Thursday, November 8, 2007

Switching to Gmail... Love over Gold

I've had a Gmail account for about... two years? Something like that. There have always been things about it I didn't like as much as MS Outlook, which I've been using (at work and home) for going on eight years. One major lack in Gmail is the "Preview" pane. I love that thing.

And I'll miss it. Because over the past few days, I've completely switched to Gmail. I've kept my POP email account (the one through Sanestorm, if you're someone who emails me), but I now access it solely through Gmail. Outgoing mail says it came from my Sanestorm account... incoming mail to that account goes right to Gmail. Since Gmail now supports the IMAP protocol, I was also able to copy/import all my old email messages from Outlook into Gmail folders, or to tag them based on the Outlook folders.

So... I've now got 8+ years (1.4 gig... about 12,500 messages) of email moved over to Gmail's web-based platform. Having only used the service sporadically, I expect it will take me some time to get used to it... but that's OK. We like learning new things, and there are already some benefits to Gmail (lightning fast search of all mail; tags instead of folders; conversation threads) that are easily apparent.

So why the post title? It refers (I hope you already know) to a Dire Strait's album. When thinking about switching from MS Outlook, there were only two things that really bugged me: 1) I've paid for Outlook, both originally and for updates; 2) Advertising on Gmail. Gold.

The proximate cause for my switch was that Outlook was that it stopped, for no reason, doing the "type-ahead" thing when I addressed emails. You know the feature... you start typing a name in the "To" field of the email, and it gives you a list of choices that closely match it. If you have 1,500 people in your contact database, losing that feature is really, really annoying. What's even more of a pain is that when type-ahead does work, it picks up email addresses from your previous mail, even if they haven't been entered into your contact database. So if I've been emailing with someone recently, but haven't added them to contacts, I can still get by with simply starting to type their email address. Until type-ahead breaks for no reason.

Then you have to find an email to/from that person and copy it. Or add them to contacts. Which still doesn't help much, because type-ahead is busted. Yes, I know where the option to turn this feature on/off is in Outlook. I turned it off and on a half dozen times. Nothing.

So, I decided to try to update Outlook again. Tried to do it using files from Microsoft's web site. We'll skip the sturm und drang, and let me simply say that it was painful, unsuccessful and almost resulted in me losing all my email from the last two years (since I last backed it up).

Which initiated a Web search (using Google, of course) for info on how completely one can switch email accounts to Gmail. I knew I could forward my POP account to any other email system... but that's just not... crunchy enough.

The switch was pretty easy. It involved these steps:

  • Exporting contacts from Outlook to a CSV file and importing that into Gmail
  • Setting up my Sanestorm email as another another account in Gmail settings
  • Making my Sanestorm account the primary one
  • Enabling POP in Gmail's settings
  • Enabling IMAP in Gmail's settings
  • Setting up an IMAP link in Outlook (which was the trickiest part, since -- I found out -- it takes awhile for the IMAP setting in Gmail to crank up)
  • Copying email folders/files in Outlook into the IMAP folders

That last step took some time, as pushing 1.4 gigs upstream is... well... time consuming. And Outook occasionally whined that I wasn't paying it enough attention, requiring a clicking of various buttons to keep the flow flowing.

But now it is done. And I've got those 12,000+ messages on a system that isn't going to get fried if my power goes ker-zooby. And I can check email from any browser, including the one on my Pocket PC/mobile phone. Call me crazy, but I trust Google's servers more than my little hard-drive. I will look into a method to back up Gmail... but in the meantime, I feel irrationally safer.

And type-ahead works in Gmail. So the ads don't bug me much.



PS: Dan and I get into the swing as guest artists at TheSuperest. 

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