Joe Clark’s piece “The format=flowed FAQ” acts as an interesting counterargument to my piece on Apple Mail’s lack of a true plain text mode. Joe is advocating for the Format=Flowed email standard, which is similar to how Apple Mail handles email quoting1:
A mailer program that understands f=f suppresses the display of > characters. They’re still there, only hidden.
Instead, the mailer shows quoted text some other way – usually via an excerpt bar, a vertical bar drawn to the left of the quoted text. The mailer program treats the > characters as movable. If you add or delete text or resize the display window, the program recomputes where the > characters should go but keeps the quoted text tidy and well-flowed, hence the name “flowed text.”
The just of the argument is that prefacing each quoted line with a
>, which is the plain text convention I prefer, has some issues dealing with lines of varying lengths. Which is true, but if an email program can reflow quoted text to display it nicely, a Unix filter can do the same; what plain text gives you is control. With that said, Joe’s argument is definitely compelling, whenever I read about email I’m always left with the same impression: It’s complicated.
Although, as far as I can tell, Apple Mail does not implement the actual
format=flowedstandard, which requires adding it to the