Gmail outage – take action now – be ready for next time.

1 09 2009

Gmail’s outage today teaches us all a lesson about how our emails can vanish in a blink of an eye. There is plenty we can do to ward off a total blackout next time, and there will be a next time.

Background

In the ‘good ‘ole days’ we all used email clients installed on our computers, and typically used pop access to our ISP’s email. However if we found ourselves away from our main computer, then we could not easily see emails we had received previously even if we had webmail access, the client was typically configured to delete off the server messages already retrieved.

The wide adoption of web based email solved the needs of the mobile computer user. Web based email (an example of ‘cloud computng’) is great until something goes wrong with ‘The Cloud’. We’ve traded one problem for another. There is a solution however!!

The Fix, IMAP.

Use an email client on all your computers (such as Thunderbird) to download and read your Google mail using the IMAP email protocol. The big advantage of IMAP over the once popular POP protocol is that emails are preserved on the web at all times. In addition, synchronization occurs to ensure that copies of all sent and received emails are kept on both the web and the computer email client no matter which one was used last to send or receive. With an IMAP client, when Gmail fails again, at least you will have access to your old emails and can compose new emails ready to be sent once GMail comes back up. The emails are also available offline for reading and replies if you are in the air or disconnected for any reason.

Thunderbird 3 beta 3 is especially useful for IMAP, it has an IMAP wizard which is GMail aware to help you set it up easily. Setting up access to IMAP can be tricky, Thunderbird simplifies that process, and optimizes the settings for best performance. You do have to enable IMAP on your GMail account, instructions for enabling can be found here. After you have enabled IMAP the ‘configure your IMAP client’ link may look way too complicated to follow, but that’s where the Thunderbird IMAP wizard comes to the rescue. Thunderbird runs an Windows, Mac and Linux, so there are very few computers that cannot take advantage of this tool.

Give it a go, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Details on the features of Thunderbird and runing the email wizard can be found here. Next time you will have access to all your historical emails, and be able to compose new ones, while everyone else is reduced to fussing on twitter about their ordeal. Just remember to sync your email client at least daily, or use it as your primary email reader/composer.

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