Monday, October 23, 2006

Lovin' GMail

It's probably safe to say I switch email providers as often as blog engines, perhaps even more often. However, I think I've finally found one I can stick with for a while: Gmail.

My email story goes something like this:
  • Way back in the day, used whatever email address my ISP gave me. I quickly gave this up for a free Yahoo Mail account, which allowed me to check my mail from anywhere and not give up the address if I changed ISP's.
  • Purchased a domain name (twistedstream.com) and thought it would be cool to host my own mail server at home! I think I played with some 3rd party POP3 server at first. Then I switched to what all the cool Microsoft kids were using: Exchange.
  • I finally got tired of my home server either going down (which, in all honesty, didn't happen very often) or my ever-reliable Internet connection dropping and consequently people complaining about not being able to send/receive email to/from me. So I switched back to a hosted solution called Everyone.net that would work with my domain name. I believe was able to access my email via POP3 and IMAP. I liked the IMAP capability because it was more like Exchange.
  • Unfortunately Everyone.net only did email. All my calendar and contact data was still local to one machine. Then I decided to switch back (yes, back) to Yahoo Mail. Yahoo was also able to host my domain name as well as sync calendar and contacts with Outlook (this worked most of the time).
  • Then a coworker turned me onto a hosted Exchange service at 1and1. Man, this had to be the Holy Grail of email (for Outlook users)! And, for the most part, it was. But then I took a new job where the OWA (Outlook Web Access) didn't play well with the corporate firewall; essentially it made checking my personal email next to impossible while at work.

Then enters Gmail.

I've actually had an account for some time (I picked one up back when it first came out and it was the latest rave). However, besides some of its different ways of organizing mail, it just seemed like another web mail client. However, two things peaked my interest and eventually made me switch:

  1. The ability to send email from any email address (not just your @gmail.com account). Yes, via a slick validation email, Gmail will allow you to send email from any account. Couple this with aliases set up in my MX record, and Gmail now becomes the center of my email universe.
  2. The ability to import all of my old email. Granted, this feature isn't provided out of the box by Gmail. You have to do some digging, but a free tool called the Gmail Loader allows you to import all of your old mail. And when I say all, I mean all. I was able to suck in email as far back as 2000 (which is all I had archived). The beauty of this is all of that email (over 1GB) is now labelled and searchable with Gmail's awesome search engine. And since Gmail gives you over 2.5GB of storage, I still have plenty of room.

One more feature that Gmail has that I like, but don't necessary use, is their POP3 access. Like many other hosted email services, you can use a rich email client (Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, etc) to pull down your email via the POP3 protocol. Gmail makes that experience better with the following added capabilities:

  • More choices on how messages are stored on the server.
  • The ability to send email from any email address that you've validated on the Gmail site.
  • Having a copy of any email sent from your rich email client stored in the Sent Mail folder on the server (as long as you use the Gmail SMTP server in your client-side configuration).

Very cool stuff. I now feel content with my email :).

ps
I have to say a big thanks to my friend Michael who's been using Gmail for some time now and got me re-interested.

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