Miscellaneous Ramblings

Do You Trust Your Email to the Cloud?

Charles Moore - 2009.09.22 - Tip Jar

Macworld's Joe Kissel recently posted an advocacy blog citing six reasons why he thinks desktop email still rules as opposed to using web-based "cloud" email like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail.

A couple of years ago, I would've completely agreed with Joe on this point. In some respects, I still share his apprehensions about the Cloud. Nevertheless, since the advent of Google's Gmail, I've been gradually seduced by cloud email and now use webmail at least as much as I do POP3 email clients - and probably more. Not just Gmail, I also have a Yahoo! webmail and Microsoft Hotmail/Live Mail accounts, the latter which, like Gmail, now also supports POP3 access.

Webmail Extremely Convenient

I haven't abandoned desktop email entirely, for reasons Joe addresses in his article, but because I use several computers in different locations, I've found webmail extremely convenient, since it obviates the necessity and complication of keeping one's email files synchronized and uniformly accessible among multiple computers.

In the old days, when I used Eudora Classic as my email software (I still do in Mac OS X 10.4 on my Pismo), I would simply drag the mail folder containing Eudora mbox format mailboxes back and forth from computer to computer, although when my archive files swelled to several hundred megabytes, this began to get more time-consuming.

Since buying my first Intel-based Mac last winter, I switched to using the new, Thunderbird-based Open Source Eudora 8, which happily also uses the mbox storage format and supports simple mailbox dragging for multicomputer synchronization.

As an aside, I really don't like email applications storing all archives in a single database file, which has always disenchanted me with Microsoft's email clients and Apple's OS X Mail application, both of which store messages in a proprietary, single archive file format.

Leaving It on the Cloud

These days, a lot of my mail just remains stored on Google's Gmail servers. As noted above, Gmail supports both its Web interface using a browser as well as allowing you to download email under the POP3 protocol using an email client like Eudora or Mail or Thunderbird, but I've mostly stopped downloading archives of my most heavily trafficked accounts.

As for Joe Kissell's arguments favoring desktop email, integration with other Mac applications like Address Book, iCal, iChat, and Keychain doesn't much appeal to me. I don't use OS X Mail, and one thing I don't like about Mail is that it requires integration with Address Book for its contact info, since I'm not an Address Book user either. I prefer my desktop email client to be as self-contained as is practical.

Benefits of Desktop Email

On the other hand, Joe's point about desktop email giving you the power to conveniently redirect messages is a good one and highlights one of webmail's deficiencies - at least with Gmail. Eudora (especially Classic) supports a particularly convenient implementation of redirecting, plus the happy facility of a Send Again command.

I also agree with Joe that sending file attachments is a lot easier and less cumbersome with desktop email application, which lets you just drag & drop a file to be attached to a message, than it is with webmail that makes you mess around with buttons and dialog boxes.

I'm not a heavy user of rules, but I can see that for those who are, desktop email provides more options and flexibility. Joe also notes that keyboard shortcuts tend to be thin in webmail interfaces, and I agree with him that I prefer having my email archives available whenever I want without having to go online.

I also worry a bit about security of my email archives - both vulnerability from hackers and identity thieves, and the possibility of data loss - but hopefully that's just my being a worry wart.

Best of Both Worlds

Consequently, I'll likely persist in using my hybrid system of email management, accessing some of my accounts via webmail and others using an email client.

I've come to like Eudora 8 more than I thought I would, finding it stable and dependable, even though it's still beta software. It's a very decent email client, although the most recent beta (7) introduced some glitches - a serious bug with keyboard shortcuts in that cut/copy/paste don't work, at least on my rig (2.0 GHz Unibody MacBook running OS X 10.5.8), although those functions still respond normally from the Edit menu. Downgrading to Eudora 8.0b6 restored normal keyboard shortcut behavior.

Eudora 8.0b7 is based on the Thunderbird 3.0b3 source code, so add-ons that do not work with Thunderbird 3.0b3 likely will not work with this beta version. Hopefully there'll be a final release soon.

There are several other excellent free email client software, Thunderbird itself being one, OS X Mail (of course) if you're a Mac user, and most recently Bare Bones Software has handed off its formerly $100 commercial software email client MailSmith to an new developer that has made it open source.

If you like having an integrated email client with your browser, that's available too in the form of the Mozilla gecko-based SeaMonkey suite browser, and the Mail module in Opera's browser. Both are also freeware.

What's your email preference - webmail? desktop client? IMAP perhaps? or a combination?

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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