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How to switch away from Gmail

Google has made the allure of its “Gmail” product (which David Brandt justifiably calls “creepy”) so strong that there are a proliferation of tutorials out there promising to show you how to switch to Gmail. But what if you’ve decided you’ve had it with Google’s inadequate privacy controls and want to leave Gmail? What do you do? How do you get your messages out?

There are several ways.

First, you can fetch your messages out of Gmail and over to your new provider, using either POP3 or IMAP. (POP3 and IMAP are standards for delivering/receiving email, SMTP is using for sending email). To make this work, you’ll need to set up whatever software you’ll be using with your Gmail account.

  1. So for example, to transfer messages out of Gmail via IMAP using Mozilla Thunderbird, you need to set up both your Gmail account and your new account in Thunderbird, by going to Add Account (Tools menu in Windows, Edit menu in Linux).
  2. Then run through the wizard to set up the accounts and be sure to choose IMAP for both.
  3. Once you’re done, log in to Gmail in your browser, go to Settings, then Forwarding & POP. Click the radio button to enable IMAP, and while you’re at it, disable POP so it won’t get in the way.
  4. Go back to Thunderbird and open the Account Settings for your Gmail account. Where it says Secure Connection, select SSL. The port will be changed to 465. Save this change.
  5. You should now be able to access your Gmail account in Thunderbird.
  6. Once you verify your other account is correctly set up and accessible, you can begin moving messages.
  7. Go back to Gmail in your browser, go to All Mail, select all messages. Click the link to select all messages in All Mail, not just the fifty messages that are selected in that view. Then, Move Everything to the Inbox.
  8. In Thunderbird, click on your Gmail inbox. Windows and Linux users, hit Ctrl+A to select all messages. Drag the messages to your *new* Inbox, which will be the first folder (labeled, Inbox) under your new address. If you have many messages this move operation will take a long time – be patient.

Once all of the messages have disappeared from your Gmail inbox, you have successfully copied everything over to your new address. Congrats!

A second way is to download all of your messages out of Gmail using POP. This assumes you don’t want your messages moved to another web server, and you’re happy keeping them archived on your local machine in some folder or maybe even your global inbox. All you need to do is enable POP in Gmail, tell Gmail not to save messages that are retrieved using POP, and configure your favorite desktop client to work with Gmail. (Again, that means using a secure connection – SSL.)

A third way, which will be useful for people wanting to switch from Gmail to one of the other major webmail providers – Yahoo and Windows Live Hotmail – is to use TrueSwitch. TrueSwitch will automatically copy messages out of Gmail and into your new Hotmail or Yahoo account. They do all the work, you simply need to input your username and password. TrueSwitch also copies your Contacts.

Be warned that both Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo will show you ads. But you’ll be safer sending and receiving email there, where it can’t be fed into a Google profile of you.

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