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 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 account
  • My vestigial account
  • My account for
  • My account for
  • 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 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.

New Outlook (is better than New Coke)

As seen in the top-right corner of the standalone Outlook app:

Toggling this on switches you from the incredibly dense and old original Outlook UI to a new one that is intended to ultimately become the replacement for all versions of Outlook and the mail app on Windows 11. It’s vastly simpler and streamlined, and will probably make old time Outlook grognards from 1997 crazy.

I decided to try it because a) I like trying new things, and b) I’m kind of dumb when it comes to being sensible and sticking to things that just work on computers.

It turned out to be a very slight change from the web-based version of Outlook I normally use. At a glance, it appears to be the exact same interface, just wrapped up as a separate app. The only real difference I’ve found is using it means you miss a few amenities you might get from your normal browser that would automatically kick in (blocking trackers, etc.) but in exchange New Outlook allows me to actually add and maintain my Gmail account, so I can keep tabs on the few messages I still get there without having to log in to another mail service.

It also tidies up my browser a bit, possibly freeing up a few more resources that I would probably never really notice being freed up, anyway.

Overall, it’s not bad, but it’s pretty much identical to what I’ve been using for the past few years. The Dark Mode still looks off, somehow. I think it’s a combination of the way it mixes the darker shades with the standard Office/Windows colours, along with new email (normally bolded) being harder to scan at a glance.

Overall, I am left mildly pleased (by being able to add my Gmail account), but otherwise :shrugemoji:

On a scale of 1 to 10 actual physical envelopes used for mail you can touch and sometimes smell, New Outlook rates a 7.