The Email Experiment Isn’t Over

Posted on May 22, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Google, iOS, Microsoft, Mobile, Outlook.com, Windows 10 with 69 Comments

Life is too short to use the Windows 10 Mail app. So, I’m on the hunt again for a desktop email solution. And I’m changing the rules, again.

As you may know, Google’s September 2018 decision to kill its superior Inbox service—essentially an efficient and minimalist front-end to Gmail on both web and mobile—really threw me. I used it to consolidate all of my email accounts into a single place. For me, Inbox was email. And I didn’t just rely on Inbox, I preferred it—liked it—and recommended it to anyone who would listen.

So I looked at Gmail again, with the understanding that Google had spent much of the previous year improving it, and I figured that at least some of those improvements had to include adding key Inbox functionality to its core email service. Nope. While Gmail on mobile is mostly just fine—it has one glaring problem for me that I describe below—Gmail on the web was, still is, a nightmare of complexity and busy user interfaces. It’s everything that’s wrong with Microsoft Outlook on Windows, but on the web. And I quickly decided that I could not—would not—use Gmail.

And so the experiment began. I set out to find new desktop/web and mobile email clients. I started, quite naturally, with Outlook.com and Outlook mobile. After all, one of my two major online accounts is a Microsoft account that I’ve had since 2001. (The other, for Thurrott.com, is a Google account using G Suite, which is essentially a lightly managed version of Gmail and Google Calendar.)

But then something happened, as we say in the Microsoft world.

As part of my test of Microsoft’s email solutions, I decoupled my Microsoft account from my G Suite account so that I could test Outlook.com and Outlook Mobile with just that one account. Meanwhile, I continued using my Thurrott.com account and a secondary Gmail account through G Suite. And I found that I was suddenly receiving emails again that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Somehow, in combining multiple accounts into a single place, some combination of factors—I’ve long suspected competing spam filters—had been preventing me from getting all my email.

This triggered a major rethinking. Long story short, I decided that I would no longer consolidate email accounts in the cloud. (Essentially, forwarding email from two accounts to a primary account and then configuring that primary account to send mail on behalf of those secondary accounts.) Instead, I would keep my three email accounts—Thurrott.com, Gmail, and Microsoft—separate and apart. And I would use client-side email applications, on both Windows and mobile, to consolidate the email from those three accounts into a single view.

This system works fine, assuming you can find a good email client. On mobile, I’ve found that Outlook works fine: It’s not perfect, but it supports both Gmail/G Suite and Microsoft accounts very well, and in a similar fashion. But the desktop has been problematic. There really aren’t any great email clients on Windows anymore. Microsoft Outlook is too big, heavy, and complex, and it does not play well at all with Gmail/G Suite, no matter your opinions of this app. And the Windows 10 Mail app, well. I’ve voiced my concerns about this terrible charade of an email app for years. It doesn’t even let you configure the text size of emails independently of the system-wide scaling configuration. It’s borderline useless.

So, I naturally settled on the Windows 10 Mail app.

Yes, I hate myself. But I figured I would just try and live with its limitations and suck it up. I switched reluctantly, on all my PCs. I did enjoy the fact that I had nothing to install each time I brought up a new PC, which I do a lot because I review PCs. But I hated the app, and myself for using it. And I never really wrote a follow-up to my Email Experiment series for those reasons. This is not something I’m proud to use or can recommend. It’s terrible.

Aside from the text sizing issue, Mail has failed me repeatedly when it comes to search. It’s almost like Mail’s search feature just randomly generates results, because I can never find what I’m looking for. So then I just visit the web app for the email service in question, use search there, and bam, I find what I’m looking for immediately. Every. Single. Time.

And now I’ve had enough. I just can’t do this anymore. I need to move on. And that’s why we’re here today.

But just as I did previously when I discovered the issue with consolidating email accounts in the cloud, there is a silver lining to my troubles. Because I hate Windows 10 Mail so much, because it is so worthless an email application, I’ve been forced to rethink things again. And I’m starting to come around to another behavior change that would never have happened had I not endured this suffering. So it’s not all bad.

And it goes like this.

I do have two primary online accounts, one Google and one Microsoft, plus a secondary or even legacy Gmail account that I can’t really give up. Those two primary accounts are both important to me, and both are used, among other things, to sign-in to devices (Google for Android and Microsoft for Windows), apps, and services. Neither is more important than the other.

But when it comes to email, one of those accounts is more important. Because the Google account is my Thurrott.com account, it is my primary account for email. It is the only account I really need to be on top of. Readers and podcast listeners contact me there. It’s my name, so it’s pretty obvious. Anyone using the contact form on the site will trigger an email to that account.

Put simply, I really only need a desktop email solution for Thurrott.com. And that means I could use a web-based solution or a desktop app. That means Gmail, which is terrible, is still in play. After all, the Simplify browser extension, which was created by Inbox’s founder, makes Gmail look and work much more like Inbox. Maybe it will be OK. Or, maybe I could use a third-party front-end to Gmail, like Shift. Suddenly, there are new possibilities.

What about my other accounts, you ask? That’s the crux of this plan. In addition to my PCs, I also have phones—several phones—which are checking all of my email accounts via Outlook mobile. I can just deal with my less essential emails, to my Microsoft and Gmail accounts, on mobile. I don’t even have to consolidate them on the desktop.

So we’ll see where this takes me. Maybe I’ll access Gmail/Simplify as a web app through the new Microsoft Edge. Maybe it will be a front-end like Shift. We’ll see. But I’m just happy to have finally put the nightmare uselessness of Windows 10 Mail behind me. I can’t believe I endured it for the months that I did.

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