I’m going to start this by saying up front that Gmail is not "bad", however it is to this day still a beta product.

Gmail a.k.a. Google Mail was the first e-mail service to be released as a beta service, and as of now stands in what appears to be perpetual beta. That little "beta" tag means that things can and do go wrong with the Gmail system.

Here’s my little story on Gmail and why I decided to not use it anymore. This is not a disaster story but it was enough to get me to ditch using it.

A few days ago I had an e-mail completely vanish from my Gmail account. This was not the first time but rather the third time. The first two times I was able to retrieve the information I lost by other means, but this time the vanished e-mail required me to make a few phone calls to get the information I needed.

Not cool.

I’ve been using e-mail a long, long time and I know when I delete something and when I don’t. This particular MIA e-mail was something I specifically "took good care of" so to speak to ensure it would not get deleted accidentally.

But it was gone.

That was it; I had it. Third strike, yer out, Gmail.

I switched back to hosted e-mail on my domain.

To note:

My e-mail was Google Apps based

Google Apps is Gmail-powered. I had my domain mail running 100% thru Google services.

One would assume that Google Apps would not have the same sometimes-flighty nature of standard Gmail.

Not true – you will encounter the same beta-riffic nature of Gmail in Google Apps. The aforementioned lost e-mails were all from a Google Apps account.

Trust is important with any e-mail service

With e-mail you put a lot of faith in the provider. You assume you will receive all the e-mail that comes your way and when you store it that it stays there. When that trust is broken, it hits you hard.

Many years ago when the internet was still a new thing I had a Hotmail account where I kept important e-mails. One day I logged in and ALL (not just some) of the stored mail was gone, *poof*, buh-bye, not there.

The minor MIA e-mails with Gmail gave me really bad memories of what happened with Hotmail all those years ago; I don’t want a repeat performance of that. No way.

Quote from my boss: "You got balls switching off of Gmail"

Before I switched off Gmail I was the absolute biggest Google whore. I used Google for everything; A lot more than just e-mail.

If you use Google services for a lot of what you do on the internet, it’s not easy to switch and use something else. Some absolutely will not do it, so I guess you can count me as one of the rare and few that did.

While I was initially ruffled at not having the Gmail interface anymore, I fast realized that the old-school way of doing e-mail truly is a better way to do it.

Things I’ve learned by switching back to local-domain IMAP mail and using the Mozilla Thunderbird mail client

Accessing Gmail via IMAP is clunky at best

Prior to using Google Apps I did access e-mail via IMAP and never had a problem with it. It wasn’t until I switched to Google Apps that I noticed funky things going on.

While accessing Gmail via IMAP is truly cool, the server time-outs happen way too often. I used to think it was my internet connection or that Thunderbird didn’t handle IMAP properly. Nope. It was Google’s servers.

I can only assume Google sometimes has issues with IMAP due to the fact their servers are constantly slammed with requests over and over again like a tidal wave.

Since going back to local-domain IMAP, all the server time-out issues have vanished.

Having "scores" of spam prevention is a good thing

With Gmail there’s no way to turn off the spam filter. It’s "always on". In addition you have no choice as to what level of spam prevention you’d like.

The only possible way to bypass the spam filter in Gmail is by heavily utilizing your Contact List. If an e-mail address is in the list, it’s whitelisted. If not, it’s susceptible to being flagged by the anti-spam system even if it’s someone you’ve traded e-mails with a million times before.

My web host provider uses SpamAssassin. I get five different levels of spam prevention with it, that being "Very Aggressive", "Aggressive", "Normal", "Relaxed" and "Permissive".

But wait, I can also employ the use of a "MaxScore" level, that being "Very Aggressive", "Aggressive", "Strict", "Moderate", "Neutral", "Permissive", "Loose", "Very Loose".

I sincerely appreciate having choice in this respect. The "scoring" system in SpamAssassin truly does kick ass in all the right places. It’s very empowering to the end user.

Folders, I missed you!

Google’s way of doing e-mail allows for no folders whatsoever. Instead they have "labels".

To be honest I was never hot on that idea.

Granted, I did my best with label use in Gmail – but the problem I ran into constantly is that when your label list gets large you have to scroll down to see them all. In addition there aren’t any "sub-labels". It’s all just one primary list.

And no matter what Greasemonkey scripts come out that improve upon the Gmail interface, the fact of the matter is that on its own Gmail is terrible to work with.

I never realized how much I liked folders until I went back to them.

Color coding, I missed you!

In Mozilla Thunderbird there’s this thing called Tags.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:


Notice that some of my e-mails are green and others red. I set up message filters in Thunderbird to specifically mark certain e-mails with colors so I can easily locate certain mails at any given time. I can also sort by tag.

This kicks ass.

I can use any color I want and as many tags as I want.

It has been a long-time gripe of mine that webmail, aside from just Gmail, needs user-enabled color coding options. I mean, seriously, how difficult would this be to implement? It’s just CSS!

Final notes

One rather harsh realization I came to is how much I depended on Google for mail.

Not smart. I changed my attitude rather dramatically in that respect.

Even though it appears Google will be around for as long as the internet exists, that doesn’t mean that all your e-mail communications should be handled by them. Google can and does make mistakes.

And yes, one could easily say that you should print any e-mail you consider important for archival purposes – but that’s not the point here.

The point is that if you put your trust into an e-mail service, that service should not have you second-guessing whether saving an e-mail means it will stay there or not.

If you use Gmail and like it, I’m not going to tell you to switch to something else.

But I will tell you to exercise caution when using Google mail.

Gmail is a beta product and while the world didn’t end just because I lost a few mails, it shook my faith enough to stop using the service.