My Gmail experiment

Not too long ago, I decided to experiment with using Gmail as my main mail client. It went fairly well; Gmail is definitely usable, and reliable. However, I found that I had many of the same problems that I had the previous few months, when I was using Thunderbird: No matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t mutt. I’ve been using mutt for over 8 years now, and so it is burned into my mind and my muscle memory. Everyone makes a big deal about Gmails conversations, but mutt’s threads are not only vastly superior, but more robust and easier to use. Gmail doesn’t allow sorting, while with mutt, you can sort on an arbitrary header, including all the obvious ones (To, From, Subject, Date, etc). Everyone makes noise about Gmail’s searching ability, and I will admit that the searching does work well; but mutt’s works just as well, and also gives you the ability to do non-textual searches. For example, you can search (or limit the current view) to only messages to which you responded, or messages that are PGP signed, or have attachments, or are over a certain size. The one thing I miss from Gmail is the labels; I used labels to classify my email, GTD-style.

On the plus side, I liked the flexibility of being able to access my mail everywhere there was a web browser. I found the Gmail interface to be fairly responsive, even over a dialup connection. The spam filtering was OK, although there were a lot of false positives that I had to remove from the Spam folder. Unlike Stephen O’Grady, there were a few of mutt’s features that I missed, the biggest one being PGP; I have been signing messages for several years now, and I feel more comfortable signing my mail than not. The lack of regular expressions in searches is another big difference, in my opinion (thunderbird also lacks regex searches).

All in all, Gmail was definitely not the worst mail client I’ve ever used, and I would (and have) recommend it for many people. I think it Gmail will ultimately be unsatisfying for power users, however, and users with unusual requirements (like PGP or S/MIME integration).


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