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Who's the Best Mail Host?

First off: Is it safe to upgrade to macOS Catalina?

With the release of Apple's latest update, 10.15.3, we think the answer is yes, but with caveats: some bugs do still remain in Mail and elsewhere. Further, a lot of older software will stop working entirely, such as Photoshop CS6, Microsoft Office 2011, FileMaker 11, Quicken 2007, Aperture, and various printer and scanner drivers. These titles may require paid upgrades or alternatives, or may have no suitable replacement. Heavy iTunes users may be in for a shock, with that app's component parts exploded into the new apps Music, TV, Podcasts, plus the Finder itself, and not all iTunes features are carried over intact. Musicians and media professionals who rely on third-party add-ons may experience compatibility programs while vendors work to update their products.

So, if Mojave's working for you, and you don't like your boat rocked, you still might want to hold off on Catalina for a while. Catalina's not going to dramatically change your world; the most compelling reasons to upgrade, apart from quelling Apple's nagging, are the nifty Sidecar feature, which lets you use an iPad as a secondary display for your Mac, and the revamped Reminders app, which is required for synchronization with Reminders in iOS 13. Catalina brings with it very substantial under the hood changes in the name of security, and does break the aforementioned software, so please make sure you have a full Time Machine (or Carbon Copy Cloner) backup before upgrading; ask us if you're not sure.

 

Now, on to this month's topic: Who’s the best mail host?

As with much in the world of technology, there was once a diversity of offerings for mail hosting, but now there are only a few choices from a few large companies.

In 2020, the big players in paid email hosting (in which you can use your own domain, like ivanexpert.com) are Google and Microsoft. And for free email hosting, it's pretty much Google, though for Mac users, there's also Apple's own iCloud mail hosting. 

Of course, Yahoo, AOL, and Hotmail/Outlook.com remain in use for those who have had their email addresses for a while. Niche providers such as Intermedia, Rackspace, FastMail, and ProtonMail remain options for those with specific needs. We advise you to move away from mail hosted by web hosts, domain registrars and internet service providers (ISP’s). We'll offer our thoughts on what's best for you!

Google: Google's free email product is Gmail, and it's what nearly everybody uses now when they sign up for a new email address. Some people are averse to Gmail because they do not like its idiosyncratic (though powerful) web browser interface. If that's you, fear not -- you don't actually have to ever see the Gmail web site, as the Mac Mail program and the iPhone are both very easy to configure for use with a Gmail account. (Others prefer to avoid Google for privacy or other reasons, and I'll discuss alternatives below.) One reason to be on Gmail is for its superb spam filtering. And, if you do prefer to use your email in a web browser, Gmail certainly does things its own way, but it's much more capable than offerings from others.

Google's paid email product is called G Suite, and that allows you to use your own domain with Gmail, at the cost of $6 per month per address, and for that you actually get human support should you need it. (You may be required to sign up for a more expensive plan and then downgrade it during the initial trial period.)

Microsoft: Microsoft's free email offering is Outlook.com (which is what you now have if you had a hotmail.com address). I wouldn't consider it for a new address, especially due to so-so compatibility for Mac users. (And, contrary to easy understanding or intuition, Outlook.com has nothing to do with either the desktop Outlook mail program, nor its companion server product, Microsoft Exchange. It's just revamped Hotmail, which Microsoft purchased eons ago.)

Microsoft's paid offering, which enables you to use your own domain, is Office 365, which, confusingly, is also the name of their software subscription to Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. (These software-only subscriptions are called either Office 365 Personal, Office 365 Home, or Office 365 Small Business.) Finding Microsoft's cheapest mail hosting offering isn't easy, but here it is: Office 365 Exchange Online Plan 1. It costs $4 per month per email address. If you need both the mail hosting and the Office software, you'll either need two subscriptions attached to different email addresses, or the simpler but slightly more expensive option of instead subscribing to Office 365 Business Premium. Microsoft mail hosting, like Google, offers excellent spam filtering.

Possible reasons to choose Office 365 over G Suite include: a strong preference for using Outlook desktop software for your mail; a mixed business with PC users who also prefer Outlook; 33% lower cost than Google; a longstanding comfort with Microsoft products; and extremely powerful administrative tools, if that sort of thing matters to you. On the downside, initial setup is complex.

Apple: For Apple users who want free mail, iCloud mail is perfectly adequate, with attractive, straightforward webmail should you wish to use it. iCloud mail is not very capable when it comes to setting up mail filtering or other advanced capabilities, but it's the only free email that will give you quality phone support. If you have a mac.com or me.com email address, you already have iCloud mail; if you don't, your only option is an address that ends in icloud.com. Note that if you exceed 5 GB of storage, which also includes nearly anything else at iCloud such as synchronized photos or iPhone backups, you'll need to subscribe to more iCloud storage, if you haven't already. Plans range from $0.99 to $9.99 per month, depending on your needs.

Alternatives: There do exist alternatives to Google and Microsoft. Intermedia offers the same Exchange email hosting that Office 365 does (in addition to cheaper IMAP/POP hosting), with powerful and easier to use administrative tools, unlimited mailbox capacity, and better customer service, at a higher price. Similarly, Rackspace offers Exchange and cheaper IMAP/POP mail hosting with the promise of superior support. ProtonMail provides IMAP/POP mail with a focus on encryption and privacy above all else, for those so inclined. FastMail has been an IMAP mail specialist for 20 years and has some unique features and a good webmail interface. Note that in contrast with Exchange or Google, IMAP/POP mail is considerably more tedious and difficult to set up on computers and devices, which can be a consideration in a business with several users.

Yahoo, AOL, and other legacy providers: Plenty of people still use Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail (now Outlook.com), or email provided by web hosts (e.g. BlueHost, InMotion), domain registrars (e.g. Network Solutions, GoDaddy), and ISP's (e.g. Road Runner, Earthlink).

Outlook.com, being owned by Microsoft, is relatively well maintained and offers decent spam filtering, if mediocre compatibility for Mac users when it comes to calendar and contacts sync. However, the others leave something to be desired. Yahoo and AOL are both owned by Verizon Media, who have not invested meaningfully into making them better services. To the contrary, these platforms have been rife with security problems, and offer notoriously poor customer service, mediocre spam filtering, and noisy, ad-driven webmail interfaces. I'd consider leaving.

I'd even more seriously consider leaving mail provided by web hosts, domain registrars, or ISP's. These kinds of offerings date from an earlier era of the internet, and suffer from lack of profitability and investment. (In fact, Verizon transitioned their ISP-provided verizon.com email addresses to AOL, their subsidiary.) Spam filtering is poor to nonexistent, mailbox capacities are often tiny, synchronized (IMAP) mail may not be offered, support can be wanting, security can be outdated, and sometimes you have to pay to keep the account alive.

How do you move email hosts? Moving email can either be easy or complicated, depending on your personal wants and needs. Keep in mind that it's possible to set up forwarding, or fetching, so that you don't miss any mail sent to your old address.

If you're of a disposition where you're not invested in your past mail, then it's easy. You just set up a new email account, and either start using its webmail, and/or sign your Mac, iPhone, and iPad Mail app. You might need a little assistance if you want to use a custom domain, with a host like G Suite, Microsoft, Intermedia, or Rackspace.

If you want to keep your past mail, and/or if you need calendar and contacts from an old host, then you need to perform what's known as a migration. This is usually complicated, and we suggest you call us to discuss it, and not attempt it on your own.

 

We hope we've provided some useful info for you here about the whys and wheres of mail hosting. As always, if you have any questions, we're happy to help!

(February 2020)

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