"Getting my data back under control
In the past months we’ve had a lot of scary revelations about privacy violations, the biggest being of course the NSA spying scandal. It became urgent to regain control of my data."
If someone else is hosting your e-mail, then you do not have your data "under your control". A government can still compel Fastmail to turn over e-mails via legal process (as they should be able to, to be honest). Additionally, there's no evidence that FastMail (or any other e-mail provider) is better protected from NSA infiltration .
It seems like the author has plenty of other reasons to switch, but this one lends nothing but a false sense of security .
 Possible exceptions being Lavabit-esque systems that do client-side encryption or Google itself, which has begun encrypting their internal as well as external traffic.
 Not that I really recommend running your own e-mail server either. Setting one up (and maintaining it) is so error-prone that you're probably even less safe than before.
The first (and for most users, more important) is about not giving away your data to marketing companies. Switching to Fastmail accomplishes that (probably?).
The second is about securing your data from governments/state actors. That battle seems kind of futile to me. Even if I were running everything on my own server in my own basement, with my own ISP, I'm almost certainly not qualified to sysadmin a machine that needs to be secure against the NSA.
I'm not actively going out looking for other direct marketing companies in order to give them my data -- why would I do so with Google?
"This ad is based on emails from your mailbox and information from your Google account. Ads Settings puts you in control of the ads you see."
So clearly they are using your Gmail information for marketing purposes. Are they selling it directly? No. But it seems dishonest to me to claim that they aren't selling it just because there is a middleman (Google) between the marketer and Gmail user.
Google is different in this regard. Since they don't sell raw data, it's easier to opt-out (remove data via the Dashboard, delete your account, etc.).
On the one hand your argument makes a lot of sense to me, but on the other hand using an email provider that is not one of the popular ones might in itself make you seem more suspicious.
And intercepting your email correspondence, no matter the provider, might be so trivial to the intelligence agencies at this point that they might be doing so already anyways. It's not unlikely that they'd be 'scanning' Fastmail email more intently than gmail, precisely because of the kinds of people that have security concerns.
This kind of thinking is dangerous and scares me more than the dragnets themselves. There should be nothing suspicious about a citizen exercising their ability to choose from providers. As an analogy, I find it on par with thinking that hippies/minorities/whatever are somehow subversive just because they don't fit your idea of normal.
And yet hippies were monitored, and yet it's plausible that protecting your privacy does make you suspicious.
So I understand that this is scary, but I don't really understand why you consider this kind of thinking dangerous. If it's true, or if there's a good chance that it's true, then shouldn't that knowledge be acted upon, or at least considered, however scary?
Or am I misunderstanding you and are you just stating that in general you hate this situation?
Paying for email service might be a good idea for a lot of reasons, but people have an extremely absurd sense that they're "fighting the man". You know - by paying in US dollars, to a US company, using US banks....
EDIT: Something I did just see is that Fastmail gives you sieve scripting. Since going from hosting my own inbound email to Gmail, I've really missed having a good email sorting language.
We don't have an account with a US bank, though we do have an account in USD, and we're an Australian company, not a US company.
Other than that, our main datacentre is in the USA, and obviously if every US bank decided not to allow transactions to our accounts, we would be in trouble. That would be true regardless of whether we billed in USD or AUD.
If they get a court warrant, you should either give in or fight against it. I think most reasonable people would find that reasonable as opposed to secret surveillance (e.g. NSA).
I think it is necessary to realize that email communication is at least bi-direction. So if one side is vulnerable to attack, there is no privacy or security. The best we could do is of course encrypt the message.
I'm not being flippant here, to be clear. I have friends who would argue just that, and while I do have an opinion on the matter, I can respect a consistent opinion that argues otherwise. I'm just curious where you would draw the line on this spectrum, if at all.
Of all the tech changes I've made in the last few years, moving from Google Apps mail to Fastmail is the one that's made me the happiest, every day.
The webmail is absolutely amazing. So fast, rock-sold, clean, minimal, focused.
Having your webmail experience be completely ad-free and snoop-free, and, well, Google-free is priceless.
Choose the Business email option - https://www.fastmail.fm/signup/business.html - if you want them to keep an automatic archive of the emails you download via POP. When I signed up under the Personal Email option I found they didn't have this archive option, but they switched me over to the business account on request.
It's so worth the measly $15/year, considering the importance a good email/webmail experience, and how much it affects your every-day life.
I've helped a few friends switch over, and they've all been thrilled with it.
A few things that may be helpful for people considering making the switch:
- If FastMail's IMAP import doesn't work for you, this might (it worked for me): http://protips.maxmasnick.com/export-gmail-to-fastmail-or-an...
- If you want to try FastMail "risk free" so you can switch back to Gmail if you don't like it: http://protips.maxmasnick.com/how-to-test-fastmail-risk-free...
- My own writeup about my experience switching to FastMail from Gmail: http://www.maxmasnick.com/2013/07/19/fastmail/ (discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6069944)
I also use the included DNS server for a couple of domains that had been lying around and the static file host for some http placeholder pages and stuff.
I'd never go back to Google at this point.
3rd party apps with push support do not drain battery. They keep a connection open on their servers, and use regular push notifications when something arrives.
Has huge privacy concerns though.
One of the best tool-related decisions I ever did.
Once your personal database has seen more than 200 spam and 200 non-spam emails, we automatically start using it to classify your incoming mail. Because it's been trained by the exact type of messages you receive, it is normally significantly more accurate at classifying spam than our general database. However, it can only do so once it's been properly trained, which is why we have to wait until it has seen 200 of each type of message before it is activated.
The only thing I really miss is push notifications to my phone, but I've found that 15 minute fetching works well enough for the time being.
Overall I've been really happy with it over the last 3 months. Definitely worth the $40/yr in my eyes.
In all fairness, if you use Google Apps for Business ($50 per year), you can also use e-mail with your domain and they are not scanning your e-mail to show you ads.
I agree that Gmail (especially via Google Apps for Business) is a great mail provider. My main beef with Gmail is the sub-par IMAP support.
For viruses and spam, yes. But Fastmail does that too.
In addition to these increased security measures, as we recently announced, we’ve now turned off ads in Google Apps services. This means administrators no longer have the option or ability to turn on ads in these services. We’ve also permanently removed all ads scanning in Gmail for Google Apps, which means Google does not collect or use data in Google Apps services for advertising purposes.
I'm sure solutions exist for push notifications. Has anyone had success with any of them?
Don't rely on Gmail for push: they discontinued Exchange-support recently, though they grandfathered in old users. What's irritating to me is that when I set up my new phone I lost it, and am now back to using fetch-only Gmail unless I want to use one of Google's proprietary apps (unless they've changed this recently).
Agreed that I'd like Fastmail to have push. Every time they come up on HN, I mention it, because I'm a paying Fastmail customer and would like to stay one because they're really perfect in every other way, but the lack of push email is just very disappointing.
> I'm sure solutions exist for push notifications. Has anyone had success with any of them?
On iOS there are options like Boxcar and the like, but they're usually sub-optimal and rely on passing your login credentials to a third party.
Google Apps for Business does have Exchange ActiveSync:
I played a little with PushOver, which seems to work fine. PushOver provides a user-specific (difficult to guess) e-mail address. E-mails sent there become push notifications. This can be combined with Fastmail's option to forward summarized e-mails.
One of the nice things about Fastmail is that you can use Sieve, so you can e.g. set up filtering such that only e-mails that arrive in the inbox are forwarded for push notifications.
It's not my default setup yet (I am mostly playing with Fastmail, while still using GMail as my primary e-mail provider), but it looked promising.
You can append your current 2FA TOTP code right after the password when your email client requests the password.
Several things I'd like to share here:
Fastmail actually comes with a XMPP server. This is a big bonus feature that I didn't expect. It can also keep chat logs in an IMAP folder named 'chat'. Read more here: https://www.fastmail.fm/help/clients/chat.html
2. External Account
If you want to manage other email accounts (receive emails from them), Fastmail seems only support POP (in contrast to Gmail supporting both POP and IMAP). Also, unlike Gmail which checks email with a dynamic frequency based on how many emails you receive at the time, Fastmail uses a fixed interval for checking emails from external account. The minimum interval you can set is 1 hour. I couldn't find a way to manually trigger a POP check in Fastmail either.
One hour is a bit too long for me, but fortunately I adapted to a better way than using external account. I simply set an auto-redirect rule in my other email accounts (e.g. my school uses MS Exchange) and that actually results in instant delivery of emails from external account. I guess this is the right way to handle the problem (other than making your primary email service pull emails from external account like what I did in Gmail before).
1. I did not mention the XMPP server primarily because I already use another server but it's always a welcome addition indeed.
2. I've read somewhere (can't remember where though) that when you're logged in the frequency is automatically increased and you can force a retrieval manually by using the refresh button. Maybe @brongondwana can comment on this matter.
This is the key for me. (1) IMAP not working well and in particular, (2) feeling more like the product than the customer.
With fastmail.fm their business model is they provide a service (email) and in return I give them money. They succeed as a business by getting more money. I am happy to give them money in return for a high quality product.
With Gmail their business model is they provide a service, and in return I give them permission to scan the content of my emails, to data-mine my contacts' names and addresses, and use that information to (a) serve me ads, (b) make money by selling it to third parties, and (c) who knows what else. Gmail succeeds by obtaining (and selling) more and more personal information.
I don't like this and frankly I persist in my surprise that Gmail users accept this transaction.
Sure, in principle, fastmail.fm could be surreptitiously selling my personal information as well ... but the point is that (a) they say they don't do this, and (b) their business model and their success (presumably) don't depend on this. If it was found out they were doing this, (presumably) their business would suffer greatly.
Anyway I recently switched over to fastmail.fm from Gmail as well, like the OP. So far I am extremely happy with it. A MUCH better experience on iOS and on OS X Mail.app.
Or to put it another way: does google guarantee that with google apps email, none of your content (or contact info) is used for any purpose other than just spam detection?
For me, scanning my email to show me ads didn't really bother me that much. But the thing that I really like with Fastmail is that my outbound email alias works the way I want.
The university I graduated from gives us email aliases for life, and I prefer to use my university alias instead of my Gmail address. It obviously works fine when I receive mail, but when I send mail from Gmail it would say "from email@example.com on behalf of firstname.lastname@example.org" (or whatever). And so for a lot of people, when they would add me to their address books they'd end up adding my gmail address because that's how it was presented to them.
With Fastmail everyone just sees my jhu.edu address as I prefer.
You can configure Gmail to use your university's SMTP server and then Gmail is simply an e-mail client. They steer you away from that option but it's available.
(Sorry for the typo.)
It's really sad that they won't offer Icelandic-only hosting, it would give some additional comfort. But perhaps that will change?
A fair bit of that is my personal fault for not pushing the extraction from Opera's racks into our own separate racks. We've been paying for capacity in Iceland for 3 months that we're not using yet.
It would take some wicked mental gymnastics to rationalize that fact away.
I have never had a problem communicating it.
Fastmail doesn't even own fastmail.com! They do have many domains available  but none are that great.
If you want to host a personal home page + your own email, this is really compelling. Much more power-user friendly than Google Sites, much more reliable than most virtual webhosts, and much cheaper/easier than AWS.
Also, I don't see how "Getting my data back under control" is achieved by shifting from a free service to a paid service; if you're serious about this, you should rather setup your own mail server on a spareable machine (Raspberry Pi etc. + an ordinary desktop mail client + Roundcube etc).
And unless you use something like GPG, your email data is as secure as your corresponding mailbox.
And yes I've used my referral ID to link to their website. I don't see what's wrong with that since I mentioned it in the article and everyone is free to remove it and I'm pretty sure a lot of the readers did anyway.
But the Terms is pretty strict, i.e. they can terminate you without notice, not a warning, also they don't really care about refunds, no matter whatever the reason is?
I'm hesitated again. Is the hosting-your-own-mail-server the only way out?
The Service Provider may terminate your access to any part or all of the Service and any related service(s) at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately, for any reason whatsoever, with or without providing any refund of any payments. The Service Provider may also terminate or suspend your account for inactivity, which is defined as failing to sign-in to the Service for an extended period of time, as determined by the Service Provider. The amount of time that the Service Provider currently considers as an "extended" period of time may be viewed from the Help link. Upon termination of the Service, your right to use the Service immediately ceases.
The Service Provider shall have no obligation to maintain any content in your account or to forward any unread or unsent messages to you or any third party.
8.1. NO REFUNDS
Any refunds are at the sole discretion of the Service Provider.
The Service Provider may choose to make a refund at its sole unfettered discretion, however the Service Provider shall have no obligation to refund any portion of any payments, in the event that You wish to discontinue use of all or part of the Service, or in the event that your access is terminated by the Service Provider.
I moved from Gmail to Fastmail because my personal CRM's mail integration depends on Apple Mail. Gmail and Apple Mail do not go well together because Gmail is not IMAP (and Apple Mail has some issues too, even with the latest improvements). So with Fastmail's 'real' IMAP implementation, that issue was resolved. But Fastmail is lacking in comparison to Gmail in many areas, just two examples:
Filtering: Spam, phishing etc. filtering cannot compare with Gmail. And for your own filters, you cannot create them directly from a mail and see immediately the result as you can in Gmail. You have to create your filters via the setting menu and have to manually check if they actually work …
Security: I use 2-factor authentication as often as possible. Gmail has a very balanced approach to 2-factor authentication. Fastmail on the other hand does not allow you to use 2-factor authentication as a general security measure but only as an _additional_ login. And the configuration is not user-friendly. And since it is only an _additional_ login, you do not get (or need) backup codes or another backup way for your 2-factor authentication like SMS.
Fastmail works fine as a very traditional mail provider but that is not far away from what hosting providers offer anyway.
Your mileage might vary of course. If you are looking for a traditional mail provider with reliable IMAP support, Fastmail is certainly a great choice.
Recently, Gmail was getting worse and worse at filtering spam for me. Plus IMAP was never reliable, so I switched back to FastMail last year and its spam filtering is now considerably better than Gmail's for me.
FastMail's 2FA is indeed horrible, horrible thing, I wish they fixed that. Unfortunately, most of the development attention seems to be on Fastmail's webmail UI these days, something I use only very rarely.
Still, I'm satisfied overall and like the setup much better than Gmail. I learned my lesson about using my own domain for email, though, to make any future migrations painless.
Ditched Gmail when it started getting slow, ditched Outlook when it disabled its domain feature. It has a REAL free tier of 5GB + 10 users. (unlike Fastmail's 250MB). Plus their webmail interface is nice and clean.
I wish more services would be doing that! In particular, I think we sorely need an anonymous way of paying money on the web, like physical money.
To quote from the FAQ:
The webmail interface can be switched to other languages.
However, the rest of the service is in German, i.e.
sign-up, EULA, mail settings (forwarding, POP download, …),
payment information etc. If you don't know any
German, you might miss some things.
Der Webmailer lässt sich auf andere Sprachen umstellen.
Allerdings ist unser Angebot ansonsten komplett
deutschsprachig, also Anmeldung, AGBs, Einstellungen rund
um die Mailadresse (Weiterleitungen, POP-Sammeldienst,…),
Zahlungshinweise usw. Wer gar kein Deutsch kann, geht da
vielleicht etwas verloren.
If I use just IMAP, why use fastmail instead of gmail?
And we're really blindingly fast for a lot of stuff, particularly if you're just downloading new email. We split every mailbox in to two sets of storage - SSD for messages less than 1 week old and lower than 1Mb in size, and big slower disk for the rest. The index metadata is also on the SSDs, so most common usage patterns can be served entirely from SSD.
Those SSDs are a RAID1 pair of Intel DC3700 drives, which are enterprise drives and very fast even for SSDs. We dropped a chunk of money on moving to this setup, and it's made both IMAP and regular web usage very nice.
So basically, we're optimised for IMAP and we're optimised for speed. Every server has local storage, and the local storage is fast. It gives quite predictable performance, and very fast performance.
That's my story as both the author/maintainer of our IMAP server, and the designer of the server architecture.
That's not saying that GMail is awful, just IMAP isn't so much their focus, and they don't optimise for it.
There doesn't seem to be a published article that I can find on the exact internals, so I'm basing it off discussions on the protocol mailing lists.
For now the best bet is either to self host (it's not that hard, especially for most folks reading this) or to use something like ProtonMail where the content can't be routinely exfiltrated and the provider can't give the inbox keys to any third party.
In fact, writing this another way potentially identifies a more compelling reason to leave:
By using Gmail, you are incrementally harming the privacy of everyone you communicate with.
Thanks for sharing the good stuff!
- The Fastmail web interface is fast. I've never seen it take longer to load than 1 second on any computer or internet connection; it's noticeably faster to load up the entire interface than Gmail.
- Fastmail also uses basically the same keyboard shortcuts as Gmail (j/k to go up and down, x to select, # to delete, y to archive, z to undo, r to reply, f to forward, a to reply-all, ctrl-enter to send--works from any field in fastmail rather than just the body or title as in gmail, which is handy for forwarding things).
- Sometimes sending/opening messages in Gmail was kind of slow; sending messages from Fastmail has always been virtually instantaneous, and opening them is definitely instantaneous. I think Fastmail preloads email content into the client so that it only has to request images from the server, because it definitely opens email too quickly to have done a round trip to the server to get the email contents. If you press 'o' to open an email, it will be open by the time your 'o' key comes back up.
- Fastmail can help with setting up DNS for emails for custom domains.
- Fastmail has this "Pin" feature that lets you pin emails so that they stick to the top of whatever folder they're in. I always wanted something like this in Gmail (like if starred messages stuck to the top or something). I think there's an option to toggle whether or not they float to the top if you're not a fan. Anyway, I'm not sure that having this feature has actually been beneficial to me in any way, but I like it a lot.
- The Fastmail interface is not as pretty as the Gmail interface. There is no option to get a big, beautiful background picture, and the interface doesn't really have space for it anyway. This bothered me a little at first, but these days I don't care... if I'm gazing longingly at the mountains in the background picture of my email, I'm being extraordinarily unproductive.
- Fastmail's auto-complete when you're typing in the recipient list does not keep track of who you send to most frequently and push them automatically to the top of the list. This still bothers me sometimes.
- Fastmail's settings pages are a little confusing. There are a couple different ways to get to them, and it can be a little tricky to figure out where you're supposed to find something. I've never been a fan of the way settings are organized in any email client, though... Gmail and Outlook have settings pages that aren't as terrible these days; Fastmail's settings are a little less refined. On the other hand, it seems like you can do a lot more with the settings in Fastmail (so this is a bit of a pro, not strictly a con).
- Fastmail has a folder system with nesting like Outlook. I don't think this is really a bad thing; I like the concept of Gmail's labels a lot, but I never found it to be significantly more useful than folders. What sucks about Fastmail's implementation is that to create folders or rearrange them, you have to enter this special folder management menu. Then to create a folder, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom and type the new name, and if you want it to be at the top, then you have to drag it up past all of the other folders, and there seems to be a max speed on how quickly you can drag it up, and it starts arbitrarily selecting the text as you're dragging and sometimes gets a little janky as you get to the top. Definitely my least favorite part of the interface.
- Not strictly a pro or a con in my opinion: there is no chat interface built-in (actually I'm not certain about that, there might be some option to enable chat and put in chat credentials, etc. but I haven't looked for it). Overall I think this has been very good for getting me in and out of my inbox very quickly and productively without any risk of distraction. I actually stopped using any form of chat until more recently when I needed it for work, and I think my quality of life was improved for it, but I know that for many people chat is an important part of communicating. But I haven't missed it in my webmail one bit.
Wow, that was a lot more than I expected to write! Anyway, to sum up, from my perspective as a web developer:
- Fastmail is faster and contributes better to getting things done, in my experience (worth the $60/yr for that reason alone)
- Fastmail has some nice options if you're setting up email inboxes for yourself for custom domains. I don't know if I would recommend it yet as a mail option for clients since it's a little less polished than Gmail and some of the settings options are a good deal more technical.
- Fastmail is a nice gateway drug to freeing yourself from the idea that Gmail is the be-all-end-all of email. Still waiting for someone more productive than myself to combine webmail, Trello, and Google Calendar into a glorious productivity app that ushers in a new era for humanity.
I disagree, I find it prettier than gmail.
Pretty much agree with everything else you said.
One con I'd like to add: GMail has send and archive and you can set it as default. I really miss that in fastmail.
edit: or it might be accounts?
Edited to apologise: The cheapest option seems to be $20pa, sorry. I find it excellent value.
But you also don't want to pay any money for it?
Despite what you may have "learned" from the examples of Facebook and Twitter, companies giving away things for free isn't a very good business model.
Stopping a government is different. Are you preventing just the slurping of data? (Just because they have your emails in their cache doesn't mean they're grepping for you); or might you be targeted? In which case you're going to have to carefully use operating procedures and software. And make sure the people sending you email do the same. Also, you'll need better locks, and no windows on the ground floor and etc.
(I'm sitting on my laptop during the break at my choir rehearsal today and reading through this thread to see if there are any questions I can answer. I'm doing this instead of going to get a coffee... which now that I think about it must mean I'm insane, because I'm going to need coffee to survive the next set of rehearsals. Madness. If anyone at Melbourne wants to come to an awesome concert next weekend, email me or something)
My issues with gmail have nothing to do with the email scanning, etc, and everything to do with the interface getting more complicated over time. I just want an email web interface that's simple, and common.