I ditched GMail today. I liked it overall, but there is one thing more important even than search…. reliability. It was just too slow on GMail. To my friends that work on gmail – I’m sorry! (I wasn’t a good customer anyway
The problem is that I like getting my mail at “belshe.com”. I don’t know if it’s the Narcissus in me or just the cool factor of having your own name as a dot-com, but I don’t want to give up my email there. Plus, it’s where I’ve received my mail for several years. Unfortunately, switching to an ISP generally means you’ve got to use their domain name. The hacked solution I was using at gmail was to receive my mail @belshe.com, and then forward to @gmail.com so that I could use webmail. This meant that I had two mail addresses that I was syncing. It’s kludgey, I know.
Since I run a linux mail server at home, I had been thinking of trying either Zimbra or Scalix. Problem is that my linux is so old its just a lot of work to get either to run. Upgrading the OS is never fun.
Thinking of my employer, I considered running an Exchange server. But, I don’t really want yet another server in my office, and my web stuff is already linux based, so it would be a big change. There was just too much to learn and way too much to debug for this to be a viable option.
Lastly, I was just about ready to install an IMAP server and run RoundCube, which has a very nice interface for IMAP servers. I think this would have proved the easiest, and I was very excited about the sexy UI.
Turns out the solution was right here in my backyard. I had heard of Microsoft’s Custom Domains for Windows Live Mail before, but hadn’t looked at them seriously.
Custom Domains are a relatively new Windows Live service which allow you to run your own domain’s mail through the Hotmail (Windows Live Mail) system. If it could work, this turns out to be ideal for someone like me that wants his own domain but doesn’t want to run a mail server. Postini uses a similar trick for spam-filtering your mail.
All I had to do was point my the DNS MX record for belshe.com so that my mail goes to my “custom domain” at hotmail rather than to me. Then, custom domains provides a quick interface to setup the various accounts that I want to use. The overall setup time was about 30 minutes, and most of that was me doing research and being extra careful that there wouldn’t be any unanticipated side-effects.
So far, I’m pretty happy. Hotmail is very reliable; I’ve used it for my “junker” email accounts for years and it never seems slow. It is, after all, the largest internet email service provider on the planet. (Gratuitous plug for employer – raises and bonuses are coming)
While the traditional Hotmail interface is a bit stale, the new interface for Hotmail called “Live Mail” is actually pretty decent. If you haven’t seen it take a look.
Another benefit of the switchover is that I finally have decent spam protection (which was always a hassle on linux for me). The only thing I have to tolerate with using Hotmail is the MSN tagline that goes at the bottom of every outgoing message.1 Not a bad tradeoff.
I guess I’d say that I am quite happy joining the millions of others that don’t host their own email servers. But, I still have a custom domain – belshe.com – and I think the hotmail solution is one of only a few solutions that can do that. Congrats to the Hotmail team for making it so simple.
1The tagline on the outgoing mail currently reads, “Don’t Search. Find. Try MSN.” That tagline makes me proud, because I proposed that tagline to Dane Glasgow here at MSN over a year ago. Even though I don’t know for certain that someone else didn’t think of it too, I know it was original when I came up with it, so I’ll take the credit I’m sure the marketing folks would deny that a tagline like that could ever have come from a lowly engineer.