I have e-mail going back to the 90s, but I started using IMAP in 2002 and I’m pretty sure I have saved almost every e-mail I sent or received since then. About a month ago I moved these thousands of e-mails over to my Gmail account, which I’ve since using as my primary client. I’ve been very happy with the setup and I’m thinking of helping my wife do the same thing, but first I wanted to make a record of how I made the transition and of the various tweeks I applied to Gmail and Firefox so that I can remember it all.
- First, make sure you enable IMAP in Gmail, and configure your current client.
- Second, if you have a lot of folders already, you’ll probably want to keep these on Gmail. It isn’t widely known, but it is possible to support hierarchical folders on Gmail by naming folders with a slash. So, “school/students” and “school/faculty” will group the folders “students” and “faculty” under the “school” folder. This is a bit of a hack, however, as it requires the Folders4Gmail greasemonkey script to work. You can also install this via the Better Gmail Firefox extension. (I find I also need the GmailSidePaneWidth script to make the folder names readable.)
- Third, simply drag and drop your e-mail from your current mail client to the matching folder in Gmail. In my experience you don’t want to do more than 1000 e-mails at a time, so if you have a large folder, do it in batches. Also, the count at the other end might not be the same because Gmail deletes duplicates, merges multiple mails into a single “conversation” and catches SPAM you might have missed earlier.
- Finally, you’ll want to make sure your address book is imported. There are a number of ways to do this, but the easiest is to sign up for Spanning Sync, which will keep your Apple address book and Gmail in sync everytime you make a change!
- [If you are switching from another online e-mail service, try Google’s interactive switching guide. Although it doesn’t really tell you how to import your actual e-mail, just your contact list. UPDATE: See this post about new mail import options.]
Using (and Tweaking) Gmail
- Although I mostly use Gmail via the web interface, you’ll still want to tweak the IMAP experience to make sure that everything is working right.
- Turn on “Advanced IMAP Controls” under the “labs” setting panel. This will allow you to go to your “labels” panel and turn off IMAP sync for individual folders. If all your e-mail is assigned a label you can turn off sync for the “all mail” folder, thus preventing your client from wasting time downloading duplicates. You can also turn off sync for the spam folder, and if you subscribe to e-mail lists, uncheck all those as well.
- IMAP on Gmail works a little differently than it does on other platforms. For instance, if you have it set up the way Google recommends, deleting an e-mail on your client should “archive” the e-mail on Gmail rather than actually deleting it. If you have an iPhone follow these instructions for setting up IMAP on your phone, don’t use the default Gmail settings.
- Turn on “Offline” under labs to enable access to your most recent 10,000 e-mail messages when you are offline, via google gears. This also seems to speed up Gmail.
- Get notified of new mail via the Gmail notifier application. This will also set Gmail as the default way to send e-mails when you click on an e-mail address. (You may need to follow these instructions for Fireforx.)
- Search Gmail directly from the firefox toolbar.
- Once you’ve set up filters to automatically label most of your e-mail as it comes in, you just need to “archive” a message to get it out of your inbox when you are done. Often, however, you need to reply to a message first. This is where the labs option for a “Send & Archive” button comes in very handy.
- There are many other options in labs, with new ones coming out all the time, but one more which I highly recommend is “Multiple Inboxes.” With this you can have all your “starred” e-mail appear on the same screen as your inbox. This is very useful for conversations which are still “active” but which you don’t need to reply to immediately. For instance, when you are waiting for the other person’s reply.
- Google also allows you to assign colors to labels. (If you are using Folders4Gmail I find it useful to set all subfolders to the same color.)
Hints and Tips
- Take the time to learn about Gmails advanced search operators.
- You can copy and paste search results from Gmail and send them to another user. If they use Gmail as well they will find the same e-mails you find (if the search is well constructed.)
- Create filters to automatically move all non-important e-mail out of your mailbox.
- When I sign up for social web services like Twitter, Facebook, etc. I now use my Otherinbox account, so I don’t even need to see these in Gmail. Otherinbox can also work with Gmail to do this automatically, but I prefer to do it myself.
- When looking at an e-mail it has a unique number in the URL. You can copy and paste this, or bookmark it to find it again, even if you move it to a different label/folder. (I use this with Things.)
- Turn on “Quick Links” in labs to save custom searchs, like “has:attachment is:unread” for all unread e-mails with attachments.
I think that’s enough to get anyone started. If you have any other suggestions or tips, leave them in the comments.
- I forgot to link to the gCompose bookmarklet.