Email Acrobatics

The scenario

  • I have a couple of work email accounts that I receive a relatively large amount of email to.

  • I also have Gmail, which gives me a gigabyte to work with, and some nice search/browsing functionality.

The wishes

  • The fewer times I change my distributed email address in my lifetime, the easier more people will have it in communicating with me, and the fewer times somebody will fall out of contact with me.

  • Gmail from a browser, Thunderbird from work, and Mail from my Apple Powerbook. I never want to miss an email, but I want to be able to pick and choose my mail client at a whim. Each has it's own features and flaws.

  • I have no idea how long my current work address will work... could be anywhere between weeks and decades. I also have no idea what my monthly budget will look like through the years, given my eclectic interests. For all I know I could be a bum, I can't expect to be able to pay a monthly hosting bill.

The superheros

  • HotPOP: Early in 2002 I signed up for justinw(at)bonbon.net, provided by this company, for absolutely free. You can use them as a POP server if you want, though I never have. Or you can configure them to forward all email to up to three other email addresses. For instance, when I was jobless, it was sending my email to a Yahoo! Mail account (now giving 100MB for free!). Now that I have an active work address, it's sending email there. If I wanted, it could additionally send it to Gmail, but I'm getting that done another way. I'm generally reluctant to long-term rely upon a small-name free service like that, since they could disappear at any moment, but two years of zero problems is quite a track record in my book.

  • Sendmail/Postfix: We use a combination of these server software packages for our mailserver at work, and though I'm the mail administrator, I was able to add forwarding to Gmail to my work account, in such a way that any normal user would be able to - I didn't have to take advantage of my root privileges. Namely, I simply put a line in my ~/.forward file to additionaly forward to Gmail, so that that account now receives an exact copy of every single email I receive at my work accounts.

  • Email headers: From all of the above mentioned mail clients, I do one of two things. I either 1) change my From/Reply-to address in the account settings to my HotPOP address, so that when I email people and get tossed in their addressbooks, they will get my more permanent address. This is the address that I distribute to people. Or I 2) establish a couple of "profiles", so that when I send an email, I can choose whether it looks like it's coming from HotPOP or my actual work address. Thunderbird @ work handles this just fine, so that I can stick to my formal work address with work-specific correspondence. Last but not least, I go into my mail client configuration where it lets me specify where to store Sent Mail. Most clients, Thunderbird included, let me specify an email address to send a copy of all sent mail to. This is a BCC - blind carbon copy - header, which none of the actual recipients ever see, but it still ensures that a copy is sent to Gmail for archiving.

Now I'm getting a copy of everything I send and receive archived. I can play to my heart's content with the filtering/labeling/searching/threading capabilities of Gmail.... you can find lots of discussion about this new Google offering at GmailForums. One feature to whet your appetite: if you own username@gmail.com, then you will also receive all mail sent to username+anything@gmail.com - replacing anything with.... anything!

While you're waiting for Gmail to open up, or for me to get more invitations to give out, I suggest you substitue Yahoo! Mail into the mix, since they just increased their storage quota and made their interface prettier.