I tried to like webmail, but it just didn’t work for me. Using SquirrelMail felt like it was literally powered by a squirrel on a wheel, and Horde was about the same. My address book wasn’t available from the web app and sent mail was only kept on the server. I was still dependent on Outlook and I just didn’t like webmail. Until Gmail that is.
Gmail finally hit the right combination of features and speed to make it more than tolerable and almost fun to use webmail. Their clever use of AJAX to make the app more responsive and intuitive is a key reason for its success, and the reason that I decided that I liked using it. I tried Google Calendar and then Google Docs and I decided that I really liked these web apps. For perhaps the first time, I found a web app that I almost preferred to the desktop verion.
I wanted this convenience and simplicity for my primary internet identity at dodd.org. I thought about forwarding messages to Gmail and tried importing via POP3 and all that, but when Google announced that they were going to open up these apps so that they could be tied to your own domain, I hurried over to the web site to sign up for the waiting list. When I got the invitation to setup my domain with Google last March, I was thrilled.
It actually took me a week or so to work up the courage to make the switch. I was worried about losing email during the transition and that it wouldn’t work well with Outlook. Getting it done was actually pretty simple. I filled out the information on Google’s site and then had my webhost, A Small Orange, make some changes to the DNS and MX records for my domain. I’ve got to put a plug in here for ASO, they have incredibly responsive customer service at all hours of the day. I think my DNS records were updated within 15 minutes of submitting the request.
Once I switched to GAFYD to handle my email, I kept using Outlook as my main email client. I changed my settings so that Google would archive any messages that I downloaded to Outlook. This meant I could continue to use Outlook but still get access to all my email (both new and old) on the web when I was away from my desktop computer. It turns out that setting Google to “keep copies in the Inbox” was the better choice. This will still leave messages in the archive as well.
One side benefit, is that Google will also allow your POP3 client to download your sent messages as well. I created a simple rule in Outlook that would move any messages *from* my email address to the “sent” folder. Even better, Google keeps a copy of email messages that you send through their SMTP servers from your POP3 client.
So in the end, I was able to continue using my main email client (Outlook at the time) and Google would maintain a complete online archive of email sent to me. In turn, it would also maintain a complete archive of email I sent both from my POP3 client or online from the GAFYD site. Perfect.
My next post will detail the step-by-step process to achieve this messaging nirvana. After that, I’ll explain why I ditched my desktop client to use the Google site exclusively and the tools that I use to make that work efficiently.