GMail, IMAP, Sparrow and Mail. How We Got Here and What I Am Doing Now

I’ve been using Gmail for a while now, long before I liked washing all of my mail through it’s spam filters before downloading to my iPhone, but it hasn’t been so great for me lately.

It’s slower. There has been some downtime for me. And something strange that has been happening more and more lately…

Gmail does not give you control over how often your POP accounts are checked. Where at home, you may tell it to check every 5 to 10 minutes, Gmail does not give you this option, leaving you to trust Gmail to know how often it needs to check.

I have recently been having issues where I will be going about my day, thinking that I am having a very light email day, surprisingly. When I get back to my desk and my email settings, Gmail will tell me that it hasn’t checked my mail for 17 or 18 hours and when I force it to check, 30 or 40 messages will appear in my inbox.

This is unacceptable.

Separately from this, I have started rolling my own servers. What does that mean Steve? Well, by that I just mean I am no longer beholden to your run of the mill hosting plans from the Media Temple(s), who I love, or Dreamhost(s), who I don’t love, of the world.

A few clicks of a mouse on Linode, Slicehost or Rackspace and you have your own little Linux install waiting for whatever you’d like to do to it. This is where my hosting is going. The downside to this is email. Hosting plans come with email, cloud computing doesn’t. Sure I can install my own email server on the box, but is handling email and spam for me and the people I host email addresses for really in anyone’s best interest?

So now I need an email solution. Hosted Gmail is an option. But just because you pay for it, doesn’t mean it’s going to work any better. I have heard from some people that hosted Gmail is even worse. Maybe that’s because they ARE paying for it and expect more.

There are a few good options for dedicated IMAP hosting. Some of the better options are FastMail, RackSpace and FuseMail. They all have their advantages, so investigate for yourself. Many people may be hesitant to pay for email, thinking that it is something they have had for free all this time, but if you want reliable delivery, good spam protection and multiple ways to access your mail, don’t hesitate to pay for a good service. $25 a year is not a lot for a good online service.

The convenience of Gmail always won out for me because I checked my mail in so many places. At home, on my phone, at work. But since leaving full-time employ and working for myself from home, I find that most of my email is done right at my home computer. So, is a web based solution really necessary at this point?

When using Gmail, I only used the web interface when I had to. I would recommend to anyone using Gmail to download Mailplane. It’s Mac only, but we are all using Macs here right. I mean we all want to be productive. It’s a great desktop App for managing your Gmail accounts, wether you have one or multiple. I wish Mailplane would allow for other email accounts as well, so I could still use it. Because like I said way back in the beginning of this ramble, I am getting away from Gmail.

We now arrive at desktop alternatives to Mailplane on the Mac. Supporting IMAP and being nice to use are really the only prerequisites. At this point I am working with two. and Sparrow, available in the App Store.

I prefer Sparrow. The interface is nice to look at and minimal, reminding me more of a Twitter client than a mail app. It’s easy to get in and out quickly. But does everything I need it to and Sparrow is missing two things I think I need it to have.

I prefer, almost need, a unified inbox. The way Sparrow is designed, it is easy to not notice the new message badge down in your list of email accounts. Yes, there are other indicators to new mail, but a unified inbox is the preferred method of solving the problem, at least in my case, and is keeping me from completely recommending it. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I have too many email addresses.

Not necessarily needed, but definitely wanted, would be for a way to spawn a window of tags/folders to drag and drop messages to for archiving. Or, any improvement to the archiving system. The current method of right clicking and selecting ‘Archive and Label’ is not working for me.

These two changes would probably get me to move permanently to Sparrow, and certainly recommend it. Until then, I will probably use Mail as my primary email solution, occasionally jumping into Sparrow.