Using Gmail as Hosted E-mail
My e-mail was broken this morning: Thunderbird is choking with the number of e-mails I get. So, as an experiment, I tried to set up Gmail as my e-mail client. This turned out to be surprisingly easy:
* I used the the Mail Fetcher to configure Gmail to pull my e-mails via POP3.
* In Gmail's Settings > Accounts screen, I added my e-mail address as a "send e-mail as" e-mail.
With just these two settings, I am now receiving and sending e-mails as sichen AT opensourcestrategies DOT com with Gmail through its web interface. This is much better than having a desktop e-mail client for me, though I found the Gmail user interface to be a bit strange.
How Gmail Works
All the e-mail client I've ever used, including Eudora, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, have the concept of a "folder." Your e-mails arrive in the inbox folder. After you send an e-mail, it gets stored in the sent folder. You can also create new folders, such as client X., and move e-mails into it to help organize your inbox.
Gmail works differently: e-mails come into an inbox, and then you can create labels for them. An e-mail could have several labels associated with it, allowing you to classify in multiple ways (client X., technical, support, etc.) After you are done reading an e-mail, you need to click on the "archive" button, so that it gets moved out of your inbox. Then you can still see it either by clicking on the "all mail" link, or by clicking on one of the labels to see the e-mails which have been tagged by this label.
In the end, I think this is better because I would be able to classify my e-mails across multiple criteria, rather than just one folder. However, it was a bit confusing when I first started using it, because the concept of an e-mail folder was so deeply ingrained in the mind of this user. I think it would be better for most users to introduce a folder concept, or at least to make the labels concept look and work more like a traditional e-mail folder.
Another interesting thing about Gmail is that it automatically groups my e-mails into threads, including both the incoming and the outgoing e-mails.
The End of Software?
A couple months ago I had considered implementing an open source Exchange solution. Now, after about 15 minutes of tinkering with Gmail, I've made that unnecessary, at least for myself. It does make me wonder, yet again, whether Gmail and Google calendar have just rendered a whole class of software, commercial or open source, irrelevant. You can bet I'll be thinking about that every time I get an email.