mail.app will dutifully create Apple Mail To Do mailboxes for each account you have following the IMAP Prefix if necessary. On my iPhone where To Dos are not even recognized it means I’m always seeing a completely useless Apple Mail To Do mailbox somewhere in the hierarchy of my mailboxes.

Following the publishing of a hint on MacOSXHints.com that described the key used in Mail.app’s Preference file (com.apple.mail.plist) I decided to go digging to see what else was stored there. I discovered that by setting the value to nothing (as in just leave it blank) that To Dos were effectively disabled on that account - I could then delete the Apple Mail To Do mailbox on the account. By doing the same change on the other computers (4 accounts * 4 computers = tedious) I was then Apple Mail To Do mailbox free!

**EDIT: According to a newly published hint there’s another way to avoid ToDo mailboxes being recreated by changing the NewNoteToDoAccount key to the ID of your local account. After deleting all my To Do mailboxes this was auto set so I didn’t notice that it had changed.

**EDIT 2: As far as I can tell this is akin to setting Create Notes & To Do’s in: to On My Mac in the Composing section of the Mail Preferences - which is FAR easier than messing with the plist file.

Multiplying Inboxes

When I changed servers at my webhost, Mail.app got confused about the IMAP Prefixes (I believe the new server was telling Mail.app INBOX and the old server was saying /, but I’m unsure) and decided to whenever I deleted a message to move the message to a new mailbox it would create at INBOX/Deleted Messages. Thinking it was an anomaly I would move the message where it should have gone and delete the newly create mailbox. The next time a message would be deleted (wasn’t necessarily on that computer) it would recreate that mailbox but oddly at INBOX/INBOX/Deleted Messages and the cycle would keep repeating. This was the one time that selecting the Trash Mailbox (Deleted Messages at / and not in INBOX) and telling it to use it failed.

Using the knowledge that the mailbox information is stored in com.apple.mail.plist I edited the offending section setting it properly and haven’t had a problem with it since - it was a good way of having somewhere to write in “I want my Trash to go here”. So it’s useful for making changes and checking to see what path that Mail.app is looking for when it shouldn’t be looking at that location (especially via SSH when VNC is unavailable).

So my frustration ends with that to edit a binary plist the only Apple provided tool is the new Property List Editor 3.0 which is not an optimum solution for editing - it doesn’t provide searching and I find that the extra work using plutil to convert to xml instead of binary and back so I can use TextMate not worth it in the end. Much of what you need to do is in Mail.app itself but when Mail.app is acting up, it’s good to know where you can go to set it back straight and stop the cluttering of your mailbox hierarchies.

Showing Network Volumes in the Sidebar

At work I have a user that really, really was having a hard time with Network Shares being moved to under Network in Leopard instead of showing up with the rest of the Volumes as they used to in Tiger. After a bit of digging around I found the following information but failed to figure out how to create a script to automagically put Network shares in the Devices section of your sidebar but if you’re managing several computers it is possible to copy the com.apple.sidebarlists.plist file saving a lot of time.

When a network share is mounted in Leopard it does not appear in the Finder sidebar on it’s own - it is accessible via the server it is on if you have Connected Servers checked off in the Finder preferences. At work we have Back to My Mac, Connected Servers, and Bonjour Servers all hidden by default because they do little to assist anyone in finding anything. (Not to mention Back to My Mac isn’t used and Bonjour Servers lists every computer in the building). Your one alternative was to navigate back to the Computer (Command-Shift-C) and find your Volume there - instead what you can do is drag a Network share to your sidebar (or press Command-T when it is selected) where if mounted it will appear.

What I wanted to do was make it so they would automatically appear no matter what was connected - making the change more future proof. I ultimately failed to do so but I did learn the following tidbits about com.apple.sidebarlists.plist:

Under :systemitems:VolumesList (PlistBuddy syntax in use) you have a list of different hard drives and such that have been plugged into your computer - and if you happen to add a share to your sidebar this portion is what is changed.

Each Item consists of:

  • An Alias (Data) - This is the base64 decoded form of a _CFULRAlias (identical to as seen in com.apple.dock.plist)
  • EntryType (Integer) - I found the codes for several different types:
    16: Special Access (Computer, iDisk, Network)
    261: Hard Drive (and ZFS Pool)
    517: Time Machine
    515: USB Drive
  • Icon (Data) - Again this is Hex but if you have a hex editor (such as Hex Fiend) but is the form “ImgR? SYSL fldr” (Default Finder Folder icon) with two fields separating each section. The default for a server icon is: 496d6752 0000001c 00000000 5359534c 00000010 00000000 73727672
  • Visibility (string)(optional) - Can be NeverVisible or AlwaysVisible. In this case we want AlwaysVisible.

My big issue in not being able to figure it out was that I couldn’t figure out through research how to write the necessary alias data that is being looked for by com.apple.sidebarlists.plist . James Reynolds created the dockit.c program. Tweaking the program so it’s start and end points only included the CFURLAlias data (329 and 326 respectively) gave me the base64 encoded information that you see when editing an XML version of the Dock or Sidebarlists plists - but using PlistBuddy to input the information did no good.

So what I ended up doing instead was to use one computer to mount all the possible shares put them in the sidebar (since they’re hidden when not mounted it’s fine having shares that wouldn’t even be mounted) and then push out the changes via MCX. It’s not perfect but it works and it will make finding the shares much easier. I’m hoping this entry helps someone else on their search for getting such a script created.

Thanks to the following places for information:
CocoaDev (note: The Alias data when viewed in an xml plist is base64 encoded - but not in Property List Editor)
JeremyForPresident
MacOSXHints

Tethering your iPhone : Experiences

Update: Nov. 17th, 2008 - PDANet 1.4.0 allows VPN access, however at first look it doesn’t work correctly with VPN Tracker 5.

One of the biggest benefits of my iPhone that I’ve been waiting vainly to try was the ability to tether my iPhone to my laptop so I could access the net from anywhere in case of an emergency - whether it be a server at work or a life or death flash video that isn’t on YouTube. It’s also very worthwhile to note that this will suck your iPhone’s battery faster than anyone would like - for me it lasts about 2.5 hours as both the WiFi and 3G antennae are in heavy use.

It should be noted that all the present options require jailbreaking your iPhone which is not without its caveats and primarily a reason I want an official solution simply because if Apple breaks the jailbreak during an upgrade you’re forced to wait for the iPhone dev team (it’s amazing the work they’ve done) to be able to get a patch out so they can still jailbreak themselves. The good news on this front is the current jailbreak they have is quite resilient as the current jailbreak method they are using can’t be fixed with software. (Although iTunes 8 does look for jailbroken ipsws and tries to stop them). For more details on the jailbreaking process I recommend checking out the iPhone Dev Team’s Blog

PDANet 1.3.3

By June Fabrics PDA Technology Group
Homepage | Available through Cydia

Pros:

  • Very easy to use
  • Very little setup - only need to have the iPhone connect to your laptop’s created wireless network
  • Keeps working even after the iPhone’s screen has turned off.

Cons:

  • Does not work with VPN (deal breaker) - IPSec Passthrough does not work
  • Some Terminal commands do not work - eg. can not ping
  • Can not use your iPhone for anything else without disrupting connectivity.

Using ssh and SOCKS

Sample Instructions | Requires OpenSSH to be installed on your iPhone
Linked are some instructions on how to do this - I’ve done this before as a poor man’s VPN before so it was straightforward.

Pros:

  • Easy setup (as OpenSSH is installed by default when jailbreaking now)
  • Keeps working even after the iPhone’s screen has turned off. Not 100% reliable though.
  • You can still use your iPhone

Cons:

  • For those unfamiliar or comfortable with the Terminal it may be a bit confusing.
  • Does not work with VPN (deal breaker) - IPSec Passthrough does not work

3proxy

Sample Instructions | Available via Cydia

Very similar to simply using the ssh setup - but uses 169.254.x.x and port 1080 for your SOCKS Proxy.

Pros:

  • It works
  • Can still use your iPhone

Cons:

  • Requires more setup (downloading and installing 3proxy).
  • Requires use of Mobile Terminal. The instructions require force quitting Mobile Terminal, but if you added a & at the end of the command you could then run jobs -p when you want to quit, see the process id and type kill PID (where PID is that number that jobs -p gave you).
  • Does not work with VPN - IPSec Passthrough does not work

iPhoneModem zsrelay

Homepage | Part a download for OS X (or use PuTTY on Windows) and part iPhone app on Cydia.

Note: There is another iPhoneModem application by Addition that exists that costs $9.99 and as far as I can tell has nothing to offer that the free options here don’t have.

The Mac application side is only required if you’d like to secure the connection between your computer and the iPhone. It will use ssh to secure the connection between the two to start and then puts WEP on the ad-hoc network created as well to help discourage anybody jumping on to the network. (WEP may not be secure but the network I really doubt is going to be around for longer than a brief period of time).

Pros:

  • Nicest setup
  • You can still use your iPhone
  • Secure connection between your computer and the iPhone

Cons:

  • Harder setup in comparison to other options
  • Advanced Settings on the iPhone has a download counter that appears to reset whenever you leave that page but updates properly once more data is used.
  • As with all these options that just use proxies - VPN (IPSec) is not allowed over SOCKS.
  • Slow setup - and more involved.

NetShare

The original tethering application that was available on the App Store. I opted to not try and install NetShare on my iPhone because even though it’s not publicly available to buy anymore it’s still illegal.

Conclusions

Of the options available iPhoneModem zsrelay is the nicest setup with a good mix of security, ease of use and other features however the easiest to set up and use is hands down PDANet. The unfortunate portion for me is that none of them will allow me to use VPN Tracker to connect to the VPN server at work. Personally I’ll stick with PDANet as it’s the least invasive