Back To Old School, Buh-Bye Gmail

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.


  1. It appears you are going to need to update your “20 Tips” PDF and remove number 1 -Switch to GMail and change it to something else, eh? 🙂
    I’ve always been happy using Outlook to be honest.
    Everything at my convenience – all together 🙂

  2. Well, Dave wrote that and not I. And in reality I wish there was something I could recommend besides Gmail for the best in mobility purposes but none springs to mind. You definitely lose mobility when not using Gmail, no question.

    Being that I don’t use e-mail on a cell phone I don’t miss Gmail all that much, but if I were, oh yeah.. that would be a problem. 🙂

  3. I’ve used Outlook forever… in combination with Hotmail for those I don’t wish to get too close. I recently switched to T’bird as I’m experimenting with Mint4.0. Speaking of Outlook though, I’ve never had trouble away from home when my laptop can’t find a wifi, getting my mail off my domain’s server. I can even elect to leave certain items there, so as to be available when I can hookup with Outlook/Thunderbird.

    Not a problem when one gets used to it.

  4. do anyone have any experience losing data stored in gmail..?
    i was talking about ‘gmail drive’..

    thank you rich for that word of caution.
    infact, i cant leave gmail as i am completely chained by a lot of gmail services..
    but i will take up your words and archive all the important mails that i would require


  5. David Risley says:

    Drew, I am still quite happy with Gmail and continue to recommend it. Google is a web-based service, and there have been sparse reports of deleted emails. See this story from Techcrunch:

    It goes without saying that the absolute most secure way of dealing with email is to store everything locally on your computer – aka download it. However, you lose a lot of flexibility when you do that. The future of email is in the “cloud” – aka web-based.

    Personally, I would trust a company with the resources of Google to safeguard my email perhaps more than my ISP or my own hard drive. Rich’s experience is most likely a fluke, and he made the decision to jump ship. That would not have been my decision.

    Just my two cents.

  6. I think you are all severly misguided in your thinking here. How can you possibly say that “the absolute most secure way of dealing with email is to store everything locally”. That is ridiculous. Hard drive crash. Stolen laptop. Enough said on that topic.

    On this idea that you selectively lost an email, that is just crazy. It doesn’t happen, its user error. I know you think you took very good care of it, but programs are deterministic, humans aren’t. If you read that techcrunch article and sources, you’ll see that no accounts of “lost” email on Gmail have _ever_ been substantiated. Finally, all those features you talk about wanting (color messages, folders, etc.) are available with Gmail, either through the IMAP interface to the client or, most of them are directly available through the web interface natively or with some greasemonkey scripts.

    So, its too bad you left Google Apps. Too bad you went back in time to the legacy way of doing things. I hope you’ll give Google a try again in the future, maybe when you’re serve crashes and you lose everything instead of just accidentally deleting one message.

  7. David Risley says:


    The issue Rich posed was an email being deleted outside of his control. When you have the email stored locally, you have control over that. And only an idiot would fail to back it up such that a hard drive crash matters.

    That said, I agree with you on the rest, and I think my comment and my tip in the PDF report makes that clear.

  8. I’ve been using GMAIL since May, 2004, since it was a private, invite-only beta. I never had any problem with it. Without any hesitation, I would recommend it to someone who is looking for email.

    Maybe some day we all can see the “Gmail Disaster” (that’s what people are calling it, right?) and stop using it. Even a little bug can be a huge tragedy, and they won’t fix it.

    I have heard that even though you delete an email, it’ll ALWAYS be on the GMAIL server.

  9. Lorne Babcock Sr says:


    I read something about that somewhere. Why anyone would use such a service is beyond me.

    I have been using my local ISP for e-mail service since the beginning. There is no server outages except on the occasion were upgrades need to be made. Spam is not an issue.

    I use a program called MailWasher and that resolves any spam issues that I have and those are few and far between. Our ISP has a spam filter which can be turned owner off and I have never needed to use it.

    About the only reason I can think of for anyone to use Gmail is because it’s a peer thing. The commentator suggested that he was considered to be slightly off the mainstream because he decided not to use Gmail anymore.

    That has to rank right up there with the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life and I am just about as old as dirt.

    Peer pressure and political correctness will destroy us all. We were sheep before the ridiculous concept of political correctness reared its ugly head and now we are blind sheep. We are so blind that we have become lemmings and will simply walk off the cliff in lockstep under enormous and extremely foolish peer pressure.

    Come on people, wake up. Do your own thing and don’t worry too much and don’t spend too much time peering over your shoulder to see if it’s okay to do what you are doing.

  10. I’ve never had a problem with Gmail, and I think it’s awesome.

    You pointed out yourself it’s still a BETA, and it’s free. So why are you moaning? Considering I have never had any “lost” emails, and the spam settings have always been fine for me, why pay?

  11. Ah.. my mistake.. next time I’ll read the author title next time! 🙂 Please allow me to take back my previous mention about the PDF and Gmail and I’ll read it properly next time.

    I do agree on both sides of the coin – web based is the way to go for portability but at the same time you want to have copies backed up and that’s why I use Outlook in conjunction with Hotmail. Outlook connector allows me the flexibility to download my emails to my laptop HD and at the same time, they remain ‘backed up’ on Hotmail’s server and available to retrieve regardless of where I am. You can then back up the emails to a portable HD if required once you have them downloaded.

    I guess everyone has different preferences based on uses and needs and mine is to access to my email both via the web and on my HD.

    Great article though regardless of preference!!

  12. I’m another one of the people who are happy with it. Although it’s not perfect, it seems that other free providers do not come close to Gmail to be honest.

    All this BETA lark, too…it seems it’s “cool” to be in BETA, haha.

  13. Jame Squire says:

    Having used both Gmail and Hotmail (which carriies most of my old junk subscriptions), you can use labels easily as folders. One click on the label (read “folder) list gives you access to all emails with that tag. You can also color them anyway you like.

    Have you checked any of the labs features in Gmail also – You’d be pleasantly surprised. Hotmail can’t do half the stuff Gmail can do. So far I find Hotmail is great for users who have difficulty changing habits (from Hotmail). Enjoy your ads and junkmail by going back to Hotmail!

    • Welcome to 2009! Firefox + Adblock Plus = NO ADS.
      Haven’t seen an ad in Hotmail for…. well it’s been so damn long I couldn’t even say…

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