Chad Stovern

Gmail

I'll start this post by stating that I've been a Google fan for years. I've been a Gmail user since I snagged a beta invite in college. I followed the development of Android from before the time the G1 was announced. I was labeled "another one of those annoying people that have to use Chrome" when it was still in early single digit releases. 1 Who would be the first to quote "Do no evil"? — This guy.

I've decided that in many facets of my life online that I'm sick of being the product and not the customer. I am not woo'd by Google or Facebook to stay with them because of feature X or enhancement Y — no no, that focus is for the real customers — advertisers. 2 There can be real conveniences to being served relevant ad data and the US federal government is pretty much scanning everything anyway. However, I'm at a point now where I want to more actively and consciously decide what information I'm going to give organizations. I just want to start being the customer for once and have a little bit of personal privacy. In this case, I'm just not ok with any of my primary forms of communication being used to target ad data to me anymore.

Fastmail to the rescue?

I've looked at Opera's Fastmail offering before and have read some pretty glowing reviews about their service lately. A couple short conversations over on App.net also sparked my interest to look into their service a bit further. Unfortunately for my needs it's slightly cost prohibitive. I want two email accounts each on their own domain. A "proper" setup with Fastmail would cost me 80 USD per year. I could utilize domain aliases and create some rules to bring it down to 40 USD, but I really want these accounts seperate and don't want to have to deal with the "reply–as" hassle with my mail applications.

After "reading the rags" (various forums), there have been a number of incidents where accounts were shut off for hitting send caps, or flagged and disabled for sending bulk mail out when it was not the fault of the user. These sorts of reports — of which there were more than a few — were enough to give me pause to at least look at the rest of the competition.

PolarisMail + iCloud Calendars

A number of people that were looking for options other than Fastmail were recommending a service called PolarisMail. I'm always a bit leary of seemingly obscure recommendations. In this case I was pleasantly surprised. The reviews seemed to be all positive, the pricing competitive, and they even had a "Fastmail Promotion" running. The promotion was designed for people unhappy with the Fastmail service and provided a 90 day free trial (up from 30) as well as a free basic mail account for every enhanced account purchased. Their basic mail offering was only 12 USD per year per mailbox and supported multiple domains.

This means for 24 USD per year I could have the following.

  • Two mailboxes on seperate domains yet managed from a single admin panel
  • Fast IMAP & SMTP mail service
  • A choice of webmail interfaces including the very nice looking non–free (there is no additional cost; it's just not opensource) Atmail interface
  • 25 GB of storage per mailbox

I signed up for the 30 day free trial and emailed support about the Fastmail promotion. 3 I mentioned that I was looking to move from Google Apps to Fastmail and stumbled upon PolarisMail. I asked if they would be willing to apply the promotion to my account for choosing them over Fastmail. It would not have by any means been a deal breaker, but in under an hour they had responded and bumped my free trial up to 90 days. They did also let me know that since I purchased two basic accounts and no enhanced accounts that I would not be eligible for any free accounts. No problems there, I was just happy to see the prompt communication!

As far as calendaring goes, I've decided to use iCloud to store and sync my calendars across my devices. I use a Mac and iPad at work and at home and I'll be moving to an iPhone soon enough. For Android users there is an app called "SmoothSync for Cloud Calendar" on the Play Store that will let you access and sync your iCloud calendars. Not much else to say here other than I've had zero issues with my calendaring so far.

PolarisMail with builtin CalDav & CardDav

If you don't want to be tied to Apple for your calendaring there are options for that too. Apple supports connecting to any CalDav or CardDav service. Fortunately PolarisMail offers "Enhanced" accounts for 24 USD per year that offer those services as well. You can look at it simply as 12 USD per year for email hosting and 12 USD per year for calendar and contact hosting and syncing.

Buyer's remorse?

Nope.

I've been using the setup fo PolarisMail + iCloud calendars with my MacBook Pro, iPad, and Android phone for nearly two months now without a hiccup.

If I wanted to provide a tiny amount of critical feedback it would be that they still billed me after 30 days rather than a 90 day free trial. They apologized and assured me that they would set the bill date forward for next year so I could get the extra two free months per my recommendation to keep things simple.

If you're looking for an inexpensive reliable place to host your mail, you should definitely consider taking PolarisMail for a spin.

  1. Now our whole dev team uses it as their primary browser.
  2. Advertising isn't something I view as evil or wrong. I merely resist it in the form of creepily parsing my personal data and building a profile to help decide which ads I see. By contrast, I'm fine with seeing a giant Miller billboard at a Brewers game. People that go to a stadium game are more likely to buy a beer or two, that makes sense. Once again I would not be ok with them scanning my ticket when I purchase a brew so they could text me personalized coupon codes or something.
  3. The Fastmail sales folks were friendly and helpful though it did often take more than a day between replies to my short thread with them asking questions about the service and migration options.