On email and dot-mac

So after years of doing this IT thing, my email has evolved into probably the single most important communication tool I have. I’m not much of a phone person, and while I’m using IM more and more, I still do most of my communication in email. And it also serves as my knowledge base and to-do list. For better, but mostly for worse.

So I’m exceedingly sensitive to email problems. Email problems (and limitations) with the IMAP service at NCSU was one of the driving factors in bringing up my own mail server in the College of Engineering when I managed it — and the storage and flexibility of having my own mail server is why I still run my own today (which has gone down for an unacceptable 4 hours this month, don’t let me get started on the cyrus db’s).

On a personal level, I’ve been keeping my personal email separate from work for many years now, even though my work policies at the university are (thankfully) perfectly amenable to using it for personal mail — I’ve just kept it separate. This started when I was first with site5 for hosting and used an @rambleon.org email address — and after I gave up hosting for a while — I started using my .Mac account.

.Mac was theoretically great. I paid $100/year for the privilege of not doing ad-supported email. And I got .Mac sync for my work and personal macs to boot, + a personal AIM account, plus a podunk web page. The email was (is) the important thing.

The .Mac sync is decent. The personal IM, eh. The podunk web page, not very useful (not when you do real, or pseudo-real hosting elsewhere). But I liked thinking I had an email service from a reputable company that because I was paying for it, would stay up and being reliable. Stay up yes, reliable in terms of “available” – yes.

But .Mac and major third-party providers seem to be having some kind of personality conflict. I know that .Mac and RoadRunner have gotten ornery with each other previously — causing email delays of hours (and annoying me to no end, as sometimes that significantly impacted plans for the evening when I hadn’t gotten friend’s email until late). But it had been relegated to RoadRunner until more recently. And more recently, I’ve seen delays with Yahoo! and Earthlink, in addition to RoadRunner. Including one instance where email never actually got to me. I’m not sure what to do about it. .Mac HAS NO SUPPORT ADDRESS. No help address that I can find to ask them to check it out, to look at the mail logs, and tell me whether it’s a .Mac problem, or the sending providers are being jerks (not that I really care, both need to get over it). They have “forums” — but those have been a mixed bag, Apple monitors them, because they’ll shutdown and censor threads (or have before) — but I don’t know that they use them for troubleshooting individual issues.

So now, I’ve joined the Gmail club (yeah, I know, welcome to 2005) And it’s a nice email interface, a little different, but nice. I still like my desktop client better (and I know I can POP Gmail, but I really like server-side mail now). And maybe that will be better behaved with all the services. Some of my co-workers use it religiously (James even sends his work mail there, because Gmail’s spam filters are better than Spam Assassin’s). So it should be good enough for my dozen or so personal emails a week.

There jury is out on whether I’ll keep .Mac — but $100 is a little much for sync services. I might keep it for the sync and personal IM and as a secondary mail store. Maybe even to see what Apple actually does with it down the line. But as long as the email issues persist, there’s no way I can trust it with my personal email delivery anymore.