Updated March 2016: But of course since writing this Google have added yet another “feature” on top of the below mess in the form of Gmail Categories – and no, these don’t play with IMAP either. I’ve given up and moved to FastMail.
As part of the Apple MobileMe/iCloud migration plan, I’ve been shifting my mail data into a Gmail account backed by Google Apps Business edition. And boy, I must congratulate Google on taking what should have been an entirely predictable exercise and turning it into a right pain in the arse. Especially if you (shock, horror) want to access it from an IMAP client, which I do.
First, let’s start with “Labels”. I guess the temptation for Google to resist inventing another cute term with slightly different functionality for a very old concept was too great to resist. Never mind that “Labels” are to all practical purposes the same as mail folders, let’s call them something different and confuse the shit out of people. I now have “Labels” in the Gmail web client, which are presented as standard IMAP folders in my Thunderbird client. Great – two different sets of terminology to have to deal with and explain to clients.
So you can apply “Labels” to more than one conversation – big deal. Why can’t we just stick to folders and search folders? (And talking about “conversation” (i.e. threaded) view mode, let’s make that the default mail view and stick the setting deep into the preferences just to really annoy anyone who’d like to turn it off).
Even worse, Gmail now has “System Labels”, and these get pulled into your IMAP client, sitting under their own curious “Gmail” subfolder:
This is where the whole label/folder distinction really breaks down. At least you can disable these from appearing in your IMAP client via Gmail preferences:
Moving on to mail rules – whoops, sorry, I mean “Filters” as they are known in Gmail. So I set up a mail sorting “Filter” to sort mail addressed to one of the many mailing lists I subscribe to into a “Label”. Seemed straightforward enough, but for some reason I still received a copy as well in my inbox. Well, you have to make a manual setting for that too – and confusingly it’s a setting called “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)”
I can understand the “Skip the Inbox…” bit, but why the reference to archiving it? I just want to move the fucking thing to another folder and that’s all.
So assuming you’ve jumped through these hoops just to get your IMAP client in order, you now have to deal with Gmail’s most perplexing “feature” – the “All Mail” folder. I have absolutely no idea why this is present, nor what function it is even supposed to serve. Straight from the documentation:
“Gmail/All Mail contains all of your messages in Gmail, including your sent and archived messages. Any messages that you see in your inbox will also appear in the Gmail/All Mail folder.”
Anyway, worst of all let’s assume you have some 20,000 mail items (like I do) spread across several “Labels”, or “Folders”, or whatever Google are calling it this year. Assuming you haven’t used the above IMAP settings in Gmail to prevent the “All Mail” label from appearing in your IMAP client, you can expect all 20,000 of those items to be pulled down in duplicate into your IMAP “All Mail” folder. Sheer genius!
So in summary, not a fan at all. I’m using Google Apps mail basically just for the capacity and uptime SLA, but otherwise it’s confusing if you aren’t using the Gmail web interface, it looks like it was thought out by a bunch of computer science undergrads for a project of some sort, and in general the whole thing just stinks of an effort to make it as frustrating as possible for IMAP users short of having the whole thing not work at all. Read: “Use our browser, and the native web interface, and you won’t have any problems at all!”. Mmm, I love the smell of lock-in in the morning.
On that last note:
This sort of thing makes Google absolutely no different to Microsoft in this regard.