My GMAIL experiment comes to an end

Since August of last year, when I received a GMail invitation from Rudolph, I’ve been running all my mail through GMail. In other words, GMail was my primary interface to any and all email.

It went swimmingly! This is a fantastic product: to my mind, it’s not so much the 1G storage, as it is the fact that you can search for and find emails in the blink of an eye and, quite importantly, the idea of dumping all processed emails into a great big container, called “All Mail” by GMail. The only thing that is still missing, is the possibility (I would pay for this) to change one’s “from:” address to one’s business or other email address. Reply-to is not good enough. My emails should appear as if they’re originating from the networks of my employer, the TU Delft.

Because it doesn’t look like google is going to come with a paid service including this functionality any time soon, I decided this weekend to end my GMail experiment and move my mail back “home”. The idea is to try and see if I can emulate my favourite features on my work server.

To start with, I’ve changed my IMAP setup at work to use maildir format mailboxes, as opposed to mbox format. Now it’s less of a problem when folders get large. A whole folder hierarchy can be searched with for example Thunderbird. mbox doesn’t support subfolders.

So, I’m going to mimic, at least partly, the GMail approach by putting all my read mail into an “Archive” folder. This will facilitate searching and also solves the common problem of “this-mail-actually-belongs-in-two-folders-what-shall-i-do?”. By using Thunderbird saved searches, I can do something similar to labels. I used to sort mail into hundreds of little folders before I ran into GMail. In a slight deviation from the all-mail-in-a-giant-bucket philosophy, mailing list mail will still be sorted automatically into separate folders.

I’ll let you know how all of this goes.

8 thoughts on “My GMAIL experiment comes to an end”

  1. Dude, my inbox on Oulook 2003 (residing on an Exchange 2003 server) contains more than 4000 mails of the last 10 months. (the rest are burnt on CD containing all email received in the workaday world since 10 Jan 2000). I can sort by date, author etc – real easy. If you have not destroyed your mind with ganja and can roughly remember in what month you received it, you can find anything within seconds.

    Why waste DAYS, if not WEEKS trying to re-invent the wheel? Thats exactly what no Slashdot geek ever take into account when punting the low cost of open source systems.


  2. Dude, the fact that you can find stuff amongst your puny collection of 4000 Teletubbies, Michael Bolton and Hanson fan club emails does not mean that the system that you use is in any way or fashion scalable. :)

    With regards to your sentiment on the punting of “low cost” open source systems, I agree. However, we have two full-time system administrators in this small research group, so the point is moot.

  3. Any comments on the mbox to Maildir migration? I’ve been wanting to do it for ages now (for two reasons: sharing my mail via NFS and so that I can get a decent webmail setup at home for when I’m away), but I haven’t tweaked my migration scripts perfectly yet so I’m still an mbox slave.

  4. Hi there MJ! Well, so far I’m pretty happy with this. Things SEEM to be much snappier, but I’d only be able to comment confidently when I have a few thousand mails in there. If your question is about the actual migration of a large mail archive from mbox to maildir, then I can’t answer at all, as I’ve decided to start with a clean slate. My old mail archives have been backed up.

    It’s definitely more robust than mbox in any case. The fact that you can chuck around individual mails at filesystem level is also very useful.

    Note that a bit of filesystem tuning can go a long way in improving maildir performance: see and

    Do you have that shiny new personal website up yet, or am I waiting in vain?

  5. Hiya Charl,

    Thanks for the info. I take it you’re using Dovecot for IMAP then? Hmm… I had wanted to migrate my last year or so’s mboxes to Maildir so that I can read old mails, etc when away from my workstation (primarily from my phone). I guess the only way to tell if it’s going to work is by testing :) I’m not looking forward to having to modify my finely crafted procmail recipes, etc for maildir (I have my mboxes grouped by YYYYMM, etc).

    My shiny new website is still being polished :)

  6. I too love the GMail interface, and also copied their giant archive philosophy. I abolished all my folders and dump everything into one. Searching is much easier, but unfortunately much slower than GMail. The problem I have is that I only have 100MB on the server, which fills up quite quickly. So then I have to move it to a Local Folder, which is fine but then I can’t read it from anywhere else. So what I need is a mail server I can dump all my read mail into and that I can access from anywhere. I don’t need to be able to send mail from it, I just want to use it as an online archive. What should I use?

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