Many Gmail users put a lot of their lives into their inboxes. Over nearly seven years, with ever-increasing storage, how could you not? So if your inbox suddenly went blank, where would you turn? Now's the time to get a secondary stash in place. Here are four options — free or cheap, easy or geeky — that will give you peace of mind.
Keep in mind that Gmail's data loss from this weekend wasn't actually a total loss for anybody, and that as a result of a bug caught quickly, only about 40,000 users, or 0.02 percent of Gmail's estimated 200 million, were effected. And everybody got their email back eventually, as Gmail goes so far as to keep tape backups of everything. But for a weekend, some users had no access to anything they'd ever sent or received. And when more typical site outages occur, one can act the part of a pro if they've got a backup source for anything they need from their life's files.
Below, we've separated a few of your backup options into levels of convenience, price, and geekiness. We recommend finding the option that hits your sweet spot and making sure you've got your email backed up.
For Those Who Don't Mind Paying for Convenience: Backupify
Once you sign up for Backupify, then authenticate your Gmail or Google Apps account through the service, you really don't have to do anything — and we mean that. Backupify uses its servers to pull data from Google's servers, and after an average of 2-3 days, your Gmail archives are there, and new stuff slowly streams over.
Backupify also backs up Facebook data, Flickr photos, Google Docs, your long-term Twitter stream and lots of other web apps. Best of all, they're offering one year for free right now with discount code savegmail, so giving Backupify a try is really worth the (very minimal) effort.
For Cheapskates Who Like Automation: Gmail-to-Hotmail
What are the moral implications of using Hotmail primarily as a free, server-to-server backup of your Gmail messages? We cannot say. But Hotmail really, really wants you to transfer over your messages, and they've even created a simple web interface for doing so: TrueSwitch.
First up, though, sign up and secure a Hotmail account, get a good password and sign into it. Then head to TrueSwitch, enter your Gmail user/pass info, then your new Hotmail login, and choose what you want Hotmail/Windows Live to copy over. As with all the other options, you'll likely have to wait a while, but once all your data has arrived, you'll get an email from Hotmail, letting you know you're all set.
Hotmail is a nice backup solution in a few ways, really. First off, you can send messages from your Gmail address using the account importing tool, and Hotmail offers a nice spam-fighting alias feature.
For Basic, Local, DIY Backup: Desktop Thunderbird (and Then Somewhere Else)
Gmail offers access to all your mail through desktop clients, even the really old stuff. You could use Outlook or Apple Mail to download all of it, but Thunderbird is free, works on any system, and creates nicely portable packages that are handy for any other backups you're doing (you responsible data owner, you).
First things first: head to Gmail, click the "gear" in the upper-right corner, choose Mail settings, then head to Forwarding and POP/IMAP. Enable POP for all mail, and set Gmail to keep its copy. At this point, you should download and install Thunderbird, if you haven't already.
You can then click Gmail's link for configuration instructions; their step-by-step walk-through for Thunderbird 3.0 is spot on. Alternately, Thunderbird's automatic configuration usually picks up on the necessary Gmail settings if you enter your Gmail username and password. But if you're only planning to use Thunderbird for this backup job, you only need to have the incoming settings up and running for POP mail, so hit the "Manual Setup" button and drop this in:
Incoming: change to "pop.gmail.com" Protocol (the drop-down list to the right of the Incoming field): change to "POP" Port (the field to the right of the protocol drop-down list): change to "995"
Clear out the Outgoing settings if you'd like, but they won't do much harm. After hitting OK and verifying that everything's working, your only job is to keep Thunderbird running on your system whenever you can, and to give it a few days to grab everything.
Your Gmail messages are stored inside your Thunderbird profile, which you can find in a semi-discrete location. We'd highly recommend backing up that profile in the same way you'd back up your other important data, and hopefully somewhere online. Now you've got triple-threat access to all of your mail history, and Gmail's rare service interruptions and hiccups affect you hardly at all.
For Free, Local Backup, If You Don't Mind a Terminal: Fetchmail
Fetchmail is hardcore, bare-bones, command-line-powered mail backup. Gina showed us how to back up Gmail with Fetchmail, and doing it today is the same process. When you learn the switches and options, you can get very specific with which folders and how fast your Gmail archives stream in, but for the most part, it's a bit of setup and then, bang:
Those are the easiest solutions we know of for getting a whole-hog Gmail backup in place, either for free or for a pretty reasonable price. If we missed any, do let us know in the comments.