There are three weeks to go until my MobileMe subscription is due for renewal. The service isn’t cheap at £59 so I thought I would look into possible free (and maybe even superior) replacements.
The only feature of MobileMe that I use on a daily basis is email. It has worked almost flawlessly for me and I love the way it integrates seamlessly with my Mac and iPhone. Deleting or moving an email on one it is almost immediately mirrored on the other.
I have had a Gmail address (or Google Mail as it has be called in Britain) for quite a while but have almost never used it. There didn’t seem much point when the MobileMe mail worked so well but I thought maybe now was the time to give it a try.
I spent hours (make that days) trying to get Gmail properly set up with my iPhone and with Apple Mail on my Mac. There were two reasons I had difficulties (and both were down to my own ignorance). The first is that I need IMAP Gmail for syncing between the server and my Mac and iPhone. Unfortunately Apple Mail sets up a POP account by default. Handy hint: Follow the directions on this Gmail help page – had I read this in the first place I probably could have saved myself an hour!
I then went on to set up my mailboxes as directed by this Gmail help page. And this is where I ran into my second problem. What was this “All Mail” folder? Why were my emails duplicated – one in the inbox, one in All Mail? Where were my deleted emails going to? Not the trash, that was for sure. After a day of tearing my hair out, moaning and fiddling with settings I finally looked at the Gmail help pages and all was revealed. All Mail is just a smart folder. The emails aren’t duplicated at all. (Why I didn’t read the help pages first I don’t know. I usually love instruction manuals. I won’t touch a new gadget until I’ve read at least half the manual.)
I have always downloaded all my MobileMe mail and stored it on my hard drive rather than leaving it on the server. With Gmail, the emphasis is much more on retaining all your mail on the server. You are given so much storage (currently over 7GB) that there is no need to delete an email. Just archive them all and they’ll still be there, in All Mail, should you ever need to refer to them again. Well, there has been much humming and hawing over whether I should carry on as I have been or should I embrace the cloud. I could potentially free up a fair bit of hard disk space by keeping all my email on Gmail’s server and just use Apple Mail as a more attractive interface. But I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with cloud computing. What if my internet was down? What if Gmail was down? After three days of pondering on this (with useful input from family and Twitter pals) and trying a multitude of different setups, I have finally decided to continue to download email to my hard drive for storage. I just feel more comfortable that way.
Advanced IMAP controls (in Google Mail Labs) has been very useful. It allows you to select which Gmail labels you don’t want to appear as folders in Apple Mail. So now I no longer have All Mail and Spam in my Mail sidebar. (Thank goodness. I didn’t much care to see how many spam emails I had building up.) I also mapped Sent Mail, Drafts and Bin to their corresponding folders in Mail. (Select the Gmail label in the Mail sidebar, click Mailbox (in the menu bar at the top), click Use This Mailbox For and pick the appropriate mailbox.) This makes everything look nice and tidy.
Now that everything is up and running properly I’m very pleased with Gmail and, assuming everything runs smoothly over the next three weeks, it is more than capable of replacing MobileMe Mail.