Taking Back Email

My attempt to free myself from the Email giants.

Let’s be honest, it’s easy to use Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo. Put in your information, choose an Email address – and you’re ready to go! But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and this applies to Email as well. First, you trade your privacy (contents of Email being used for targeted ads, sharing with governments). One also trades control, however this is not unique to Email – it also could be said for data put on social media and other sharing websites. Conversely, you can gain some level of control by paying for premium services from these large Email vendors.

It isn’t just Email anymore though, Google offers “Drive” as well as other services through a Gmail account. Microsoft’s Outlook hooks into OneDrive and online MS Office web apps. Last, and perhaps least, Yahoo has several services as well that are accessible using a Yahoo account (not to make fun of Yahoo, I use their finance and weather apps – they are quite nice).

If you read my last post you will see that after trying to leave Google’s embrace that Gmail was the hardest service to get away from. If you are like me, your Email is a large part of your day-to-day life and uprooting can be hard, especially if you are trying to maintain the same (or similar) level of quality.

My first search brought me to https://www.autistici.org – the guys there brought me on, but to be honest the whole sign up process left me feeling a little unsure about it. You essentially petition for an account, and in the petition you explain why you want an account. I went through it and talked about how I support freedom and privacy, and try to improve the world in my daily life to promote these values (in relation to software) and they let me in, after a short back and forth about whether I was anti-facist. Which I am – by the way (who would say they were pro-facist, even facists won’t say that). After all that, I was exhausted and wondered how the service would continue going forward. I wondered what their stance was on open software? I assume they use free and open source software, but I couldn’t find it mentioned on their site. So while I agreed with their basic tenets, I decided to go my own way.

I came across Riseup.net but at this point was really just done with the idealism, I get it and I support what they are doing – but I wanted something sustainable and built on open source, with the ability to do some of the things my Google account did. It was a lot to ask, but I was tired of begging for a handout Email address from groups. They might not be around for as long as I wanted to use my address, not to mention I still didn’t know what was going on with my data. Could I use my account for whatever I wanted? At least with the companies I knew I was trading my privacy for the service.

Finally I came to https://kolabnow.com/ and there I found some options. First off it wasn’t just Email, Hallelujah! I tried their paid service and it is great, but eventually I wanted to add my family to my account and it got cost prohibitive for me. So I went ahead and and spun up my own droplet on Digital Ocean and set it up using the documentation at http://docs.kolab.org – there were a couple of hiccups that I think are Ubuntu specific, but I was able to work through them and now I have a working installation.

Kolab is groupware, so it is not just Email. It offers an address book, calendar, files, notes, and tasks – all that can be synced across devices. My father using his iPhone and my using my OnePlus One – we are both able to sync our calendars and manage our other content with relative use. The ease of syncing is due to Kolab’s use of ActiveSync, yes, that’s right, the same ActiveSync Exchange uses – and it works, quite well in fact.

So now I control my Email again, and I love it. I’m working to try and write some hooks into Kolab for the open source projects I work on (for instance an ability to upload files in Journal as “notes”). But I hope to continue using the platform, and even tie it into an ownCloud install. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

Until then, hit me up at ryan@sipes.us (my new Email address), or on Twitter @ryanleesipes or Google+ at +RyanSipes ! If you’d like to set get a Kolab account, check out their website https://kolabnow.com – or if you want to try to manage it yourself, please use my Digital Ocean referral link and get $10 off https://www.digitalocean.com/?refcode=c530190a0908 – which is enough for 2 months of their $5 droplet!


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