Google-induced mail migration malaise

A week ago, I learned that one of my longest-running online freebies would end this summer. The seven days since haven’t been enough time for me to decide how to replace the no-charge Google account that’s hosted my home e-mail since early 2010–but they have allowed me to find a reason to dislike each obvious alternative.

Yes, I should have seen this coming. The Google that launched “Google Apps for Your Domain” as a free service in 2006 was a much scrappier firm that could not assume potential customers’ attention. Even in 2010, when I moved my home e-mail to a Google Apps account under a custom domain and set up (just in case!) a work e-mail address under a different custom domain at another Google Apps account, Google hadn’t risen to become an obvious choice for business collaboration.

The Gmail logo under an "Apps" banner, taken from a 2008 Google presentation.

Google did end signups for this free option in December of 2012, but it let existing Apps customers keep their free accounts. That grandfathered, privileged status continued as Google Apps became G Suite in 2016 and then Google Workspace in 2020.

The Google of 2022, however, is a different entity that’s been unplugging other free services. So I was not too surprised to learn that starting July 1, I’d have to pay to keep these two mail accounts hosted–just annoyed to read about this at the 9to5Google blog instead of in an e-mail from Google to me.

I’m fine with paying Google for my work account–make that, paying more on top of what I’ve been spending for extra storage since 2016. A Google Workspace Business Starter account will cost another $6 a month, which is reasonable considering how many other Google services I have tied to this account and how $72 a year would still rank among my cheaper business expenses.

But my home account is just an e-mail account. I don’t use it with Google’s other “workspace” tools; because I keep a separate, standard Gmail account for shopping, banking and other non-work stuff, my home account barely gets used as an e-mail service. Paying $72 a year makes a lot less sense, much less spending that much on addresses I’ve set up for family members who use them even less.

But the options I’ve evaluated first have their own issues:

iCloud+: Since my wife is already paying for extra storage on Apple’s cloud service, I could set up a custom domain there for free. But by associating my home e-mail address with iCloud, I would revive the problem of iPhone-using friends who think they’re using the Messages app to text me on my phone and instead have Apple’s iMessage system silently divert that to the Messages app on my iPad.

Microsoft 365: I already pay for Microsoft’s cloud storage to back up my Windows laptop, and adding multiple e-mail accounts by upgrading to Microsoft 365 Family would add only $30 to my yearly cost. Except Microsoft, for some inane reason that probably looked sharp on a marketing PowerPoint, limits this option to domains hosted with GoDaddy, and that’s not the registar I’ve been content with using for this domain. (One thing I don’t like about this registrar: Their own mail hosting only covers 1 gigabyte of storage per address, which is why they don’t make this list.)

Fastmail: This mail-first service isn’t tied to any larger cloud platform, a simplicity of mission that I appreciate. I also like how I could use this with 1Password to generate “masked,” disposable e-mail addresses for individual services. But with pricing for a custom domain starting at $50 a year per user for 30 GB of storage, this, too, feels like overkill for my own little use case.

Meanwhile, Google may have realized the foolishness of treating every user as one type of business customer. Wednesday afternoon, Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo flagged an addition to Google’s support note inviting input from people who don’t use legacy Google Apps accounts for work.

Will Google offer a cheaper tier for personal use, and how long will we have to wait to find out? The May 1 deadline Google set for ex-Apps users to choose between upgrading to Workspace or moving their mail elsewhere leaves plenty of time for the indecision-making process to grind on at this company. And among perplexed customers like me.

Google Photos storage won’t be free. Now what?

Almost five and a half years ago, I wrote a post for Yahoo Tech about the launch of the new, free Google Photos service that ran under the headline “Will Google Really Store All Your Photos Forever?” Wednesday, Google answered that question: No, it won’t. At least not for free.

That response came in a corporate post from Google Photos vice president Shimrit Ben-Yair announcing the end of the unlimited-with-imperceptible-compression picture storage that Google had touted at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco in a simpler time:

Starting June 1, 2021, any new photos and videos you upload will count toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with every Google Account or the additional storage you’ve purchased as a Google One member.

I don’t have to worry about this just yet. Beyond “only” having squirreled away 4.4 gigabytes of images and video on Google Photos–a rate of accumulation that Google estimates won’t push me past that 15 GB threshold for another year–my Pixel 3a phone entitles me to continued free backup from that device.

But at some point, I’ll retire that phone and may need to make some budgetary decisions. My USA Today colleague Jefferson Graham outlined the major alternatives in a post Wednesday. Leaving out Apple’s Android-excluded iCloud and assuming yearly discounts, here are the cheapest options:

  • Amazon (unlimited storage, included with $119/year Prime Account)
  • Dropbox (2 TB, $119.88/year)
  • Flickr (unlimited, $60/year)
  • Google (100 GB, $19.99/year)
  • Microsoft (100 GB, $23.88/year)

As it happens, I’m already paying for three of those–I’m an Amazon captive like everybody else, I’ve paid for Flickr Pro since 2011, and I subscribe to the 1 TB tier of Microsoft 365 for easy backup of my Windows laptop. (I also pay Google for 100 GB of storage for my G Suite work account, but that’s separate from the everyday Google account I use on my Android phone.)

I already have Flickr set to back up my photos–although the app only does that when I open it, not in the background–so that would seem the logical fallback option. That service also offers the advantage of existing outside the orbits of the tech giants. But although Flickr has worked to apply some machine-learning techniques to photo searches, it’s nowhere as good as Google at finding photos without a human-written title or description: A search for “eggs” in Google Photos yields 19 photos, only two of which don’t feature actual eggs. On Flickr, that nets me one photo, a close-up of fingertips.

So the easiest choice for me, for now, is to change nothing and hope I can stay under that 15 GB limit. One thing I will do, and which you can as well to free up some space: Clean out your Gmail by searching for and deleting messages from certain senders older than a set number of days, weeks or months (as I told USA Today readers back in 2012, when daily-deal messages were a serious consumer of inbox space).

But maybe I’m wrong. Here’s your chance to show that: Take the survey below and then leave a comment explaining your choice.

Weekly output: Apple One, Apple’s September news, TikTok and WeChat ban, TikTok-Oracle deal

Having Apple news play such a large role in my work this week reminded me a little of older, perhaps simpler times. Having the Trump administration’s clumsy attempts to suppress TikTok and WeChat eat up much of the rest of the past several days made it clear that we live in different times.

9/15/2020: Apple As A Service: With Apple One, Life In Its Orbit Comes With A Monthly Price Tag, Forbes

My take on Apple’s venture into selling bundles of its services: By making iCloud backup the least-generous part of the two cheaper Apple One plans, Apple is putting the entertainment cart before the storage horse.

9/17/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (9-16-20), Mark Vena

I returned to the podcast of one of my tech-analyst friends to unpack Apple’s Tuesday announcements.

9/18/2020: Trump’s Partial TikTok And WeChat Ban Tip-Toes Into Chinese-Style Censorship, Forbes

In addition to letting me vent about the unhelpfulness of the Trump administration’s attempt to punish these two mobile apps, this post provided a useful demonstration of the limits of Twitter to promote a story. As in, having people with a combined follower total well into the hundreds of thousands tweet or retweet links to the post has yet to get its page-view total into four digits.

9/20/2020: What Trump’s TikTok deal means for privacy, Al Jazeera

I asked my interpreter upfront how you’d say “crony capitalism” in Arabic, and then the host only asked about what this deal would further protect the privacy of TikTok users. My answer: it doesn’t appear to do any such thing.