tonybaldwin | blog

non compos mentis

Free My Mail & Calendar

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So, for a while I’ve been slowing moving away from using services provided by large corporate entities, as much as possible, on the internet. I’ve found excellent alternatives to social networking sites, especially by having my own statusnet installation for microblogging (ie. tweeting), and my “own” friendica installation (although,, unlike my statusnet, I share with others).

Good stuff.

Now, at one time, like many others, I had relied on free webmail on Yahoo! or Hotmail, or other such services, for all my e-mail, but when I started a business, of course, I wanted my own domain, feeling that was more professional, and had moved away. But free e-mail service, like other free services (geocities, anyone? and hotmail was not initially a Microsoft product) can change, or, even, sometimes go away. Companies change hands; policies and terms of service change; stuff changes…

Being self-reliant seems very freeing, and I eventually moved all my e-mail to my own domain. For some years, I simply used POP3 for my work mail from, and used Mozilla’s calendar option. Really, for years I used the whole Mozilla suite, and then moved to Seamonkey, when the suite had otherwise become divided into distinct products (Firefox, Thunderbird, etc.). All my mail was on my own machine. Buth then, a few years back, I noted that this mail was consuming a lot of storage. I move a lot of documents, sometimes very large documents, and back then, I had maybe a 100gb hdd. And then, to make matters worse, something tragic happened, that had a profound impact on how I work and manage my data. I lost a hard drive. I learned that hardware can fail.

I had to rethink how I managed my mail, since my business relies so heavily on it.

I took several actions as a result of that event:

First, I purchased an external, usb harddrive, and started making regular backups of my data, which I should have been doing all along (I had occasionally copied precious family photos to CDRoms and stuff, but that’s about it).

And, I looked for a better way to deal with my e-mails. Eventually I settled on using Gmail®. It allowed me to collect e-mail from my own domain, via POP3 (or IMAP, but I chose POP3 to keep the server clean, since it was on hosting with rather limited storage), and had a decent calendar feature. I’ve been using gmail and Google’s calendar for several years now, and, frankly, they work very well for me, especially now with my Android® phone, and using various other devices. My mail is available from anywhere; my calendar is synced with my phone, etc. Google has been pretty good to me. I also use their Google Voice product. For a brief period, I hosted a couple of projects on Google Code (all on github now, which I like much better).

So, for despite my earlier assessment of the vicissitudes of free services, and any other misgivings, I have now been relying on a rather large corporation for e-mail and a calendar and some other services.
And recent events have me, again, questioning my dependence on such free services, even from this apparently indestructable tech behemoth.
I’ve begun to resent influence over any aspect of my life by large, corporate entities. The One Percent, if you will. And, I think, with good cause.
And, there seem to be plenty of reasons to look at seemingly benevolent, “free” service providers with a bit of caution.
Data mining, tracking, privacy invasion…these are as significant, if not more so, to me, than e-mail services simply changing hands, or free services being terminated.
The very nature of the Freedom I seek so ardently, through the use of Free Software, through the exercise of Free Speech, etc., is at odds with the One Percent and their fascist machinations.
No corporate behemoth, however seeminly benign, is exempt from suspicion any more.

So, I want off the bus.

But where to go?

I’ve grown quite dependent, as I’ve mentioned on various aspects of gmail, calendar,android integration.

So I need a solution that provides me with access to my e-mail from anywhere, whether in my office or on the move.

And I need a calendar.

Storage matters that were at issue in the past are less significant, as I can store TONS of e-mail, now, at home, if need be, and I do make fairly regular backups.

I’ve been looking at various solutions.
First, I considered moving from gmail to some other free e-mail service.
Yahoo! has mail, lotso storage, anywhere access, and a decent calendar, but they’re in the sack with Redmond, and also, of course, a large corporation, suspect as any.
I looked at…couldn’t take that seriously (maybe for personal mail, but not work/business stuff).
I have tried GMS (and, which is the same, really). They offer anywhere access, will pick up mail from other domains/accounts, and have a calendar, and they even have a mobile app.
But their online interface is slow and clunky and inefficient, their mobile app doesn’t sync the calendar with my phone (only mail), and they lack the great organizational tools (tags, etc.) and advanced search features gmail offers, too. Mind you, they offer a pretty good service, and I am now using it for a personal e-mail account, but I do not find it adequate for my mail.

I tried out FengOffice, which looked pretty promising. I can install it on my server, have access to mail from anywhere, and it has a great calendar, plus, it even has document storage and editing, not on part with Google Docs, but quite useful, plus tags, workspaces, and other great organizational tools.
But, after playing with Feng for a week, as much as I was greatly impressed with many of its features, I was also sorely disappointed at how buggy it is and how often it fails to do what it claims to be supposed to do.
Everytime, for instance, that I uploaded a csv file to import contacts, it screwed the whole thing up. The calendar would lose edits I had made/saved, and there were other minor headaches.
So strike that. A shame, because it seemed quite promising, but it’s just not ready, IMHO, for a production environment. It is unreliable.

Now, Horde looks like an AWESOME solution, with mail, calendar, and other features I want/need. I could install it on my homeserver or on my webserver, have access from anywhere, etc.
But I haven’t been able to successfully install it and run it.
I’ve tried about 20 times now. I finally got it running on my home server yesterday, but after setting it up from the admin interface and logging out, I was never able to log back in with the username:password I gave it!

I even edited the mysql db by hand to remove and recreate the username:password pair (using openssl to recreate an md5-base64 password), and still no joy.

So, apparently that wasn’t meant to happen, either.

So, at this juncture, I’m a little stumped.

I’m sticking with gmail, for now, but I’m still looking for other solutions.

An ideal solution would include: unlimited, offsite storage with regular backups with access from anywhere, with 99.99999% uptime (100% is better), a calendar I can sync to my phone, with e-mail reminders and all the good stuff, the ability to pick up mail from multiple domains, organizational features (workspaces, tags, folders, filters, i.e. means to organize, and visually mark, mails), good search function, spam protection, IMAP/POP3 access, and free bacon. This is the stuff Google gives me. GMX gives me most of that, but not quite all of it. I’d like this new solution to not track me, spam me with advertisements, or sell my data.
I’d like for it not to be provided by a company that will be bought out, sell out, alter its ToS and steal my stuff, etc.

Also, and this is extremely important, I would prefer for the solution to be 100% Free/Open Source Software, as opposed to another propriety solution.
It has to be reasonably manageable with a CS degree. Horde almost got me there, but it seems nearly impossible to install and get running, after multiple attempts.
Once I finally got it up and running, the admin interface apparently tripped me up, and I could not find good documentation to explain much of what was in there.

I’m open to suggestions.


posted with Xpostulate

Written by tonybaldwin

March 28, 2012 at 3:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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