Two weeks later: My switch from Outlook to Gmail

Two weeks later: My switch from Outlook to Gmail

Summary: ZDNet's David Gewirtz has been using Gmail for two weeks after switching all his email from Outlook. After two weeks with Gmail as his primary mail environment, what's his verdict? It might surprise you.

Can there be anything more relaxing than an empty inbox? Besides my car, wife, and puppy, of course.

I have been using Gmail instead of Outlook for the past two weeks. And you know what? I couldn't be happier with it.

Yeah, I didn't expect that, either.

I figured I'd be somewhat satisfied at best, but more probably I'd evidence the general level of disgruntlement most technology inspires in me. But no. I'm actually quite happy with Gmail.

Fundamentally, the reason is simple: my email has been under control for two whole weeks. I can't remember when that was last the case, but it sure hasn't been for a few years, at least.

Achieving Inbox Zero

Within two days of moving to Gmail, I actually achieved Inbox Zero, that mythical state that described an inbox completely devoid of messages. Even more astonishing, I've managed to keep my inbox at Inbox Zero each day for the last few weeks.

I attribute this to a number of factors, each of which I will enumerate here.

Substantially less subscription mail: Right after I moved all my mail to Gmail, I set up to unsubscribe me from as many items as it could find with unsubscribe links. I had well over 300 different subscriptions, and if you figure some of them mail daily, that's a lot of incoming trash. Most of that has just stopped.

Way less spam: I know Office 365's Exchange offering does spam management, but Gmail does it far more successfully. I haven't had a single non-English message since I signed up. With Exchange, even with spam protection turned way up, I constantly got mail filled with non-English characters. Worse, Outlook or Exchange didn't seem to understand that those messages were spam, so they'd often fill up my inbox. That just doesn't happen in Gmail.

Gmail's inbox tabs: Gmail separates social, promotional, update, and forum email into their own separate tabs, so your inbox contains only the most important messages. And guess what? The thing actually works. I can quickly and easily see the most important messages and reply to them, and clear out the promotional and random informative email quickly and easily. It took me a few days to get used to, but this feature rocks!

Email manageability features I like

In addition to keeping my inbox clean, there are a few other factors that have added to the increased manageability of email in Gmail compared to my long experience with Outlook.

Browser interface: Many people have said that the Gmail interface is ugly compared to, and I would agree. However, compared to Outlook Web Access, the inexplicably different Web interface you get with Office 365 and Exchange, Gmail is far more effective. More to the point, I haven't felt the need to use a local application, so my interface for email is the same no matter what computer I'm working on. That's proven to be a joy.

No profiles/sync overhead: Related to that, because I'm running a cloud app, I don't have to worry about syncing my email, whether my profile is corrupted yet again. I don't have to recreate my profile and re-download all my email like I used to when Outlook crashed. I have none of that overhead. Yes, I've yet to figure out a backup strategy, but for now I'm trusting Google to not lose my email.

Send and archive: There's an option to turn on a nice little button called "Send and Archive." This thing is an enormous time-saver. When you reply to a message, you can hit Send and archive instead of just send, and if you do, the original message is filed and no longer in your inbox.

Low-hassle add-ons: I've added a few browser extensions (which I'll talk about in a future article). They are low overhead, don't screw up my email environment, and generally haven't crashed my email system. While I've long used Outlook add-ons, and some of them are incredibly powerful, I've also had no end of problems with them. Granted, Chrome extensions aren't perfect, but they've been hassle-free.

Useful Android notifications: I'm now getting notifications on my phone when I get new email, but it's only when I get an important email message. So instead of being notified a thousand times a day, I get three or four notifications a day about something I really need to pay attention to.


Now, to be fair, Gmail isn't perfect and there are a few things that bug me:

No column sorting: Gmail has no column sorting. In fact, it barely knows there are columns at all. If you want to sort by something other than that which Gmail wants you to see, you're simply out of luck.

No column field selection: Compared to Outlook's rich control over columns, Gmail hasn't even phoned it in. Columns are simply ignored. Here's the big complaint: for some reason, there's no company column in the Contacts list. Seriously? How can that be?

Once in a while the interface hangs: The interface sometimes gets stuck. Every so often, trying to connect into Gmail, all I got was the blue percent-done indicator. On the other hand, all I had to do was wait a while and reload the page, where -- when Outlook crashes -- you know your entire afternoon is shot rebuilding profiles, reinstalling, uninstalling, and waiting for the inevitable Blue Screen of Death.

Gmail apps for iOS break: I found this to be a bit odd, but Google's own Gmail apps break when trying to open a message with a lot of back-and-forth history. The native iOS app handles it fine, but not the Gmail app. I don't need this capability as much, since I check Gmail more on my Android phone than on my iPhone-turned-iPod touch.

Two weeks ago, I told you that if I hated Gmail, the worst case was I'd have to go back. Not only have I not felt the need to go back, my wife has been watching my use of Gmail and asked me to move her from Outlook. She, too, is finding the Gmail experience pleasant compared to Outlook.

Finally, let me repeat something I've said in the past two articles. Gmail is not better than Outlook. Outlook is not better than Gmail. I've used Outlook for years and years and it has served me very well. I have simply been looking for a productivity boost and a reduction in task friction and for the work I do today, Gmail is the right choice. For today.

Over the past few weeks, many of you have written to tell me about your travels with email. I haven't had a chance to respond to all of you individually, but please continue to email me, and share your thoughts below in the TalkBacks.

Topics: Cloud, Google, Microsoft, SMBs, Google Apps


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Why would it surprise anyone?

    Gmail's superiority in dealing with spam has been the single biggest advantage for many years. Beats Yahoo! into a 3-cornered hat too.

    You need tofamiliarise yourself with 'labels' which is the best way of sorting that I've found. What strange preferences did you have? Perhaps we can advise on how to achieve them.
    • I haven't had a spam email

      In my inbox for... Actually, I don't remember any for a long time, they end up in the Junk folder.

      Outlook rules sort emails that I receive regularly into folders or leave only the last message from sender or only messages sent in the last week.

      There is an option to unsubscribe, it has been documented by many users when Engadget mentioned this "revolutionary" feature in GMail, it's been in for ages. Filtering by email type and quick search is also there.

      Instead of learning about new features of existing email, the author decided to try something new. Good to hear he liked it, but it's curious that he could tolerate a lot of inefficiencies, and mixed features of on-line interface which cannot be used offline features of a fully-blown traditional client (office exchange client). Also, there is no mention how both online services work with 3rd party clients, for example, iOS Mail client.
      • "cannot be used offline" ??

        This isn't 2005, y'know. Get with the program.
        • it's 2014

          And offline features are just as important than back in 2005. And not just in 'developed countries' I might add.
    • Can't say

      I've noticed much in the way of spam in recent years on any of my accounts - although GMail is probably down to the fact that only Google has my address registered anywhere, I only used it for purchasing Android apps, everything else goes through my personal account or hotmail.

      Hotmail had a problem in the early noughties, but I can't say I have had any spam in the account (which has been running non-stop since 1995, before MS bought it) for the last 4 or 5 years.

      We use Exchange at work, and again, with Spam Assasin picking out the spam, I rarely get any spam (3 or 4 per year).
  • So how are tags vs. folders working out for you?

    The only people who actually prefer tags are kidding themselves.
    • Choice is bad, huh?

      For folders fans, you ca use 'labels' like folders. But most of us actually prefer labels as lables. Smoother.

      No need to insult people just because they disagree with you.

      You cretin ;-)
    • Tags vs. folders

      Don't even notice the difference. They're working pretty much identically for me. List of tags down the side like folders, drag to them like folders. Only difference is you can assign multiple tags to one message (or, in folder parlance, file a message in multiple folders at once). I don't even do that. It's been a complete non-issue.
      David Gewirtz
    • If you only assign one label it's functionally the same as folders, but....

      ......that's the genius of labels, you can assign as many as you want, so the mail effectively lives in every folder where it has some relevance.

      Folders is the single best thing about gmail. Why would anyone argue against such vastly superior functionality.
      • ooops - labels (not folders)

        no edit - that's a shame
  • Labels vs Folders ...

    ... as any long-term Gmail user will know - are completely interchangeable.

    New users do still get hung up on the fact though, it might be helpful if Google just called them folders!
    • I used to hate the label concept

      in the beginning, having been used to the folder paradigm on almost every (thick) email client. I realized that the reason was due to the increased # of steps to setup a label. You could create a new folder with a right click on the parent folder but for labels, its a couple of steps more.

      However, once setup, the flexibility is enormous. You can use regexp to change what does and doesn't get filed under that label. Its definitely more powerful and flexible. Besides, you can do a search and then create a filter or a label for the results of that search with just a couple of clicks.
  • To be fair ... made the largest impact!

    While I have not had the "pleasure" of working with Office 365, I do have 4 Microsoft accounts that I use. I also access 3 Gmail accounts (2 are Google Apps), 1 Yahoo account, and 3 strictly webmail accounts associated to domains hosted on GoDaddy. Please note these are a combination of work, non-profit, and personal accounts. Also, I access these either via the web interface of, Outlook 2013, or my Lumia 1520 Windows Phone. Yes, I have a tendency to lean toward Microsoft, but I keep other accounts active to see what else is going on in other tech companies (e.g., i try to keep an open mind).

    With that said, I think one of the determining factors was your use of Did you try this on your Office 365 account BEFORE switching? Years ago I switched from Hotmail to Yahoo, then later Yahoo to a Live account. Each time I made a transition, I made a conscious effort to unsubscribe from old or unwanted subscriptions and mark items as Spam.

    NOTE: Even with your Inbox cleaned up, I'm not sure this would have fixed your problem with app crashes and profiles corrupting. I know quite a few folks using Office 365 but you're the first person I've heard that has this issue.

    Fast forward to today, and I really don't have a problem with Spam. Matter of fact, I get more Spam in my Spam folders in Gmail than all of my Microsoft accounts combined. And yes, when things seem to get out of control, I do a newsletter/subscription review and get things cleaned up in about a week or two (hence my belief made a large impact).

    As far as Spam and unwanted subscriptions go, these are all part of the email world we live in today. The best way to keep Inbox Zero is to stay on top of your email for the long run.

    One final note is that with the latest updates to Windows Phone 8.1 Update, Gmail syncing is really smooth (email, calendars, etc.)!

    Just my two cents worth!
  • Correct

    Me if I'm wrong but it seems to me when using Gmail with a client, those tags become folders
  • Outlook is light years ahead.

    I can do everything described in this article and a thousand more things in Outlook desktop client. I can sort in whichever way I want and gives me better control of my emails.

    I can easily manage subscription email and create rules so that emails neatly goes to various folders and get a Zero inbox.

    The only feature I am not familiar is "".
    • Owl, your view has no value ...

      ... you cannot make claims about one system, when you never ever tried the alternative.

      For all you know, gmail might give you $5 for every spam email that escapes their filter. Still think 1990s Outlook is "light years ahead"? (Whatever that means).

      You can't compare your religion with an email system you never tried.
      • Never upgraded from Outlook 1990?

        This is a two year old Engadget article that describes what could do then. It had that revolutionary unsubscribe feature then, and much more. Things have been steadily improving since.

        Try it. It's free.
    • Yes,

      Owl:Net, you can do everything with your Outlook desktop client.... until you move to another device. That's the beauty of having a cloud-based email solution like Gmail or (Yeah, I know your hatred of all things Google, so I thought I'd throw in the I have set all my email addresses (that I used to aggregate in either Outlook or Thunderbird) to be forwarded to my Gmail account. When I access Gmail from my desktop, my laptop, my tablet or my phone, I can get the same emails, access the same info and not worry about archived emails being only on one device.
      • I don't trust anything Google. works very well for me, and spam in never an issue.

        Google has blatant disregard for user privacy and the length they go to suck user information and collate everything is beyond anybody's imagination.
        • I don't trust anything Fowlnet.

          He might as well just post "I vote for whatever it was Microsoft made" and it would equate exactly to whatever he does actually say.

          Microsoft are twice convicted predatory monopolists with a advertising backed search engine that collects data about visitors, and at least as long a history of privacy issues as any of the other big players.

          Doesn't matter to fowlnet though.. he's their number one fan and only Google can do wrong it seems.

          Question mr Net, do you think Microsoft don't know as much about you as Google would had you not been a MS shill? Don't be silly, of course they do. (they probably also know your bank details too I'll bet.. have to pay you somehow right?)

          use what you want, but since you don't' use any Google services, why pretend you know what you are talking about? I actually do support hundreds of folks at a university using all different platforms and services so at least my opinion is actually based on some experience.