Switch to Gmail & IMAP?

I have three primary e-mail accounts: Melbourne Business School, Yahoo! Mail Plus, and insanityWORKS.org. I also have three secondary ones: The University of Melbourne, Gmail, and Hotmail. I forward UniMelb to MBS, Gmail to Yahoo!, and I check Hotmail via a browser periodically. I POP mail from my primary accounts to my laptop and I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my e-mail client. That is:

E-mail Changes Blog Post 1

When I'm away from my laptop, however, I usually only check my primary accounts. To do that, I use the MBS webmail interface, Yahoo!'s excellent webmail interface, and I POP my insanityWORKS mail into Yahoo!. That is:

E-mail Changes Blog Post 2

This system has worked well for the last seven years because I've always had one primary computer to work on (which, for the last four years, has been my laptop). Now things are starting to change and I'm tempted to (a) move all my e-mail online and (b) move to one primary e-mail account (Gmail) and five secondary ones (all the rest). That is:

E-mail Changes Blog Post 3

Here's why...

Three Major Changes

First, I've become a lot more mobile and I increasingly want access to all my old e-mails (and some of my data) regardless of where I am and which computer I'm working on. This wouldn't be a problem if I was to carry my laptop (and, therefore, all my e-mail and data) with me everywhere I went, but that's not something I want to do all the time. Also, in the future I want to use my phone to access my e-mail and I simply can't do that with my current setup.

Second, cloud computing has come a long way over the last couple of years and Yahoo!, which is by far my preferred e-mail provider, lacks a number of cloud computing features that I really want. For example, Google Reader is much better than Yahoo!'s RSS reader and Microsoft's SkyDrive is much better than Yahoo! Briefcase. I also prefer Google's Calendar to Yahoo!'s, I really like Gmail's labelling mechanism, and Microsoft's Live Mesh sounds very exciting as well. In other words, I want to start using cloud computing-like services and Yahoo! alone isn't giving them to me.

Third, we live in an increasingly connected world. My current system of downloading all my e-mail to my laptop works well because it assumes that I'll be doing a lot of e-mailing (and, in general, computing) offline and from one computer. Increasingly, that is not the case. Instead, I now use communication tools like Facebook and Twitter for which you need to be constantly online, I don't limit my e-mail usage to just my laptop, and I even access the 'net and my e-mail through my mobile phone (though I don't do much of that right now because it's really expensive on my current phone plan!).

Two Implications

This means two things. First, I am seriously considering moving all my e-mail to the 'cloud'. I want this for seamless and synchronized e-mail access across multiple computers and devices. And since I am frequently online (or at least in mobile phone signal range) not being able to access my e-mail because I don't have an Internet (or mobile phone) connection is no longer an issue.

For this to work, though, I will need an IMAP-based e-mail solution and not a POP-based one. IMAP will not only let me sync my e-mail across multiple computers and devices, it will let me work offline (before re-syncing) as well. 

Second, because of that IMAP requirement, I am seriously considering making Gmail my sole primary e-mail account. In fact, I'll start to POP e-mail from all my other accounts into this one as well (see diagram above).

Why? Not only is Gmail the only one that offers IMAP (which is why it should be my only e-mail interface), it's free and it gives me tonnes of storage, great calendar integration, and excellent e-mail search capabilities. It is also reliable, universally accessible, and, once I switch, I won't have to take regular backups of my e-mail folders any more.

I could, of course, use other (paid) IMAP services, but I think I'd be better off using Gmail for all the additional benefits I get from it.

One Decision

So I have a big decision to make. Do I move all 2.1GB of e-mail archives off my laptop, out of my direct control, and into the cloud? Some people have done that and are happy with it. Others didn't have such a great time. Until I try it myself, I don't know how things will turn out for me. What might be useful, though, is if I was to do a bit of e-mail housekeeping before uploading everything to Gmail. Doing that would be a pain up-front, but it would make life a lot easier going forward.

Actually, maybe the bigger issue is this: should I commit myself to using only Gmail (via IMAP) from this point on? I guess another way to think of this is to ask myself whether this is better than the status quo. That is: should I commit myself to using only my laptop (with occasional backups) to store all my e-mail? Or, to get the best of both worlds, does it make more sense to store my e-mail both on Gmail and to maintain a local copy of all that e-mail in Thunderbird as well? The answer, in theory, is pretty obvious. Naturally, it's much harder to go ahead and actually implement the solution.

I think I'll start off with a baby step: I'll activate IMAP on my Gmail account and will start using that with Thunderbird. I'll even try uploading copies of some of my old e-mails into Gmail to see how it goes. If that goes well, I'll spend the next few weeks moving all my folders over one-by-one. Before I know it, I'll be good to go. Let's just hope things go as smoothly as I've just made them sound!