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Address Book distribution list editor disabled by iCloud

The distribution list editor in Apple's Address Book is convenient for managing e-mail groups, but the editor does not work with iCloud. Here are some ways to work around this issue until it is fixed.

After creating a group of contacts in Address Book, you can send e-mails to its members by simply typing the name of the group in the address field of an e-mail message, and Mail will fill in a list of the e-mail addresses of its members.

When Mail does this, by default the primary e-mail address for the contacts in the group will be used, so if a member has multiple e-mail addresses then the first one listed will be used. However, this default behavior can be changed by using Address Book's distribution list editor (available in the Edit menu), which allows you to select groups and then select which group members' contact information to use.

Address book edit menu
The distribution list editor is grayed out in the Edit menu after upgrading to iCloud. Screenshot by Topher Kessler

This option is quite convenient, but many people who use it to manage group e-mails have found that after upgrading their MobileMe accounts to iCloud they can no longer access the distribution list editor (thanks to MacFixIt reader Paul for writing in about this).

After you have upgraded to iCloud, your contacts in Address Book will be listed under an iCloud category, and while the option to edit distribution lists is shown in the program's Edit menu, it will not become an active option to use.

This appears to happen because of a compatibility issue with Apple's new iCloud service, where if Address Book only has groups on iCloud then it appears to not recognize any groups as being available and therefore does not enable the editor. Apparently Apple's software engineers are aware of the issue and a fix is in the works (which likely will come with OS X 10.7.3).

It appears that without the editor the system resorts to using the contact's primary contact information when you use the group. As a result, even though group e-mails still work, if contacts in the group have more than one e-mail address then you may inadvertently send messages to the wrong one.

Until Apple releases a patch to address this problem, there are a couple of workarounds that you can use to better manage your distribution lists:

  1. Disable iCloud contact syncing
    If you do not need it, then disable management of contacts through iCloud. If your contacts need to be synced then sync them through iCloud, but then disable the contacts management in iCloud's preferences. Doing this makes it so the contact groups are locally managed, so that you will be able to edit the distribution list properties.

    This will work for best for people who do not need to regularly sync contacts between devices, but if you need to keep new contacts synced then creating local distribution groups may be a better solution.

  2. Create local distribution groups
    This problem is primarily rooted in having contact groups being managed only on iCloud, so if you wish to keep iCloud active for syncing contacts then you can set up Address Book to maintain your iCloud contacts by creating at least one locally managed group.

    Address Book Preferences
    The default Address Book account can be changed in the program's preferences. Screenshot by Topher Kessler
    To do this, instead of disabling iCloud's handling of contacts, go to the Address Book preferences and change the default account to be "On My Mac." When you do this the iCloud contacts will remain as they are, but if you add new ones they will be stored locally on your system and not synced with iCloud. Therefore, do this temporarily and create a new group (it should appear under the On My Mac section), and then go back to the preferences and revert the default account to the iCloud setting.

    After doing this, you should have one local group, with all of your contacts and groups still on iCloud. With the local group present, the ability to edit distribution lists should be enabled. You do not need to use the local group and can keep it blank, but for now it is needed in order to spur Address Book to enable the editor so you can manage your iCloud groups.

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