How to prepare for Google's acquisition of Sparrow

Google announced today that it had acquired Sparrow, the OS X email app much-loved for its uncluttered layout and minimal user experience. This HOWTO will help get you ready for all the enhancements and developments to come as it is integrated into Google's established mail and messaging services.


  1. I’ve used Sparrow for almost two years now and it’s hands down the best mail app on the Mac. That is effectively over now. No more development, no Dropbox connectivity, no iPad version. This product is dead now. Thanks Google.

    1. Please — its Applescript support was woefully inadequate. Email clients without robust Applescript support are practically useless.

      1. To you. They are practically useless to you. Do not equate your own needs with the needs of others. I have never needed AppleScript for email management, and I’m willing to bet most others haven’t either.

        1. it’s searching is really poor, too. 

          Having to go to a separate screen to search, and not being able to filter only within a specific mailbox.

          And don’t get me started on the speed.

          I wanted to like it, but it really couldn’t cope with my mailboxes.

  2. I was on the fence for some time regarding the iOS version of this app…finally pulled the trigger based on Sparrow’s own promises of future features and updates. I’m guessing Google made a better offer. Congrats to them…but kind of a shite thank you to their customers who wanted to support a small alternative software developer. 

    1. They were quite shitty to do a sales push, with discounts, last week. Last-minute money-grabbing, very disrespectful of their users, but hey, par for the course in the Valley these days, right?

        1. I did the same and Apple granted my refund within an hour. I don’t think you or I are the only people requesting this. 

    1. Is it actually possible to be mean-spirited when you’re discussing corporate acquisitions?

  3. Wow, glad I didn’t buy it.  My guess is that they are going to push google social features through the appeal of apps.  No thanks!

  4. Sheesh, is somebody feeling a bit cranky today?

    I think it’s more likely that Google wanted their designers, not their app. 

  5. ewwww! They let Android users are on Instagram now! Gross! 

    Oh, wait, sorry – wrong thread…

  6. I could see that punchline coming a mile away, but regardless, you have a great voice for these kinds of videos! I think you should start narrating the Look Around You series.

  7. Agree with this. I was angry when I read the email announcement this morning. One of my favorite Mac apps is likely now dead and abandoned, like all of Google’s other startup acquisitions. It truly could not be a worse day for my laptop.

  8. Well that’s just what you have to expect when depending on proprietary software isn’t it. Remember, your entire MacOSX experience is dependent on the goodwill of Apple. These kind of complaints just look bitter and futile. You made yourself dependent on other people’s toys, don’t complain when they take them away.

    Maybe you should try looking at Free Software – an Ubuntu desktop is a good replacement for a Mac. Look at, or for the philosophy behind it.Cory uses a Linux (Ubuntu) laptop, maybe you should ask him.

      1.  Well they can’t be taken away from you in the same way. Rob is complaining because something popular might be removed from him. If something is popular in the FOSS world it can’t get taken away like that.

          1. The point is that anyone (or at least any programmer) can take an abandoned project and bring it forward or at least maintain it.

          2. like Thunderbird, for example. 

            Except that, (commercially funded variations like Postbox aside), I doubt anyone significant will because no-one’s being paid in their day job to work on it.

        1. Speaking as a FOSS developer, the freedom to resuscitate a project is … tragically theoretical.  Open-source removes the legal barrier to doing so, but in practice, the legal barrier is almost always nearly-irrelevant.  It’s overshadowed by a practical concern:

          It’s too time-expensive.  The “lost app” was probably a tool of some sort, and no tool is so unique that it can’t be replaced with something inferior.  You’ll miss the good tool, but the kludge you downgrade to will still get the job done.  It’ll cost a little more time to use a worse tool, but it’s far cheaper than if you were to actually go and maintain that software project.  Unfortunately, maintaining a software project is like a second full-time job.  It means giving up the personal dream you actually wanted to use the tool for, and instead spending your life (for the foreseeable future) improving a tool, instead.  If you weren’t already developing such a tool (in which case you’d probably be a part of that very project), it’s almost guaranteed that making that tool wasn’t your dream – that you were in software development to do something very different.

          Furthermore, quite a few software projects rely on high-end “domain knowledge” – I don’t think I could ever learn how to do video compression or 3d modelling software.  It’s just out of my (and most programmer’s) league, period.  I would never be able to maintain or improve that software no matter how badly I wanted to.

          And sadly, the above options apply only to the tiny, tiny <1% of the population that can program.  For the rest of us, the option is either to spend "another lifetime" learning to program, or spend $100k/yr to pay a programmer to maintain that program you loved.  These are not real possibilities for any normal person.

          The idea that you can legally reboot a project is pretty cool in theory, but unless you have an army of like-minded people ready and waiting to do so, it's idle fantasy.  A program needs to have hundreds of thousands of users for that to be feasible.  For anything remotely niche, you're just hosed.  I've seen a lot of OSS projects lie down and die because the main guys left, and no one replaced them.  I was on some of these projects, as a minor contributor, and I just couldn't afford to "drop everything and start maintaining it".  It hurt to watch.  If I had 20 of me, I'd have kept them all going; but there's only one of me, and he's already got a full-time project.

          It's a critical mass problem, and only stuff like Firefox or Gimp is above this critical mass.  It'll be interesting to see if Thunderbird is or isn't.

      1. Oh that really helps. Thanks for adding constructively to Rob’s problem. At least I gave him an alternative. What’s your solution ? Just accept something you think you cannot change ? Very buddhist of you, just not at all helpful.

        1. Yep, it is Buddhist. Accept reality for what it is. People aren’t going to go off and run Ubuntu unless they have an ideology to do so or REALLY good reasons. There is a reason people buy Macs, for example, and it isn’t because they’re lazy.

    1. Hopefully this doesn’t double-post… if so, my apologies to the mods – had some trouble submitting a snarkier form of this response earlier. Ate a cookie, better now. :-)

      Free Software isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be – or at least, it’s not for everyone. Unless you’re technically adept, you’re *still* dependent on other people’s toys when you use Free Software. Example: Many would say that Gnome 3 sucks rocks. But how many Gnome 3 users are actually capable of forking the code and rewriting/fixing it?
      Sure they can just go and switch to KDE – just like I can switch to a different proprietary mail client in OS X.

      Next up: the joys of hardware support. Or lack thereof. One of the reasons I love my MacBook Air is that I hardly ever have to do a “cd /usr/src/linux ; make menuconfig ; make bzImage” anymore (well, actually never under OS X, for obvious reasons). Back when my primary machines were all Linux-based, I always ran into little issues with hardware that either required tweaking configs, building kernel modules from source, or sacrificing a goat during the waning moon. You know, pretty typical sysadmin stuff.

      Maybe it’s a middle age thing. The older I get, the more I want things to just work out of the box.

      (for the record, I spent the better part of 15 years as a sysadmin and embedded Linux developer so I have some experience in this subject)

      1.  Sure, as an embedded Linux developer I’m sure you had to build your own kernels – that’s kind of the point. I always build my own Samba packages ‘cos I write the code :-).

        But as for installing on a laptop and having everything “just work”, well Ubuntu has been there for 5+ years or so.

        Ask every member of my (extended) family for details. Over the years I’ve moved them all over, usually after some irritation like the one causing this article made them throw up their hands and give up on proprietary software.

        I don’t do much in the way of sysadmin for them these days (compared to the years of having to support their endlessly broken Windows machines :-).

        1. I used to use linux exclusively now, I only use OSX.
          Perhaps if OSS and Free software wasn’t a cheap ripoff of OSX and Windows, I’d actually use it.
          The whole reason I used things like Gnome or Firefox, was precisely BECAUSE they had their own style, and didn’t really care what focus groups though, and weren’t afraid to give users choices.But, the free software community is now locked in a desperate and futile attempt to be like Apple and Google, and it’s pathetic.

          Firefox has decided that it must be like Chrome, in order to be cool.
          What it ends up being is a cheap imitation of Chrome.Why should I use the imitation, when I can use the real thing??Firefox has also shown contempt for its users intelligence, by obnoxiously updating the browser, and breaking my plugins, and radically altering the interface, without asking me!!How do you think it felt, when I opened up Firefox, and its interface was completely altered, and all of my plugins broken??And nobody buys for a second their explanation for version numbers.
          Firefox has become so cheap, I almost expect its about box to be written in engrish.I remember when Pidgin adopted an iChat like buddy list interface and text input, almost on cue.

          Or how about Ubuntu 12’s cheap OSX Dock ripoff, that can’t even enlarge icons without clipping?Or their attempt to have unified menus?Or’s Office 2000 clone??At least, when a large corporation releases software, they’ve probably done some QA on it, and run it by some focus groups.Free software has become the worst of both worlds.They’re afraid to take risks, insulting in design, and, on top of everything else, it’s cheap and buggy.
          I don’t even recommend Ubuntu or Firefox anymore, in fact, I recommend OSX and Chrome now.The arrogance of the community has done more to kill Free Software than anyone else.

          1. Agreed & well said. I was exclusively a linux user for years but around the initial release of KDE 4 it was painfully obvious that everything was going downhill. It got in the way of my productivity (I was in grad school and simply no longer had time to mess around with my computers, I had work to do). 

            I bought a Macbook Pro (Macs are very popular in university science departments) and that was that – I’m not going back to linux unless OS X is phased out, but I highly doubt that will actually happen. OS X is just so much better because it does actually “just work” but has all the command-line power you might need too.

        2. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a perfectly good linux install break on update.
          Or some useful package excised, without any replacement offered.

          It got to the point where I was afraid to update, or even upgrade, since it was so much trouble to get everything working.

          I expected this kind of crap from Gentoo, but Ubuntu is now like this.

        3. Nice of you to shepherd your extended family into Ubuntu and to provide the tech support that they need. What will they do when you, god forbid, die? :-)

          1.  Hopefully by then the singularity will have happened and they can just get tech support from the AI that pretends to be me :-).

        4. “But as for installing on a laptop and having everything “just work”, well Ubuntu has been there for 5+ years or so.”

          Having watched friends trying to administrate their own installs of Unctuous Ungulate or whatever and how much fun they’ve had with variants on “is this particular wireless card going to work this time?” (including the internal one that came with the machine) – no, IMO, it’s not. It’s certainly better than the Linux-for-the-everyman installs were five years ago, but it’s still not there yet. 

          1. Well I’m only speaking from my own experience of course. But I haven’t had problems on any of the desktop and laptop hardware I’ve installed Ubuntu on for five years.

            Of course it probably helps that I’m careful in what I buy, having had lots of experience in desktop/laptop Linux for 10+ years. That might be the difference between our experiences.

    2. ANY cooperation is dependent on the goodwill of the people you are cooperating with. I suppose one can aim for 100% self-sufficiency, but what for?

      1. I’m 100% self-sufficient, but I live naked in the woods and only eat what I can kill or gather. I’m writing this message on a computer that I built myself and then wrote the OS for. I power the computer by riding a stationary bike I also built for myself with metal I mined and smelted. And yet, for all that, I never found the time to grow cotton, spin it, weave it, and sew cloths. So I’m still naked in the woods. Go figure.

        Nevertheless, 100% self-sufficiency is very spiritually rewarding.

    3. The collection of people who maintain package repositories and support forums are far, far less reliable than Apple.
      It’s a headache to even install packages from a few years ago, since packages are rarely available, and there are so many incompatibilities.

      Before I can even install a Linux workstation, I’d sigh: “What have they broken this time?”I found myself having to go out of my way to create snapshots, and just restore snapshots onto new systems, rather than letting the package manager pull in the latest versions.

      I know a lot of people say this, but, now that I actually have to get things done, I don’t have time to duct tape and paperclip a Linux system together.
      And the community is so much snobbier than Apple users.
      I have so many memories of being burnt by Linux.

      My thesis being hosed by  more updates, and then being scolded for daring to use gcc2, and spending over a day trying to get myself back to where I started.
      The final straw for me, was when everyone removed kpilot all at once, and replaced it with a broken system for syncing that would collapse under its own weight.
      I know Palm OS is outdated, but it works for me, and I specifically used Linux so that I could do things my way!And within a few months, kdepim broke, as did openoffice.I was glad to pay money for closed source software for OSX that actually worked, and continues to work.I’m not going to use Free Software purely out of principle, it has to actually be good!So no, I personally do not suggest Linux anymore, and this is coming from someone that used Linux exclusively since 2000.

    4. Linux is absolutely NOT a good replacement for a Mac.  It’s adequate, certainly, most of the time even user friendly, but when it starts to whine, it’s just like every other Linux distro and becomes a chore to use.  Linux is still great for the technically inclined, but it will never approach the user friendliness of a Mac.

    5. “an Ubuntu desktop is a good replacement for a Mac”

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Oh man.  Thanks for that.  Needed a laugh.

      1. I really love reading all these “Linux will *never* be a replacement for a Mac” posts. It reminds me of the attitudes I came across at Apple when they were asking me to give them a talk at MacWorld. See here:

        For details. But you’re missing something. The best was I heard it described was like this: “When you get Windows on a machine it’s like being in prison. Lots of restrictions. But at least you *know* it’s a prison. Bars on the windows, no exits, bad food – that sort of thing. But when you buy a Mac you’re also in prison. The problem is the food is much better. There are plasma screen TVs to watch and comfy couches to sit in. But make no mistake, you’re still in prison and eventually the warden will come and shout  ‘lights out'”.

        I have a lot of patience. Eventually Apple will do something so outrageous to all you Mac lovers that all these “I love my Mac” posts will collapse into a fury of hated, recrimination and bitterness – trying to learn to love the suddenly revealed iron bars that have appeared around you. It will be fun to see :-). Don’t worry, I’ll remind you all of this conversation :-).

        And the interesting thing is the more annoyed the attacks become, the more it reveals the underlying fear and uneasy feelings of the Mac owner. You *know* deep down that you’re only renting the love of your life, and sooner or later someone is going to take it away from you. Don’t know when, don’t know how – but you know it’s going to happen to you someday. Have fun until then :-).

        1. Really?  How is Linux any less of a “jail” (a truly inane argument if I ever heard one)?!?

          Linux is only not a “Jail” by your narrow definition if you are willing and/or able to take your own software into your own hands.

          That’s not me.  Yes, if I spent 10 years mucking around with internals and technologies like C (yeah! A language only a geek could love – force the human to do shit that computers excel at) based on work done in the 60s and not advanced much further except with bubble gum, bailing wire and a prayer, I too could be free from your hypothetical “jail”.

          But that’s a false dichotomy.  There’s perhaps a hundred, maybe two hundred people in the entire world that would be free from your “jail” and have the wherewithal to take their entire software destiny into their own hands.  Bully for them.  For the rest of us schlubs, what’s far more likely to happen is for me as Linux user to be screwed by the idiotic whims of a group of people driven by ideology instead of necessarily focusing on an overall better experience because their livelihood literally depends on it.

          Apple, and even Microsoft, have to convince people to *buy* their stuff.  If they throw shit together, people will switch to someone who is doing it better.  Yes, MS had the market for decades, but look at the dramatic reversal of fortunes where MS posted their first loss and Apple is on a tear of what, five years of record quarter after record quarter, now that the first real viable alternative to the Wintel duopoly has emerged?

          That’s why I’m not worried about this “Apple Jail” BS – or even “Microsoft Jail” BS.  Competition and the free market.  Linux and most open source software is a false free market – truly “open” projects have no ultimate accountability and are purely beholden to the benefactors of the project – who can, at any moment, do whatever the hell they want with little or no repercussion.

          “But Wait!” you say – “Someone who doesn’t like it can just fork it!”

          Yeah right.  Sorry, my time is money.  And chances are there is a commercial product that does what I want for far cheaper than I could duplicate it in what it would take in time, let alone resources.  Sure, it may not be a 100% perfect solution and do EXACTLY what I want – but seriously:  how many things are SO important that they have to be done EXACTLY the way *I* want them to be?  I run into this all the time when people want to take COTS software (even open source) and start tweaking the hell out of it when a simple change in business process/culture would be SO much easier and economical, now and forevermore.  How many fricking ways do you really need to save a file, print something out, draw a window on a screen or calculate payroll?

          Scroll back up to the post from Daytime Thorns – he nails it.

          Enjoy your jar of smug, in the meantime I’ll be getting real work done (obviously too stupid to be aware of all the reasons why I shouldn’t be able to due to the restrictions of “closed source” and “proprietary” software.  Yawn.)

          1. What you say would be very persuasive, but were it not for the fact that’s just not how it works in the real world. No one has to maintain their own software, not in Linux/FLOSS land. So being one of the 200 who could really isn’t relevant at all. FYI – I’m not a person who has time to maintain my own software either (other than the code I personally write), that’s why I settled on a widely maintained Linux distro (Ubuntu in my case) – although I had lots of other choices.

            Automobile analogies are popular, so I’ll use one of those :-). Think of it like buying a car. A Linux car can be taken to a network of garages and service centers, all of whom have the spare parts and complete diagrams on how to fix the car.

            Your Apple car, although very nice looking, can only be taken to an Apple ™ service center. Nowhere else. For everyone else the hood is welded firmly shut. If the Apple service center decides they don’t support your model of car anymore, then that’s just tough luck. If it doesn’t drive any more then you’ll just have to write it off, or buy a new one. I’m sure the Apple dealership would be happy to sell you a new one :-).

            My Linux car can be fixed anywhere. Which more accurately describes the real world of automobiles to you ? It amazes me that people put up with restrictions on their computers that they’d never accept on any other device they own. I need to get work done too – and it’s too important to bet continuing that work on the good behaviour of companies that don’t often show it.

            After all, that was the reason behind Rob’s initial post :-). Enjoy your Mac. For now..

    1. Dont get your knickers in a twist over pedantically enforcing a corporation’s marketing decisions, or we’ll take away all your Legos.

  9. I f*cking just started using Sparrow YESTERDAY.

    Now thinking of starting to use Twitter.

      1. the point was that twitter would go the way of sparrow if he started using it.

        it’s called irony.

      2.  Point being, probably, that he wants Twitter to die. Therefore, if he starts using Twitter, it’ll be bought by Google (or some other company) and then begin its long, lingering death.

  10. I’m sure if Apple acquired Sparrow everyone would be applauding it as a brilliant move. But because it’s mean old Google it’s a horrible thing. Just remember: Sparrow chose to get bought out. There have been numerous companies that have turned down Google’s money.

    1. I don’t think it’s just that Google bought Sparrow.  It’s the announcement that Sparrow will no longer receive any updates or further development, and that its employees will move to different projects at Google.  Sparrow, the software, has been end-of-lifed.  THAT is what’s upsetting people.

      1. There seems to be a lot of hostility that I assumed was a Google vs. Apple thing but you corrected me. I don’t understand where the hostility comes from but that is probably because I am only familiar with the very basics of Sparrow. Does it depend on the company keeping servers up? Will the software you bought no longer work?

        1. It’ll work in the short term. I’ve had no troubles running it on Mountain Lion. We don’t know how it will be on iOS 6 or future versions of OS X. It could break. The biggest complaint is that the iOS version doesn’t have Push notifications yet, and that was a planned feature update.

        2. They promised updates and an iPad version and those promises are now moot. So people were swindled if they expected the company to keep its promises, and now won’t because of the acquisition.

        3. I think the reason that people are more against Google buying Sparrow than Apple is that Google owns Gmail, which is the service that almost everyone uses Sparrow to access. And Google is well known for its data-scraping and ad-pushing ways.

          Apple, on the other hand, makes good software to sell you hardware. They’re famously protective over user data, and they generally don’t force ads down your throat whilst you’re trying to read your email. That’s my feeling, anyway.

          1. I’m not against Google buying Sparrow, nor for Apple buying them.  I just think it was pretty crappy for them to put it on sale and hype the heck out of it a few days before they announced the Google deal and EOLed the software they put on discount the weekend before.

            One can only assume that the owners knew more than a few days ago that this was in the works.  A reasonable person might reasonably assume a motive:  get as much as you can while the getting is good.

            Refund requested.

    2. What rubbed me the wrong way was not so much simply the EOL of a product purchased, but the way they handled it. Just up until last week they were pushing sales of the software knowing full well they were going to be acquired. I mean this wasn’t just done over drinks last night. It’s a shit attitude and a cynical way to do business. Congrats for their success…but what an asshat way to treat a customer base. We’re outta here and thanks for all the cash last week!

          1. On the other hand, good to know what’s acceptable at BB should I ever buy from the BB store…

          2. If you purchase a service and the company from which you purchased it immediately makes material changes to the way that they do business, they’re the ones committing fraud.

    3. The point is: Users bought Sparrow to not use GMails crappy webinterface. Not this move from Google seems like they want to force those users back to their webinterface in the long term.

      It’s also quite shabby the Sparrow Team made many promises to their users that they now won’t adhere to.

      1. “The point is: Users bought Sparrow to not use GMails crappy webinterface. Not this move from Google seems like they want to force those users back to their webinterface in the long term.”

        I’m not a fan of Google, but even I’m not willing to throw them under the bus just yet.  Heck, instead of killing Sparrow, what if they are going to change the GMail interface to resemble it?  I hope so – we switch to GMail at work and the web interface is godawful, cluttered and limited compared to traditional clients with dragging and dropping of attachments, keyboard shortcuts, interface element manipulation…  I feel like I’ve gone back to email in the 90’s….  cc:Mail had more functionality…

    4. “I’m sure if Apple acquired Sparrow everyone would be applauding it as a brilliant move.”

      But they didn’t.  So it still was a brilliant move :-)

  11. Not that there’s ever any sensible reasoning behind these sorts of things, but I’m really not sure why Google would want to kill this very popular product that enhances (and promotes) the use of Gmail. Is it because we’re not looking at the ads in the web app? Why not just incorporate the ads into Sparrow? It’d be rather difficult to AdBlock those away which would be even better from Google’s perspective. You’d have to make Sparrow free, of course, to put ads in.

    I have seven gmail or gmail-based accounts and I don’t see why I should stop using Sparrow, which is the best tool for the job… I’m a few versions behind, anyway, because while I was using the trial version they switched to the Mac App Store only and doubled the price. I was ready to pay their original price ($10 or so) to buy from their site, but I want nothing to do with the Mac App Store so I got it from the pirate bay. I think the App Store version must be harder to crack or something because the latest available at the bay is an older version (which still works fine… what do we need updates for if there are no show-stopping bugs?)

    In any case, it shouldn’t be long before a competitor pops up.

    1. Yeah, I’m gonna call BS on that. You can buy Sparrow even today for $9.99 directly from Sparrow and not give a dime to Apple. You can also get the free, ad supported version. You’re just trying to justify your piracy, and that justification is full of holes.

  12. I’m not sure why people instantly feel like chucking Sparrow in the trash just because the company was sold to Google. The app is still better than Apple’s Mail, so I will continue to use it until something better comes along. No need to get all your knickers in a twist.

    1. It’s a common outsider perception of the Apple community. Once the iPhone 5 comes out, all previous versions of the iPhone will spontaneously stop working.

  13. Too many comments: didn’t read.

    How I got ready:
    Step 1: Move Sparrow into trash.
    Step 2: There is no step two; my trash deletes when I log out.
    Step 3: Are you kidding? How can there be a… PROFIT!!! …oh.

      1. Not really.

        Apple were pretty clear the X is a roman numeral and it should be pronounced as “ten”.

          1. @aThingOrTwo – why don’t we call a truce. Come on over to my place and we can have a beer and watch Malcolm Ten together… man, that Denzel Washington is good…

      2. Yes, as a native speaker of the language, and a user of its orthography since kindergarten or so, I, too, am a user of ‘Oh Es Ex’. I use version ten point seven point four of Apple’s ‘Oh Es Ex’. Apple marketing doesn’t govern how I use my native language.

    1. This was already discussed further up in the comments but people saying it’s “OS ten” seem to be winning. I say “OS Ex” too and I think it sounds better/cooler. If previous Mac OS version numbers were written in roman numerals, then there’d be an argument for saying “ten”, but they clearly intentionally changed it to X because X looks and sounds cooler than 10.

      1. Except that when Apple always mentions it by name, they say OS Ten, not OS Ex. It’s like calling the Super Bowls Ex El Vee Eye Eye Eye.

  14. I guess the Sparrow team will fit in nicely at Google with their disingenuous offer that I took up when it was on special last week, guess it was their last dash at making money and taking customer’s for a ride, surely the deal was well underway by then.

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