When it launched, millions of us grabbed free Gmail addresses, and associated Calendar, Docs and other apps followed. But personal domains are cheap, and claiming an @yourname.com address to use with Google Apps is easier than ever. Here's why you should.
Future-Proof Email Address That You Control
It's scary, but it's true: There's a possibility that Gmail might not always be the coolest email service in the world. For all we know of the future, there might be two hackers in a garage right now reinventing the inbox. There might be some desktop software that merges the convenience of the cloud with killer OS integration. Or you might just decide some day that, heck, Yahoo has more of what you need, or that Google's reach across your data is too deep.
If you're using a Gmail address, you can, technically, access your account from other clients through IMAP, auto-forward email, and otherwise stream your messages out. But if you ever decide on a new line of work, a different kind of username (sayonara, [email protected]), or a new email service, you're better off having your own domain. Your options for forwarding and import are more robust when you control your own domain, and you never have to send one of those click-and-pray "Hey everyone I've ever emailed throughout time—my address has changed!" messages.
With Google Apps installed on your own domain, your data is still, technically, running through Google's own servers. But Google's pretty good about portability, and if it starts looking like they won't be down the road, you've got a side door where you can step on out and maintain your identity. The great part about using your own domain is that you're not tied to any one email service provider. You can pick up and move your domain to another email provider any time you want.
Professional Polish, Family Friendly
Maybe your Gmail address is a bit better than [email protected] Gmail, too, holds a more proper imprimatur than AOL, Hotmail or other eyebrow-raising domains. It still holds true that having an email account on your own server, with a name you can change at any time, makes good sense.
If you do freelance work on the side, it's easy to create another account ([email protected]), one that pipes into your main personal account ([email protected]). If you decide to help organise a fundraiser, it's a few minutes to create another account for that ([email protected]), one that doesn't give away your personal address to folks you'll only message once or twice. When your kids get to the age where they get web-savvy, you can set them up with an email address ([email protected] and [email protected]) that you have ultimate control over. And for relatives with occasional tech troubles, you can throw them a lifeline and set them up on your server too.
It's Not That Painful To Switch
The hardest part about getting your own domain name these days is finding a URL that isn't taken — and that's only hard if someone has already registered your exact name. Get a little creative, use a reliable but cheap name registrar, buy a little hosted space and set up the free Google Apps on that domain — some hosts do that automatically for you. And nearly every mobile platform where Google offers some kind of syncing, an Apps address works just fine.
Note: For a full walkthrough of switching from a Gmail account to Google Apps, read Whitson's detailed take on migrating your entire Google account to a new one.
When you've got a domain name and space, you'll find that nearly all of Google's services are available to Apps users. Not every single app, but if you can live without History, Buzz, Google Storage, Health, Powermeter and Profiles, or at least live without for the time being, you're on your way. Even if you have other Google-assisted domains to log into or control, there is an early version of multi-account sign-in available that covers the Apps basics.
In other words, it's possible to live out the entire Google experience — Mail, Calendars, Sync, Docs — with your own domain name, rather than Google's Gmail.
That's just one editor's thoughts on Gmail, email, and data portability — and after writing it, he's pretty set on practising what he's preaching himself. Share your own thoughts and decisions on migrating from Gmail to Apps — or why you won't — in the comments.