Why We Switched to the Google Webmail Interface

In the past I’ve used gmail for my personal e-mail and my own webmail systems for business e-mail. I have my Outlook program configured to receive e-mail from all servers and bring it into my common inbox. This has worked for me for years. However, recently I bought a new laptop for travel and rather than set up a new Outlook instance on this new machine I was using remote desktop (and TeamViewer) to access my office computer remotely to retrieve e-mail. It worked, most of the time, but I found that the process was extremely slow especially when using public WiFi. Additionally, for security reasons I cringe when connecting remotely to my office desktop from a public connection. Therefore, I decided to try something different. I went into my personal gmail account and configured it to retrieve e-mails from my corporate servers. I was pleasantly surprised and the rest of this article will explain why. I will discuss the six most compelling reasons I made the switch to gmail.

Email Account Consolidation

I want to start by mentioning the most important reason I switched to gmail. That is gmail’s POP/SMTP and IMAP functionality. To make a long story short, I can access all of my email accounts from my six remote servers and bring them into my gmail inbox. I can label each (more on labels later) so I know at a glance what server they came from. Using SMTP I can send and receive emails as if I was sending from those other accounts. My personal gmail address is nowhere to be found! Using IMAP I can import all of my folders from Outlook which contain past emails. This keeps my gmail account and my local Outlook account in sync should I ever have the need to go back into Outlook.

Accessibility and Superior Remote Access

Instead of having to establish a remote desktop into my corporate server I can now access me email from absolutely anywhere regardless of internet speeds. The gmail inbox is extremely lightweight and its asynchronous connections prevent unnecessary page loads. I can work fast regardless of the WiFi speed and Google keeps up with me. This is a huge plus from a productivity standpoint. Google’s gmail system response times are faster than I am! When connecting remotely I would often have to wait on my mouse cursor to catch up with me which wastes time. Additionally, often the resolution of the remote computer was so low when accessing via a slow connection I could barely see what I was doing. That is all in the past because Google’s gmail offers the speed I need. Additionally, I can access my gmail and my calendars right from my phone using the lightweight Google apps (which came pre-installed on my Android phone already.)

Labels and Folders (or lack of them)

This took some getting used to but the learning curve was mild. There are a variety of inbox settings available which allowed me to modify the e-mail system to look and feel very much like the Outlook experience I was used to. There was one major difference though which threw me for a loop in the beginning and that was folders (or lack of them.) I looked everywhere and couldn’t find them! After some quick research, I found out that Google uses labels instead of folders. They act very much like folders and are displayed on the left side of the inbox in tree form just like folders in Outlook. I can move e-mails to these labels and drop them right inside like a folder. The beauty of labels is that I can assign multiple labels to a single email. For example, if I receive an email from Joe, regarding ColdFusion development on the XYZ contract I can assign one label for “Joe”, one for “XYZ company” and another for “ColdFusion Development”. With multiple labels, I can search and find emails easily using multiple criteria. It doesn’t matter which folder (label) I end up moving the e-mail to because the email will be visible in all three labels (folders) so no matter which one I open; the email is there! I can’t say enough about how valuable this is. Additionally, I can add labels to each e-mail manually or create filters to do that automatically when the message is received.

Calendaring System

I’ve been using two calendaring system for years. One in Gmail account for my personal life and the other in Outlook for my business life. Regardless of my attempts to synchronize them I always found I was lacking in this department. Now, using Gmail, I can see all my calendars in a single snapshot. I created a new calendar just for my business and merged that into my personal calendar so I see both at the same time. They are overlaid right on top of one another which prevents scheduling conflicts. When adding a new event, I can select which calendar I want to access and update it right from the calendar screen. Most meting requests will add the events to my Gmail calendar automatically when I accept the request. Nice! This calendaring functionality has streamlined my scheduling and is an asset for my company.

Task Management System

Google’s task system is basic to say the least. But often simplicity is the way to go and in this instance simplicity is indeed advantageous. It is extremely easy to both add a new task and cross one off. I can reorder them to assign priorities and even view completed tasks so I know what was done (in the rare event I should forget!) The task manager remains visible in the inbox so they are always there which is the best reminder system I can conceive of having. I can assign a due date and add notes to each task as well. I am impressed with the LACK of functionality. Too many bells and whistles can hinder productivity instead of increase it. Google’s task manager is well thought out and they decided to keep the most commonly used features and ditch the rest.

Dropbox Integration

I am an avid user of Dropbox. I use this as my primary backup system for most of my local files, both personal and business. Pictures and videos, I take using my phone are automatically uploaded to Dropbox which is incredibly useful. It seems I am constantly sending links to files and images on Dropbox to friends, family and clients. While it is nice to do that, going into Dropbox each time to send the link is inefficient especially when I must copy and paste their e-mail address from Outlook into the field on the Dropbox site. Now, using Gmail, I can add links to Dropbox files right into an email using the Chrome extension. While you must be using Chrome to utilize this functionality it is a definite plus and keeps me using Chrome for my email at least.

Summary

In addition to the points described above, there are many more features I love about Gmail. From themes, to Google lab add-ins such as reading panes and calendar snapshots in Gmail, to assigning unique signatures to different accounts, to adding people to circles, the customization options are tremendous. However, there are limits to what you can do but none of these limitations are critical (in my opinion) and would probably add another needless layer of complexity to this elegantly simple application.

Having said all that, one thing to consider is the fact that your emails will live on someone else’s server. This raises the issue of e-mail security. While that is a consideration for some who may be passing sensitive information, for us, whose information is valuable only to us and our clients (as well as family) this is not a huge issue. Sensitive information, should you need to send it, will still need to be sent through a more secure system for sure. If you are concerned that Google is spying on your email and might report you to the authorities, then this solution is not right for you. For the average user, it isn’t a problem. Gmail currently has upwards of one billion users which contributes somewhat to the “security by obscurity” policy (though that should never be relied upon as a primary security process.) However, this article does not suggest that migrating to Gmail is a solution for everyone but for those who feel comfortable with it, it is a worth-while option to explore!