Tagged: indie web

Leaving Google: Moving email and calendar to Zimbra

Note: This post is part of a series of posts I’m writing about migrating from Google to other service providers. Read Leaving Google: A preface to understand my motivation and goals for this project.

Aside from things like online banking and bill-pay, email and calendar are probably the most important aspects to my online life. They enable me to in touch, transact business and generally know what I am supposed to be doing when. As such, it took me a long time to find an alternative that would work for me.

The requirements and the search

Here are the requirements I defined in a calendar and email solution:

  • hosted and paid, yet affordable ($50-60 annually)
  • decent web interface
  • POP3 and IMAP access
  • ssl/tls enabled
  • ability to use own domain and to add user and domain aliases
  • multiple calendar support
  • ability to share calendars with internal and external users
  • ability to have private and public appointments
  • ability to subscribe to external calendars
  • reasonable disk space (5-10GB) and attachment quotas (>10mb)

Finding a stand-alone email provider was not an issue. Pobox (my favorite), Hushmail, Fastmail and Rackspace all provide reasonable email hosting and there are many others.

What these services lack are the robust calendaring features I need. Both Pobox and Rackspace include calendars with their email, and OwnCloud has a calendar feature. But all three are simple and lack the sharing and subscribing abilities I absolutely need.

Lack of strong calendar features continued to stall my search for Google alternatives until I realized that I was already using a great alternative at Mozilla! There we use Zimbra, a “collaboration suite” developed by VMWare that includes email and calendaring. VMWare offers open source and network editions of Zimbra. If you have sufficient courage, stamina and time to run your own mail server, you can download and install the open source edition for free (although it lacks some features of the paid version).

I have no desire to run my own mail server. Thus began the search for hosted Zimbra providers. I narrowed my list to three: ZMailCloud, MrMail, and Krypt CloudMail, from which I picked ZMailCloud.

The migration

Once my account was setup, the migration process was fairly straight-forward:

  • Update MX records for my chosen domain.
  • Start forwarding Gmail to new email addresses.
  • Add Gmail address as external account in Zimbra via IMAP and start copying messages.
  • Export main Google calendar and import into calendar called “Google” on Zimbra. Start copying relevant appointments to new main calendar.
  • Begin the tedious process of updating email address everywhere.

I had a couple of choices when migrating all of my email messages:

  • Use an email client like Thunderbird to copy via IMAP
  • Add Gmail address as an external account via POP3. The disadvantage to this approach is that you get zero folder information, which is only a problem if you were using folders/labels in Gmail.
  • Not copy messages at all and start with a clean slate!

Also, you might be wondering why I didn’t simply import my Google calendar into my new main calendar. I actually did this at first. Then I realized that all of the appointments were imported with the visibility set to public. This won’t work for me because I want to be able to share my calendar with the public, allowing them to see the details for some appointments (like office hours and public meetings) but not for others.

Progress so far

The migration, begun a couple of weeks ago, continues. Each time I log in to an account I check the email address and update it if need be. I update mailing list subscriptions as I read messages from those lists, and those hosted on Google groups are the most tedious to update.

I also haven’t figured out how to tell everyone who might need to know that I have a new email address. I can’t bring myself to spam my entire address book (and there are probably folks in it I don’t actually want to engage with). So, for the time being, I’m just replying from the new address and letting people or their email clients update my record on their own.

Other solutions?

I’m curious about other possible solutions. For those of you who have switched away from Google mail and calendar, or were never there in the first place, what do you use? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Leaving Google: A preface

While I’ve never had all of my internet-eggs in Google’s basket, so to speak, I’ve appreciated many of their services and have become quite dependent on some.

I opened my first Gmail account in 2004. I switched from Bloglines to Reader sometime before the former was sold in 2005. My sanity, and probably my wife’s as well, depends on the appointments we track in Calendar. All of my correspondence has found its way to Google docs. All of my non-IRC chatting is done through gTalk with an xmpp client.

It’s never felt particularly good or prudent to be so reliant on one company, an advertising company, for some of my most important online needs. But when I would think of leaving Google, a sense of dread and panic would arise. I would think about how dependent on was on email, calendar and other services and how good alternatives seemed non-existent. Not surprisingly, I would come to the conclusion that I couldn’t live without Google, and that they weren’t that bad, after all. And then I’d move on to fretting about the next thing.

But the idea continued to percolate and re-surface in my mind. Each time Google made a decision to close a beloved product, take yet another step away from web standards, made a move that wasn’t outright evil, but wasn’t good either, I re-evaluated my reliance on their services. More and more I felt like I was the product first and the customer second, if at all. The final straw for me was in fact two: the end of full support for xmpp in Google talk and PRISM.

And thus, I’ve started the process of reducing my usage and reliance on Google services. I’ll document this process in a series of blog posts, roughly in order of priority:

  • Email and calendar
  • Search
  • Chat
  • Mailing-lists (for the groups I manage)
  • Document editing and sharing

A few services I don’t intend to find near-future replacements for include Google voice and Hangouts. Google Plus isn’t on either list simply because I hardly use it. Nor have I ever used Picasa (I’ve always preferred Flickr). I have no immediate plans to delete my Google account. Doing so effectively means you can’t interact with any of Google’s services, which would severely limit my ability to interact with many individuals and groups for which it is necessary that I do so.

My goal isn’t to purge my life entirely of Google, but rather to reduce my reliance on its services and to decentralize my online activity.