Does my dream email software exist?
April 11, 2007 8:21 AM   Subscribe

I've been using Outlook for years, but I'm looking for a better solution to manage my email accounts and massive archive of messages.

I have literally hundreds of thousands of email messages going back for years in Outlook. I have a half dozen email accounts which receive 1000+ emails a day (mostly spam, of course). Outlook has been pretty good to me, but I'm wondering if there's a better option. Here are my must-have requirements:
  • Keep all my existing emails, so a new solution must be able import them somehow;
  • Support multiple POP and IMAP accounts;
  • Capability to create rules to manage emails;
  • I need a robust, flexible spam control system;
  • Can't be outrageously expensive (Like thousands of dollars)
Here are some things that I really want, but not dealbreakers:
  • A server based solution so I could access all my emails from laptop, workstation or even on the road. Also, I wouldn't have the headache of migrating emails every time I upgrade (I do have unix servers I could install software on);
  • Some sort of calendar system as well, like Outlook;
  • Used MySQL for its database (so I could write my own tools);
  • Great user interface.
posted by justkevin to Technology (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Until you mentioned "MySQL" and the server-side stuff, it almost sounded like you were describing Thunderbird with Sunbird installed as an extension to Thunderbird, which is apparently called Lightning.
posted by Xoder at 9:05 AM on April 11, 2007

I'm pretty sure Thunderbird meets your must-have requirements, and a couple of your really-wants (calendar via an extension and user interface) but I'm no geek. I think Thunderbird can import from Outlook. However, since a new version of Thunderbird is just about to be released, I'd wait till the end of April before installing.

The alternative is gmail of course, which has the great advantage of being web/server based. But it doesn't support IMAP or MySQL for that matter.
posted by electriccynic at 9:06 AM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: I've had good luck migrating some hardcore outlook users to evolution which is a bit past thunderbird/lightning with the calendaring. There's a windows installer here - the caveat is I don't know how well it works on windows.

There would also be zimbra for the server-based solution. You get your MySQL and postfix in back and an ajaxy interface up front.
posted by lornoss at 9:17 AM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: I've heard only great things about gmail, but I don't think I can import all my old mail into it, which is pretty much a deal breaker.

This zimbra looks interesting. Have your tried it?
posted by justkevin at 9:30 AM on April 11, 2007

I should also point out that zimbra has its own migration tool whereas evolution is a bit trickier. I found outport to be the best free method. I've also heard good things about versora's migration tools (here) which are $50 per user.
posted by lornoss at 9:30 AM on April 11, 2007

Forgive me if this is too simple for what you want, but here is what I do:

I have my primary email automatically forwarded to an secondary address which is something like

That way, I can delete mercilessly on my main computer (originally in Outlook, now in Entourage).

Egad! I was too merciless in deleting my e-mail! No problem: I just go to Gmail and the copy is there. Also, I can get that e-mail from my Treo or any computer anywhere with web access.

To really make this system work, you need to set up your sent e-mail to automatically forward to your Gmail as well.

Plus, you have the gCal there as well.

Works great for me. Keeps the PST reasonably small, and is free.
posted by 4ster at 9:30 AM on April 11, 2007

justkevin, I've worked with zimbra briefly. I've worked with the software it's built on top of a lot longer - and no complaints there. I tend to prefer working with mail locally but I'd say the webmail client is right up there with gmail.
posted by lornoss at 9:36 AM on April 11, 2007

How about some or all of the Horde framework?
posted by anaelith at 10:02 AM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: It looks like Zimbra requires a dedicated server (i.e., it can't be installed on a machine I'm using to host websites or it will break something) so I need to either shell out for that or go with a hosting provider that offers Zimbra (but then I'll lose some of the control and flexibility).

I appreciate any more suggestions people want to throw out there.
posted by justkevin at 10:08 AM on April 11, 2007

I love love love love Gmail. I just deal with my old archives in outlook for searching - I use Google Desktop search for that anyway, since now that I am used to Gmail searching I can't go back to outlook searching without putting a gun to my head.
posted by thilmony at 10:34 AM on April 11, 2007

You actually can "import" your old e-mail into gmail (actually, it's more like pushing it into gmail). Use a tool such as Gmail Loader. I did this back when gmail was new (for tens of thousands of messages going back to 1992), and have been happy with it ever since.

There are a couple of disadvantages to this approach:

- You might lose your labels ("folders" to use the terminology of other programs). I got around by importing each folder separately, and creating a filter that applies a corresponding label to all incoming mail.

- Gmail uses the date it received an e-mail to sort. In the case of importing, that means the date it was imported, not the original date of the message. The original date is still there, it just doesn't sort by that. This is annoying.

Aside from that second problem, I'm very happy with gmail, and I had similar criteria as you do.

You can also back up your gmail using POP, so you're not totally locked into it.
posted by Emanuel at 10:44 AM on April 11, 2007

If you'd like to try GMail with your Outlook PST files, you can try a combination of one of the PST-to-mBox conversion tools here:

and then use the above-mentioned Gmail Loader
posted by mikeyk at 11:01 AM on April 11, 2007

Things like Gmail Loader are now obsolete. Every GMail account now has the ability to load mail from an external POP3 mailbox without losing date information.

There is no longer any barrier to moving mail into or out of GMail.
posted by dmd at 11:20 AM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: I can't import from a POP3 because most of the emails are in Outlook's PST tile, not a POP3 account. Can anyone think of a way to get Outlook emails into Gmail and still preserve the date information?
posted by justkevin at 1:48 PM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: After poking around, I decided to try out Google Apps, which is Google's new commercial offering.

It's still fairly immature but will supposedly work like gmail but with a 10GB limit, migration tools (outlook import maybe?), and can actually take over email hosting. So instead of accessing a POP account Google actually is hosting the mail. I can also configure it so I access it via
posted by justkevin at 2:20 PM on April 11, 2007

I've been looking into google apps for domains as well. They say their premium edition (intended for corps) will have some mail migration tools soon. I assume that this means they will be rolling out some tools to migrate from exchange servers. This may or may not help you.

An alternative approach would be to migrate your PST files into mbox or maildir format, drop it into a POP server, and get google to import that. Kinda rube goldberg, but it may work ok.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:01 PM on April 11, 2007

justkevin: Easy. Set up an IMAP/POP3 account somewhere (I can give you one if you need one). Add that account to Outlook. Drag-and-drop all your messages (you'll probably want to copy, not move) into that account. Presto, now your messages are downloadable via POP3.
posted by dmd at 4:39 PM on April 11, 2007

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