Vincent Cheung

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Putting more trust into Gmail

I've been having problems with my school e-mail. It's periodically not letting me get new mail. It's a bit of a problem with Thunderbird and my school server. I used to use Outlook Express, but it didn't do IMAP well, so I switched to Thunderbird, which also lets me check my Hotmail (not that I use that anymore). Anyways. Thunderbird is being dumb now. It tells me I have new mail when I don't. It's also causing some locking problems on my school's server causing me to not get my mail, which was very stressful the deadline of the MSR Fellowship when I was waiting for reference letters through e-mail. This might have been caused from me running Thunderbird on my school desktop, home desktop, and my laptop at the same time. Further, I've been getting a lot of spam (like maybe 10-15 a day, mostly to mailing lists to groups to which I belong; this isn't a lot of spam, but before the summer, I got ZERO), and Thunderbird's not doing a good job of detecting spam. So, I set-up e-mail forwarding on the unix e-mail server to forward mail to my gmail (by creating a ".forward" file on the e-mail server with my gmail address in it). There are some advantages and disadvantages for this:

Advantages:
  1. Reliability
    • School e-mail server is flaky sometimes, the worst example was a little more than a year ago when we went a few days without e-mail service. Gmail has been very reliable for me, though some people (*cough* S) have reported having problems, at least before.

  2. Spam filtering
    • Gmail's spam filtering is quite good

  3. Consolidation of e-mail
    • Everything's in one place and I only need to check one place for all my mail now.

  4. Still appear as if I'm sending from my school's address
    • The "From" address in my e-mails can still be from my school address by setting it up in the settings. I like this because I want to maintain the separability between school and personal. Plus, it's more professional to send e-mail from my school account than Gmail.

  5. Ubiquitous access
    • I can get access to my mail from anywhere. I had the squirrel mail crap for web access of my school e-mail, and that's pretty flaky and doesn't really work for me. Alternatively, ssh is not convenient when I'm on a stranger's computer.

  6. Threading
    • I love Gmail's e-mail threading (putting replies to e-mails in the same place as the original e-mail). It makes it much easier to track conversations and e-mails. You go to one place to see everything that was said about one topic rather than having to go through 20 different e-mails spread across 10 different people and over the course of a week (some people delete the quoted text). Plus you can tag the whole bundle once as opposed to having to move each message as they come into a folder. Thunderbird's message threading doesn't work as well.

  7. Integration with Google Calendar
    • I can create events in Gmail, which will add events to my calendar and Gmail will parse the e-mail to figure out when the event, eg. meeting or talk, will be and where it is.

  8. Searching
    • Easier and faster to search in Gmail. Plus I can use desktop search.

  9. Starred e-mails
    • Starring e-mails is better than leaving e-mails "unread" to highlight them.

  10. Saved drafts
    • I can start an e-mail and finish it in a different location.

  11. Accurate and instant new mail notifications
    • Gmail notifications from the GTalk client and the OS X Gmail notifier work well and I don't have to have it poll the e-mail server every 5 or 10 min. When I get new mail, I know right away.

  12. System admins can stop bitching to me about the size of my inbox
    • I have more than enough space on Gmail, as I'm only using 13% of my space (374 MB), though I get a lot of attachments to my school account, so my free space will be reducing at a much faster pace now. Hopefully I'm not here much longer though :p


Disadvantages:
  1. Consolidation of e-mail
    • Everything's in one place and I don't have that separation between personal and school. I have labels set-up, but then my labels get all junked up. Right now I'm using "PSI", "PSI-Talk", "PSI-Vision", "PSI-CompBio", etc., which is kinda messy. I need tag bundles, like in delicious.

  2. E-mails in multiple places
    • Some e-mails are on the server, accessible through Thunderbird, and all new e-mails are in Gmail. I didn't import all my old mail, so if I need old mail, I have to switch back and forth. Finding e-mails isn't too much of a problem thanks to desktop search though.

  3. Putting all my eggs in one basket
    • Kinda stuck with Gmail now. It would be difficult to just get my school e-mail off of Gmail to back-up for offline access, eg. in case Gmail goes the way of Mailblocks. I can use POP to get it all, but only in one place and it's just a mess then (no labels).

  4. Attachments
    • Being able to send using my school's smtp server has advantages when sending attachments b/c I think it has a higher limit than Gmail, though I shouldn't be sending attachments that large through e-mail anyways. For filtering reasons this may be important as well.

  5. Ads
    • I don't see them, but they are there.


So, in general things are better with this switch, but not perfect. The big problem is separation. Labels help, but my mail is still all mixed together, so school is a constant presence now (bad). I think there's a Firefox plug-in to color code tags, which could help. I guess I could have my mail sent to a different Gmail account, but it'd be inconvenient to have to check two places as I can't be logged into both simultaneously unless I use two different browsers (though I'm guessing there's a Firefox plugin for that).

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