The Desktop Mail Client is Dead.

It’s no secret. I’ve been a rabid IMAP user for ages and ages and ages. To the point where I’ll keep shifting mail clients around to stay ‘current’.

Activity monitor showing Thunderbird using more memory than Outlook
Thunderbird was supposed to be more efficient than the bloated Outlook. Alas

My preferred poison for almost 10 years had been Thunderbird. The tool that started out as a potential replacement for Outlook, but in the end never quite had the integration of calendaring and contact management required to take on the 600lb gorilla. I made the hard choice a year ago to switch from Thunderbird to on my Macbook, because Thunderbird performance had gotten so bad, and had blown up to such a huge memory hog, it just didn’t make sense anymore.

So I crawled into bed with Apple’s I had already moved all my mail off a personal IMAP server to GMail 2-3 years ago, so this wasn’t a huge shift. Everything was still in GMail, I was just accessing it differently. And being able to go to to see what my mail looked like on the server was great for debugging.

Apple Mail
Apple Mail

But not long after, I started noticing that Apple’s would decide to stop updating from GMail. I went through the usual checks – network latency, locks, slow host, all that stuff – but even though I could happily see the mail on GMail, Apple Mail would get stuck waiting for updates. I’d get a “Loading…” window when clicking on a new message, and it might appear, it might not appear. Sometimes it would appear after waiting 5 minutes. Completely intolerable.

Naturally, when I chat about this with friends, I get the “Why don’t you just use the GMail web interface?  It works fine!”

And friends, that’s just what I’ve finally done.

Today has been the first day of not running any smart mail client on my desktop.  With GMail’s well put together keyboard shortcuts, I’m finding myself humming along pretty comfortably, with only an occasional “Wait, ummm. how do I do this?” problem.  I do miss having a separate window for mail, and a mail notifier, but the stability and speed has made it a comfortable transition.

GMAIL Inbox screenshot

So where does that leave desktop mail clients?  To me, the topic is pretty much dead.

Desktop mail clients have been fading for years.  With only Outlook remaining (and even that is slowly dying in favor of Office Online and other similar environments), and more and more people using phones and tablets for mail (which have their own mail clients), the ‘high powered desktop client’ is dying, and while I miss the days of my workstation being the powerhouse of mail management and client-server operations, I see where things are headed.

Google’s mail servers are fast, dependable, and have a strong, flexible, fast web client.  I do know that GMail is headed for a huge update soon (it’s one of the last of their properties to get the Great Makeover), and perhaps at that time my opinion of the interface will change (heaven knows Google knows how to bring a browser to its knees.  Just try using Plus for anything serious), but given that aside from Search, GMail is Google’s most used front end, they’re going to do it right, and do it well.

Until they suddenly decide to end of life it, of course.


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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