So, I did it at last: I switched to Gmail. The change happened unexpectedly and suddenly, when after years of sponging from generous friends, I needed to start paying for my own hosting for once.
This switch meant reconfiguring a whole bunch of things, including email accounts, and I came to the conclusion that this was as good a time as any to put Gmail to the test, and properly this time.
The first task was to get all my mail from an existing IMAP account and into Gmail. There’s no easy way to do so using my client of choice, Eudora, but a friend gave me a great tip for doing it using Mutt; simply tag all the messages required (this was easy: all messages in my archive folder) then bounce them en masse to a specially-created address at my Gmail account which archived them them all, bypassing the inbox.
That done, I just had to settle down with Gmail. Little things took time to get used to; things like remembering to switch to a browser tab for email tasks, rather than hit Command+Tab to switch to a different application. And things like adding attachments via a dialog box, rather than just dragging them into place.
Here are some things I like so far:
Search It’s just so fast, and it always finds what I need.
Threads Viewing conversations is incredibly convenient. Messages appear in context; it even makes it easier to make sense of top-quoting.
Camino Gmail works flawlessly in my favorite browser.
Sensible keyboard shortcuts Learning Gmail’s shortcuts has been easy because they make sense and I find them easy to remember.
And some things I don’t like so much:
Pauses Sometimes, maybe once a day, network lag makes Gmail slow down. I might have to wait several seconds for something to happen.
No ‘delete’ shortcut The only problem with the keyboard shortcuts is that there isn’t one for “Delete this message/conversation”. Google would prefer it if I archived everything, but that’s not in my nature. I only want to archive things that will genuinely be useful in the future, not things that are either useless or archived for me elsewhere (as is the case with the majority of mailing lists).
A slight nagging worry that this is not a good idea I don’t know how else to put it; most of Gmail’s features are very appealing and incredibly useful, but deep down there’s a nagging voice in my head that’s saying: “You can’t trust them long-term! Who knows who might own Google in future? Who knows what they’re doing with all that data? Get out!”
And with that nagging thought in mind, I remain undecided about the best thing to do in the long term. For the time being, I’m sticking with Gmail, but that could easily change.
(It is, of course, entirely co-incidental that this should happen so soon after I wrote an O’Reilly PDF, Your Life in Web Apps which goes into some detail on the pros and cons of switching your data, including email, to a third-party service like Gmail. In that document I warn people to be careful about whom they trust with their data. I’ve heeded my own advice, but that doesn’t necessarily make me entirely happy with the decision…)