Prologue

I’ve been a Gmail user pretty much since day 1, when it was still an invite-only service in 2004.1 Not anymore. Over the past month I’ve migrated most of my email to Fastmail and I’m extremely happy with the result.

Why bother? Well, I guess it won’t come to you as a shock that I’ve felt progressively more uncomfortable with how Google (and the like) are handling my personal data. I’ve also been getting quite frustrated with attempts to make email/my inbox “smarter”. I never needed a “priority inbox”, auto-categorization of email, etc. Simple is good. Just put the newest emails on the top and I’ll sort it out from there.

On the other hand, Gmail is really hard to replace/compete with:

  • It’s free and you get a lot with the free plan (e.g. 15GB of storage).
  • It ties perfectly with Google’s productivity suite (e.g. Google Docs, Google Drive, etc) and I’m a heavy user of it.
  • It’s fast, secure and really sleek. Clearly Google’s vast resources have been put to good use here.

That’s not easy to give up. I’ve tried a few other e-mail providers over the years, but I never found someone compelling enough to make me do a real switch. HEY was pretty close to making the cut, but it’s still missing some features that I deem essential (e.g. you can’t have multiple domains attached to your account, there’s no way to use HEY without its apps, there’s no calendar). Enter Fastmail.

Moving to Fastmail

I’ve never heard of Fastmail, until I started to explore more actively Gmail alternatives in the past 3 months. At first I had quickly discarded it, because of its ancient looking UI2, but once I got past this superficial stuff I realized it’s a fantastic service:

  • It packs all the features I needed (e.g. custom domains, aliases, calendar, IMAP/JMAP)
  • It has great customer support
  • They are working towards improving the global email standards (check out JMAP)
  • It’s half the price of HEY

Sure, it doesn’t look fancy, I’ve ran into a couple of bugs, and it doesn’t have the best search in the world, but it gets the job done. I’ve been a happy customer for over a month now and I can heartily recommend it to everyone. Here’s a nice comparison between Fastmail and Gmail, even if it’s bit biased.

I won’t write here about the actual migration process from Gmail, as there wasn’t much of it. I just forwarded both my Gmail accounts to my new Fastmail account, and I updated many services to use the Fastmail addresses directly. My batsov.com domain is tied to a legacy free Google Apps plan, that’s also used by other members of my family, so I couldn’t just move the domain to Fastmail, as I would have done normally. Instead I bought the domains batsov.net and batsov.dev and decided to gradually make them my primary email addresses. You can now also write to at first name at metaredux dot com.

I’ve also opted not to import my Gmail contacts and mails into Fastmail, even though the process is trivial. I rarely need to check something in the archives and I decided to go for a clean start. Jason Fried and HEY thought me about the value of that. By the way, I’m still going to use HEY as well. Even though the service doesn’t quite match my needs, there’s a certain charm to it that I really like. I’ve been using it mostly as a newsletter reader and to write occasional emails to close friends, like in the pen pal era. You should try this! If nothing else - HEY taught me to favour top posting, instead of inline responses. Seems weird at first, but that’s how real mail works. :-)

Fastmail Alternatives

I guess by now this article might look like a Fastmail advertisement. I want to mention that I certainly don’t think it’s the only game in time, as there are plenty of solid mail providers to choose from. I considered several Gmail alternatives before deciding on Fastmail. They all have their pros and cons and I guess for some of you they might be a better choice.

  • ProtonMail - a privacy-centered mail service, hosted in Switzerland. I liked ProtonMail a lot (it has all the essential features for me, plus a very sleek web UI), but because of the end to end encryption they use, you’re stuck with their clients or a clunky IMAP bridge. I like open standards, that’s why I went with Fastmail in the end.
  • mailbox.org - another privacy-centered mail provider, this time hosted in Germany. It offers pretty similar features to Fastmail and it’s a bit cheaper. I picked Fastmail over it, mostly because of JMAP.
  • HEY - I already covered it above.

Fastmail, Proton and mailbox.org allow you to have multiple users attached to one account, which is pretty handy if you want to create email accounts for your entire family or your business.

I never considered one of the other big players (Outlook, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc), as I think they suffer from the same problems as Gmail (you pay for them with your privacy). Probably there are other cool services that I didn’t try out. Feel free to mention those in the comments.

The important thing to note is that there are plenty of good Gmail alternatives, and most of them are not particularly expensive either. ProtonMail has a free plan, Fastmail starts at $3/month and mailbox.org starts at only 1 EUR/month. From my perspective our privacy is worth a lot more than this.

Epilogue

We now live at a time where more and more people consider email obsolete and rely mostly on chat apps like Slack, FB Messenger, Whatsapp, Telegram, etc. Many applications claim to be the email killer, but due to their walled garden approaches no one really succeeds in this endeavor. For some reason email has this horrible reputation of something that’s always messy and causes a ton of stress, but I think that’s just a side effect of how most people use (abuse?) email. Email can be a lot of fun, and no stress at all. You just have invest a bit of time in organizing and streamlining your inbox. For me the migration to Fastmail was a great opportunity to do this and I’m truly having a lot of fun with email right now. It’d be cool if some of you shoot me an email or two! :)

I hope I managed to convince a few of you that Gmail has viable (and fun) alternatives. I regret a bit not doing the switch earlier, but better late than never, right? For a long time privacy was an afterthought for me, but as I’ve been growing older I’ve learned to appreciate it more. I’ll assume this means I’m getting both older and wiser.

Anyways, that’s all from me for now. Time to go back to having more fun with my new inbox. Keep hacking!

  1. Damn, that’s 17 years! Almost half my life (I’m 36 as I write this). 

  2. That’s quite subjective, of course, and probably “a bit dated” is a more accurate way to describe it. I’m talking strictly about appearance (design), not function here. To be more specific - I like the flat design adopted by most applications today better.