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email follies, late 2011 edition

I'm what you'd call an email power user, as in the kind who uses mail a lot and requires what most people would consider 'extreme' functionality.

This year I tried simplifying my email setup, and as a result lost about a month's worth of mail. Fortunately none of the sent mail got whacked, and what was whacked didn't spell out the end of days or anything of the sort.

I'm now using POP "synchronized" between two computers and one Hotmail account. No, I'm not using Hotmail but it has filter capability for incoming POP accounts that make it a darn good cloud-based mail backup in addition to local. I put synchronized in quotes because the way I have it set up isn't technically sync but rather my own inventive way of keeping the copies of mail the same on both computers (PC and laptop) and the cloud.

When I first started using internet in 1996, almost nobody used webmail. Yes, it existed, but wow did it suck. Only 2MB (barely over the size of a floppy disk) of storage, no POP unless you paid for it and tagline ads on every outgoing mail. As such, most people, including myself, used a POP mail account, usually from the ISP. It's funny to think about it now, because the first PC I used to connect to the internet with had a 130MB hard drive, and the total mail I have in storage now is 2GB. Crazy to think about. Anyway...

I, like millions of others, used Outlook Express 5 and then 6 because it worked really nicely. That client is super-light on its feet (it barely takes up any memory) and mail was fast-fast-fast even on a slow computer.

Since switching back to a Thunderbird 3.1 POP setup, email is now a joy to use again. But before I get into that, if you use webmail like Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, Gmail or whatever - that's fine. I'm not telling you to stop using whatever you use. What I'm going to describe here is just my crappy experiences with webmail and IMAP.

I know enough about how email works now to keep all my bases covered, so to speak. If my account gets compromised, I get locked out for whatever reason and all the mail in the web account is deleted, I have local backups (yes, plural) and a separate cloud backup. If my hard drive had some massive failure, yes that would suck but my mail is backed up elsewhere and on cloud. Basically speaking, I have what in the corporate world is called disaster recovery protocol all set up and working, so even in the worst case scenario, the mail can keep flowing and I don't lose any of it.

I've pretty much confirmed at this point that using mail in the browser sucks no matter the provider. What happens is that since the session auto-refreshes, just leaving the mail open in a tab sitting there will munch up so much system resource it's ridiculous. It doesn't matter which browser you use or what webmail you use. Leave it open and in about 2 hours the tab or your whole browser will slow down to a crawl and might even crash.

Seriously, if you want to see your browser speed up instantly, don't leave webmail open. Use an instant messenger (e.g. Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, GTalk, Pidgin or whatever) to get notifications of new mails instead.

IMAP, which I used before switching back to POP, doesn't play nice for any folder with high message counts. If you have under 2,000 messages in any given folder, sure, it'll sync fine (at least on a desktop computer). Go over that and you're asking for trouble. The sync will screw up due to IMAP's ridiculously complicated way of working and no matter which client you use, the connection will choke, forcing a restart of the app. It's just a nightmare to deal with.

Very recently I ran into the problem of an outgoing mail server sending me nastygrams because I was sending out mail too fast, which happens on all webmail providers. Yeah, I send and receive a lot of mail - that's where it's there for, right? Anyway, if the outgoing server "feels" you're sending too much mail, you'll either be forced to deal with deferred delivery or outright told you can't send mail for an hour or maybe even longer. Since switching back to the POP way of doing mail with a client, I have an add-on in Thunderbird that allows me to delay sending out mail on my own terms so I don't get nastygrams spit back at me. For example, in TB I can simply instruct to send mail 5 minutes later or whatever length of time I want instead of right now. That option allows me to completely avoid any mail server from giving me crap about sending mail too fast, because it won't be.

Modern email just doesn't work because it's not designed to accommodate people who send and receive a lot of mail such as yours truly. I've read horror stories aplenty from those, particularly in the business world, who've had webmail absolutely flat-out fail faceplant style and go straight back to Outlook. In my case, I went straight back to Thunderbird because I don't need Outlook, nor do I want to pay for it.

Yeah, it's true, now I can't sync my mail with my phone. I don't care. If someone wants to contact me on mobile, they can ring up or text me because that's what it's there for.

All I know is that now I'm a happy email user again and it works the way I want it to. I gave webmail and IMAP it's fair shot (again), and it just didn't work out, so I'm doing mail old-school style. For me, it works.


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