I am changing email accounts yet again (confirmed)

This is just for my primary email account, which is used mostly for receiving newsletters and such. I have various others I use for various other things, but they get little in the way of messages. They mostly just sit idle in Thunderbird, just the way I like it!

My recent(ish) email history:

  • After years of using my ISP email, I switched to Gmail back when it was still in beta (to be fair, it was in beta for a very long time). The oldest messages are from June, 2005–nearly 20 years ago! This was so long ago that Google did not yet have a reputation for killing off apps, nor was it known for being an ad monopolist harvesting the data of its user base in order to serve them “personalized” ads and engaging in lots of other questionable shenanigans. I keep the account active, because there’s over 22,000 messages in it and some of it might, possibly, be useful. I do a periodic export of the data.
  • When I decided to move from Gmail, I went to HEY. HEY was kind of goofy, didn’t integrate well with other apps, but did some neat things with email. I also liked the UI. But the leadership of its parent company revealed themselves (as I’ve noted before) to be Musk-supporting tech bros, and I had no interest in sending them my money. I cancelled my yearly subscription and moved again, to…
  • Outlook! I already had a sporadically-used Outlook account, so the move was easy in the sense that the account was already there. Over time, I moved over the various newsletters and things. More recently, it has been revealed that Microsoft, intent to be a kind of Google Jr. when it comes to data harvesting and advertising, “shares” your email with literally hundreds of “partners”. So, just as bad as Google. Maybe worse!
  • After sampling both Fastmail and Proton Mail, I opted to pay for a year of Proton and see how it goes.

Now begins the task of moving the bulk of my mail over to Proton. I suspect my approach will be to do this very gradually, to minimize the drudgery. I’ll report more on actually using Proton Mail soon. So far, the UI is pretty clean, but it is mostly just email, not really trying to break no ground. But it doesn’t share my data with anyone (unless they’re not telling, which would make me sad).

Should I change email yet again?

A few years ago, I switched my primary email from Gmail to Outlook. My thought process was:

  • Google is the avatar for privacy-violating, data-harvesting “you are the product, not the customer” among the big tech companies. I didn’t want Google to oversee, prod, pry and otherwise harvest my email in exchange for, “But hey, it’s free!”
  • I chose Outlook because I already had an outlook.com account I was nominally using.

The switch took many months, but now virtually all of my email goes to my Outlook account. My Gmail account is largely vestigial at this point, though I do keep in active, in case I need to log in and find something from the Before Times.

You might see where this is going if you look at the first bullet point again. Under Satya Nadella, Microsoft has started turning into Google Jr., with an emphasis on ads, data collection/harvesting and everything I disliked so much about Google.

For example, this, when you use the new Outlook email client (which will eventually be mandatory across all platforms):

That 772 number varies by region (it can be even higher). I can duck some of this by using Thunderbird as my email client, which I do, and I’ve generally been happy with it.

But better yet may be using an independent company for my email, one that treats customers as customers, and not data to be mined. This means paying, of course, which is the primary disadvantage. I did this once before with HEY, and I found it a bit weird, but it brought some innovation to the email space. Then the owners of HEY revealed themselves to be Musk-championing tech bros of the worst sort, so I had to kill HEY. This was a bit painful, so I’m reluctant to do it again.

On the other hand, I write very few messages. Most of my email is in the form of newsletters, updates and things like that. This makes moving my account less painful than it otherwise might be.

The two options I’m considering are:

  • Fastmail
  • Proton Mail

Both can integrate with Thunderbird, both have web clients (Proton’s is prettier, the Fastmail client is more just functional), pricing is similar, though Fastmail offers more storage (30GB vs. 15 GB). Proton offers additional privacy-focused services, though both emphasize privacy and security.

I am currently undecided, but doing a trial of each right now (Proton’s is technically costing me one U.S. dollar for a month).

I’ll have to decide one way or another fairly soon, so I’ll have an update in a few weeks. Whee!

I care about aesthetics and finally made Thunderbird pretty enough to use

Proton (who is not an entirely unbiased source–they provide email and other services) provides a take on how the new Outlook is another vector in Microsoft’s ever-growing data harvesting/advertising empire. I don’t live in Europe or the UK, so I get none of the opt-out options the people there do to help control how much of their info gets hoovered up by Microsoft and its 722 (!) partners.

I have email accounts from multiple sources:

  • My main outlook.com account
  • My vestigial gmail.com account
  • My account for creolened.com
  • My account for protonmail.com
  • Probably a few others I’ve forgotten about or haven’t used since 1887

This means any solution that can’t incorporate multiple accounts is a non-starter because I don’t want to log in to a bunch of different webmail interfaces. I’m trying to work smarter, not work…more.

Since Outlook works with everything but Proton (I am on Proton’s free plan since I don’t use it much, and you need a paid plan to get access to third party clients) I’ve been using it, and it works well enough. The UI is a bit different between Mac and Windows (I prefer the Mac version), and there is no Linux version at all, but it mostly works.

But reading stuff like the Proton article made me think I should try Thunderbird again, since it will work with everything (save Proton) and has clients for Windows, Mac and Linux. Great!

There’s only one problem: It has been hit with an ugly stick, repeatedly and at length.

I am willing to overlook aesthetics to a certain degree. My journaling app, Diarium (that name) is great, but it really is nothing to look at. But it’s plain, not ugly. Functional.

Thunderbird is functional, but ugly. So, so ugly. Everything about the way it looks rubs me the wrong way. The size of elements, the various layout options, the colours, the fonts, the use of (or lack of) white space. It looks like something designed in the 1990s and has never been touched since.

But this time I was determined to make an effort into fixing it up. I opened it alongside the “new” Outlook app (really, just a standalone version of the outlook.com web interface) as reference and went to work making Thunderbird less ugly.

The good news is, I succeeded enough that I have now switched to it as my email client. Go me! (And go away to Microsoft and its 722 partners.)

Here’s what it looks like now, with certain info redacted. I am still tweaking, and it’s still not 100% where I want it, but it is no longer ugly1This is subjective, of course, and my taste may not match yours. For example, I don’t think plaid socks are a bold fashion statement..

I have pixelated most of the info, but you get the idea.

I’m sure there are Mac users who would still sniff in disdain at this, but it’s good enough for now.

Here’s what I did:

  • Switched to the built-in light theme (dark is OK, but light looks better to me). Note: If you don’t enable any theme, it will use the theme/colours of your OS.
  • Under Layout, I enabled Vertical View, Folder Pane and Message List Header
  • Under Folders I enabled All Folders and Favorite Folders, then collapsed All Folders and selected the Inbox for each (plus Junk for my primary account) as a Favorite. This allows me to compact what would otherwise be a crazy-long list of subfolders.
  • Density is set to Relaxed
  • Under Message list display options I chose Table View
  • Font size in the main view is 15 point, and the font is set to Aptos (this is the new default font Microsoft uses in Office and I like it!)
  • I have replaced the default set of gray icons with Phoenity icons, which is installed as a Thunderbird extension. This not only adds a splash of colour, I feel the icons are easier to scan.

I’ll continue to tweak, but I already find Thunderbird much more readable for when new mail comes in, both in the taskbar (there is a badge for new mail) and in the folder view, so I’m already benefitting from the move. As a bonus, this also seems to have fixed an issue where images were very slow to load into Outlook (maybe the hundreds of trackers get priority now), as images are working normally again.

Next up: Seeing how easy it is to replicate this on macOS and Linux Mint.