Kicking Google out of my life, Part 4: Goodbye, Gmail

In my quest to abandon Google, I found an alternative to Gmail that both supports Open Source and protects privacy.

Super-Fast Recap 2000™: I am currently giving myself 30 days to remove all Google products and services from my life because I have simply become too dependent upon on them. To date, both ChromeOS and Android have been replaced with other operating systems, and I am keeping a running tally of the costs (time and money) of replacing everything with non-Google (and, because I'm that sort of guy, primarily Free and Open Source) solutions.

With 24 days to go and my personal hardware having been De-Google-ized, I now turn my attention to the vast array of Google services. Services that I have come to rely upon in both my work and personal life. Services that, if they were to disappear today, would leave me squarely in the Stone Age.

Let's get the big one out of the way right up front. It's time to replace Gmail.

Gmail is, for lack of a better word, huge. We're talking radiation-fueled, lizard-monster huge. Gmail is the Godzilla of the email world. And, depending on whom you ask, it's either here to save humanity from a giant space moth… or to destroy Tokyo. Maybe both.

Read Part 3: A surprise Android replacement emerges 

In May, Google announced that Gmail had acquired over 900 million users. To put this staggeringly large number in perspective, that is more than the total population (every man, woman and child) in the U.S., Canada, and the entire European Union. Combined.

Until now, I've been one of them.

And, let's be honest, for good reason. Gmail is a solid, reliable (mostly) email service that tears through tens of thousands of emails like… like… a thing that does something really fast. Oh yeah. Plus… you don't have to pay a dime to use it. That's always nice, too.

I'm not going to turn this into a diatribe on the various reasons why you might not want to be using Gmail. Maybe it's a security/privacy thing. Maybe it's a control thing. Or you don't like being advertised to in your email client. Regardless of my own reasoning for leaving Gmail behind, here is how I've decided to do it.

First of all, I should say that there are – in my opinion – two distinct types of options that most of us would consider when trying to find a way to replace Gmail.

  1. Setting up and administering your own email server.
  2. Selecting another email service to put your trust, and data, in.

I started out thinking I was going to start down the "run my own email server" route. Which, I won't lie, I was 99% sure was an endeavor that I would quickly abandon in favor of finding a new email service provider to do all the hard work for me. And, by "99% sure," I mean "that is what I immediately decided to do."

It's not that running your own server is a terribly complicated task. It's really not (at least not for the most part). But email? That's a whole other level of stressful and complicated. I've seen email SysAdmins age 10 years over the course of a single sleepless weekend. No, this was a rabbit hole I simply did not want to go down. Not even with "turn-key" email server packages such as Mail-in-a-Box (which I've never fully set up but have heard good things about). No, sir. It was clearly time to find myself an email service provider to replace my beloved Gmail.

Since I was leaving Gmail behind, it made sense to seek out a service that would be an improvement in some of the weakest areas of Google's email service. To start with, I didn't want an email service that advertised to me. Or, even worse, data mined my email to figure out how to more effectively advertise to me. That just wasn't going to fly anymore. Likewise, security (and privacy) had to, of course, be paramount.

After giving it some serious thought – and soliciting the advice of friends on (ironically) Google+ – I realized there was one option that really stood out above the rest.

Kolab Now.

The company is based in Switzerland, which, as it turns out, has some pretty strict privacy laws. On top of this, the company behind Kolab Now states right in its Terms of Service that "only the necessary logs and debug information are kept," and that they build the entire system using Open Source software. Check, check, and check.

Oh, side note. Check out its Terms of Service. I read the whole thing. Took just a few minutes, and it was gloriously understandable. The damn thing almost read like a manifesto on freedom, Open Source, and personal privacy. But not a long one. It was like a pamphlet you'd get handed outside a supermarket. For a company holding so much of my data, that's exactly the sort of fanaticism about privacy that I want to see.

One additional part of the Terms of Service caught my eye.

"There are no proprietary components that would stop you from setting up your own server for the same purpose, and migrate your data from Kolab Now to that server."

I love this so much, I could marry it.

They're also the company behind the recently successful crowdfunding campaign to fund the Roundcube Next open source webmail client. I'm a big fan of companies helping to fund Open Source. And I wanted to support that. So I signed up.

Their email service isn't free… but it isn't terribly expensive either. The basic email account (they offer additional groupware type services as well) runs a bit shy of $5 USD per month. Which means less than $60 per year. Again. Not free. But not expensive.

(Now seems like a good time to mention one of the other email services that came recommended by several friends: FastMail. I haven't used FastMail, but its services do look fairly solid and their pricing is in the same rough ballpark as Kolab Now.)

The setup for Kolab Now was nice and easy – as you'd expect. Once everything was up and working, I went in to my Gmail account and turned on the forwarding of all emails to my Kolab Now email address. So all my mail will still get seen while I'm transitioning over to the other email address. It might take me a while before I've changed all of my accounts – on the various websites strewn across the Internet – to my new email account. But the process has begun. And I now have no need to ever open the Gmail website… or the apps. Which is pretty nifty.

The webmail experience is excellent – I haven't found any features that I miss from Gmail. Performance has been great and there is not a single ad in sight, which is just plain delightful. On my tablets and laptops I'm using IMAP to access my email with native email clients, which works like a charm. Because IMAP has existed for roughly 8 billion years. And it works.

All-in-all, I'm fairly excited about this change. Sure, I simply traded dependence on Gmail for dependence on Kolab. But, in that trade, I also get some pretty significant improvements in privacy and Open Source-y-ness. Which, for me, is well worth the few dollars I'll spend on this per month.

I've added the yearly cost for the Kolab Now service to the total, running cost chart. That way you can get a full sense of what your "first year sans-Google" would actually cost you (if you did things the way I did).

Next up: Time to replace Google Drive and Google Docs.


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