30 Days With the Cloud: Day 7
Email is my primary method of communication, and a crucial function of my computer and mobile devices. As I spend 30 Days With the Cloud, I need to explore the Webmail options, and make sure I have access to my email from the cloud.
Email was one of the first tools to embrace the Web and make the transition to "cloud-based". Services like Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and Gmail have millions upon millions of users. The actual numbers may be a bit misleading, though, because many people--like me--have accounts on all of them (multiple accounts in some cases), but don't really use any of them.
Choosing a Webmail Service
With all of the various webmail options out there, the question is "which one should I use?" As I said, I have used a variety of webmail clients off and on over the years. They all work in terms of providing the basic service of sending and receiving email.
Some of the things worth considering are the junkmail filtering and malware protection capabilities of each service, and its track record in terms of outages and issues. None of them are perfect, though, and the big names like Gmail and Hotmail are relatively equal.
All else being equal, it makes sense to choose the webmail service that ties in with my choice of productivity platform. If I were using Microsoft Office Web apps, Hotmail would make the most sense, but since I am going with Google Docs, it makes sense to choose Gmail to handle my webmail needs for this series.
Taking My Email to the Cloud
There is one big problem with switching to Gmail--I have my own domain that I use for my primary email address. I guess some people might welcome the clean start that comes with setting up a new email account, but I have been using the same email address personally and professionally for years.
I want people to be able to find and contact me, so even if I planned to abandon local software for good and just live in the cloud indefinitely, I would not want to abandon my email address.
This is simple enough to fix. I can just add my primary email account to Gmail so that any email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will be delivered to Gmail. Voila! Now I can receive, read, and respond to my emails from the cloud while still using my established primary email address.
Keeping the Cloud Local
I have two big complaints about relying on webmail. First, I don't really like any of the webmail interfaces. Second, I don't want my access to my email to be limited by my cloud connectivity.
Google does have a Gmail Offline app that works with Google's Chrome Web browser to allow me to read, search, and respond to emails while offline. I like Microsoft Outlook, though, and I would prefer to use my familiar email client. Just because I am using a cloud-based email service doesn't mean I have to use its cloud-based interface.
I set up Gmail as a POP account in Outlook so I can stick with the email client I am most comfortable with, and have my email downloaded locally so it is available even if I happen to be flying at 30,000 feet, or lose my Internet connection for some reason.
I also have my Gmail account set up on my iPhone and iPad. The iOS mail client isn't my favorite, but it does the trick and at least my mail is still downloaded so I can read and respond to messages even when I am not connected to the cloud. Of course, my responses won't be delivered until I connect again, but at least I can remain productive with or without the cloud.
It seems sort of circular and convoluted, but it gets the job done. My established email address is set up to deliver to Gmail so I can get my email in the cloud, and my Gmail is set up to download and store my email locally in Microsoft Outlook so I can still access it even if I am not connected to the cloud.
I want to stress, though, that my choice of Gmail is not necessarily a ringing endorsement of Gmail, or any sort of commentary on rival webmail services like Hotmail. What I am finding as I go through this cloud journey is that many of the tools and services are interrelated, and that the path of least resistance is to choose the integrated collection that works best for the big picture.