On flexibility of popular email services
September 20th, 2005
Ted Leung posts an interesting view on impacts of recent developments of GMail and Yahoo! Mail:
Just when we finally achieved “model-view separation” for e-mail (IMAP and IMAP clients), the webmail world smashed those things back together. If Gmail and Yahoo start a competition around innovations in e-mail client features — something we’re desperately in need of — it reduces my ability to get the features I want because my mail data, my mail address, and the user interface for mail are not just bundled together, they’re welded together.
I can’t agree more. Flexibility to manage emails and email related data the way we want, together with reliability, should be the essence of every email system/setup. You want to have access to your email wherever you are, pull emails from different accounts including your own domains (even “host” them via MX records if you wish), be able to handle each one of those through a single interface (using different identities, signatures, etc). You also want to be able to easily back up messages or transfer them to another place if the need arises, synchronize with other accounts, easily import and export address books (what ever happened to writable LDAP?). Not to mention efficient and flexible spam blocking, rules, forwarding, alerting, searching…
GMail and Yahoo! Mail have attractive features but lack complete openness. For example, GMail doesn’t allow you to export your contacts (!?) and Yahoo makes external fetching of messages a cumbersome task for non-paying users (I’m talking about fetching into external accounts, such as regularly getting your Yahoo mail into GMail and the like). I guess we have to expect such things from free services. They need to keep you locked in. Free webmail is never free.
However, specialized (non-free) email services, such as FastMail.FM, Runbox or MailSnare do offer full flexibility. You are a paying customer and your mail is your mail. Their goal is to keep you as a customer and they do it by providing advanced and useful tools to boost your email experience. And yes, all of them provide IMAP, which, as Ted nicely puts it, allows a neat model-view separation.