Gmail GSuite Legacy Alternatives

Update 2022-05-16: Google has relented (for now), you can use this self-transition link to see the option to stay on the no-cost Legacy G Suite.

Google is killing off my free Gmail accounts. All of them.

Sixteen years ago, I moved b3n.org to Google Apps for your domain. Now it is known as GSuite and Google Workplace. It’s an excellent service providing 100 Free Gmail accounts for families or organizations. Well, not anymore.

Google sent me the following notice:

Photo of Darth Vader: I am altering the deal.  Pray I don't alter it any further.
No more Legacy Gmail for You.

From Free to $1800/year

I’ve got 25 users (I may have more, I haven’t checked all my domains), so to keep using Gmail, we have to upgrade to the Workplace plan, which will cost $150/month. Now, Gmail is excellent, arguably the best email provider out there, I’d be happy to pay for it, but I don’t want to spend that much.

Han Solo giving bartender credits
Everyone needs to make money.

We already spend thousands of dollars annually on various Google services, extra storage, Google Ads, and a Google Pixel phone for Kris and me every 3-years (I replace them as soon as they’re EOL for security updates). We’re not freeloaders.

There’s a considerable uproar from people on legacy accounts like mine, so I hope Google will relent. But prudence demands that we look at contingencies. Here’s what I’m working on so far:

Emperor Palpatine
Apple?

  • Our Pixel 3 phones are going EOL anyway, so I’m switching over to iPhones (the dark side) so we don’t risk losing access to our phones in the midst of this.
  • We have legacy Google Voice accounts. I don’t know if Google will let us migrate these to a paid account or if we’ll lose the numbers. If I can’t find any information on this I’ll probably port those out to Tracfone temporarily.

    Update 2022-05-12: I ported our Google Voice numbers to US Mobile using Dual SIM on the iPhone with success.
  • Looking for alternatives to Gmail to see what’s out there.

My Gmail Alternative Email Requirements

Planning the attack on the Death Star
Requirements to beat this thing

What I’m after out of Gmail is just groupware. There are three core requirements for groupware:

  1. Email
  2. Calendaring
  3. Contacts
    (and integraiton of those three)

Some people throw in Notes, Tasks, and Chat, but those aren’t necessary. More specifically:

  1. Robust Email Deliverability – I can’t have emails go missing. Reputable service with DMARC capability.
  2. Calendar Sharing – Me and Kris share calendars, I also share my work calendar with my personal calendar and vise-versa to avoid scheduling conflicts between personal and work life.
  3. Contacts – I have contacts and groups of contacts, people can be in multiple groups, I need birthdays and other date events from contacts to sync to the calendar–nothing difficult.
  4. Mail Interface – It needs to be more robust than Outlook or Thunderbird. I receive a decent volume of email so having a fast interface is necesarry. I used to use IMAP with Thunderbird but the volume of email I deal with causes it to hang and crash. I once waited 12-hours for it to churn away archiving emails and eventually it crashed. Now, arguably I have some large mailboxes and should clean them up to make them faster–but I don’t have time for that.
  5. Server side search. I need to find emails on the go and I want those results returned even for emails not synced to my phone, and sometimes I need to lookup emails from 10 or 20-years ago.
  6. Mass edits. I will frequently tag or perform an action on thousands of emails at a time (this is usually what causes Outlook/Thunderbird to crash).
  7. Server side Filtering. I use filters to automatically organize and label incoming messages based on certain keywords. Without this I’d have a thousand unorganized emails hitting my inbox daily and that’s impossible to stay on top of manually. Yes, I’ve tried to unsubscribe from spam lists but it doesn’t always work.
  8. Nice to have: Zero knowledge. I’d love to use a provider that has zero knowledge of the data stored for security purposes. But this isn’t a requirement.
  9. Decent Storage – Currently my Gmail account is 23GB. Most other accounts are smaller so shared storage or mix/match would be ideal.

Gmail Alternatives to Legacy GSuite (what I’ve found so far…)

Vader and Luke fighting
Hope

  • Google Workspace. So the first option is to upgrade to Google Workspace. $6/month/user. This would be the simplest route since we can continue using Gmail. However, it’s not clear if legacy Google Voice accounts attached to my GSuite accounts are compatible with Google Workspace. We could probably use Google Workspace and migrate other accounts that don’t need groupware to another provider to keep the cost down.
  • Microsoft 365 for Family for up to 6-users. $100/year. However, family edition is limited to 6 accounts and doesn’t support DMARC and requires a domain registered with GoDaddy (I’m not making this up–although there are ways to work around it). I use Outlook with Exchange online at work and I find it to be difficult to maintain a heavy volume of email. Some inbound email filters only work when Outlook is open and generally Outlook hangs when doing mass actions (the webmail UI is faster). I use a lot of the MS stack, and I already pay for Microsoft 365 for Family, but lack of DKIM is a big missing feature. Microsoft is literally the only provider on this page that doesn’t support it.

  • Microsoft 365 Business – $12.50/month/user. Same issues as above, however DKIM is supported.

  • Protonmail – Encrypted email. It’s pretty nice but has some drawbacks. It does not sync contact birthdays/events to the calendar. Contacts do not sync to Android or iOS (I like to know who’s calling me). The Visionary plan is very good at $30/month for 6-users. Beyond that pricing is $8/month/user.

  • Tutanota – Encrypted email, better priced. Birthdays from contacts don’t automatically get added to a calendar, there is no way for me to share my Tutanota and work calendars with each other–I need to see my work and personal calendars together to avoid scheduling conflicts. Pricing is €4/month/user.

  • Zoho Mail – This is currently the least bad Gmail alternative. Birthdays from contacts do sync to the calendar (good), but you can’t add multiple dates to a contact (bad). What if I wanted to know someone’s birthday, anniversary, and work anniversary? Too bad (so far Gmail is the only provider I’ve found that can do this… but I had this with PIMs 20-years ago!). I probably have a hundred or so contacts with multiple dates so this would be very annoying to have to recreate them as calendar events. That said I haven’t found anything better than Zoho–a 5-user account is free and the pricing for more users is reasonable at $1/month/user for 5GB, $1.25 for 10GB, and $5 for 50GB. The desktop mail app is nice and can handle a decent volume of email. As an added bonus it can be a POP or IMAP client to consolidate external accounts. Zoho is the only option I’ve found that meets my requirements….almost.

  • Zillum (Zoho suite for families) is a new offering. This is not just Zoho Mail but the entire Zoho Office Suite. $5.83/month for 3 members; $9.17 for 5, or $16.67 for 10. Plans come with 25GB Email storage per family member; and shared WorkDrive storage of 500GB on the lowest tier to 2TB on the highest, plus the ability to purchase more storage. I should note it is rare for providers to service larger families–most providers cap it at 5, Microsoft goes to 6; but Zillum supports up to 10 family members. Good for them.
  • Fastmail. I initially missed this one, a lot of people let me know about it (thank you!). It is a popular Gmail alternative–$5/month/user for 30GB (or $3/month for 2GB). You can mix and match–so you only need one $5 user to use a custom domain. I will say Fastmail lives up to it’s name on speed. It does have Birthday sync from Contacts to Calendar, but does not have Anniversary or custom dates on the Contact field. One interesting feature is Fastmail’s development of JMAP (it’s good to see someone working on a non-proprietary protocol that can compete with Google’s email APIs). The price is a bit steep for me, but it is a good contender.
  • Infomaniak – 5 users is €1.50/month and scales up affordably. Provides the essentials: CalDav, CardDav, IMAP/SMTP, but I need something faster than IMAP. Unlimited storage… I’m always concerned about unlimited not really being unlimited.

  • MXRoute – I actually already have a lifetime account ($175) with 10GB and unlimited users/domains–MXRoute is robust on outbound deliverability –emails always end up in receipients primary inboxes. It provides IMAP/SMTP/CardDav/CalDav. Calendaring is possible but not robust. No birthday sync from contacts to the calendar. So I can’t use it as my primary, but I can use this for some smaller domains that don’t get a lot of email and don’t need full groupware.

  • Migadu – Unlimited domains / accounts but limited emails. A nice service but I don’t see how this is any better than a the MXRoute account I already have, and has the same calendaring limitations.

  • Mailcow Dockerized – self-hosted. A lot of people say not to self-host, but I’ve been doing it for decades; I know how to get deliverability to Outlook and Gmail. Mailcow has a nice DNS validation tool to make sure you have all the DNS records: MX, DKIM/DMARC, autodiscover, RDNS, SPF records, etc. configured properly making it one of the easiest to setup the right way. My main hesitation with this option is dealing with continuity for my family if something were to happen to me. Mailcow requires a minimum of 6GB memory so a VPS to do this would run about $40/month, plus a $5/month VPS for backup inbound MX. It wouldn’t save me much over other options unless I was scaling to several hundred users. Also, web interface is SoGo and birthdays from contacts don’t sync to the calendar. But since it’s opensource I could write that feature into the program myself. If I was going to setup a new self-hosted email server today, I would use Mailcow.

  • Mail-in-a-Box – Another option similar to Mailcow, with NextCloud integration (so if you’re also looking to move off Google Drive to self-hosting this may be a good option). It has a great setup/checklist to get started; if you’re not well versed in email but have a sysadmin type skillset this will do most of the work for you. The project was inspired by NSA-proof your email in 2-hours.

  • iCloud+ for $0.99/month now has email hosting for custom domains for 5-accounts. But there is no way to scale above 5-users. DKIM also sometimes fails when using SMTP (I expect this will eventually be fixed). It works great with Apple Mail but I don’t primarily use a Mac. Apple is known to block certain emails from hitting your inbox without warning from their filtering system. Webmail interface is a bit dated. The Outlook integration wasn’t very robust. It is okay for simple email needs but if you’re running a lot of rules or dealing with a lot of email it could be better.
Falcon with Death Star exploding
Victory?

Email Privacy

1984

Of course, there’s also email privacy to consider. It is no secret that tech companies can provide your data to the government. Another issue is big tech has moved from tolerating to celebrating sin. In the wake of censorship from Facebook, AWS, Twitter, Apple, and Google, we must assume that cloud mail services are not neutral infrastructure. They can pick sides. I don’t have a problem with this. When you use Facebook you’re in their house so they make the rules.

I see the writing on the wall for Christians using cloud services. And I’m not the only one that sees this–I know of one sizeable Christian organization that is moving away from the cloud back to on-prem.

I don’t know if and when that will be a concern. It may already be a problem: A few years ago, I had an issue where Gmail started sending emails from several people at my church into my spam folder. I had to set up rules to prevent this from happening. I think it’s more likely this was just a glitch, but it could have been a light attempt of censorship. There’s no way for me to know. We could use Big Tech for another 20 years but maybe not. But if you’re moving email providers anyway, it does make one consider where best to have email hosted.

Well, that’s what I’ve found so far. Zoho comes close, but Gmail is still better in terms of polish.

I can’t be the only one in this boat. I’m curious what others are using for email?

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
— Proverbs 29:20 ESV

16 thoughts on “Gmail GSuite Legacy Alternatives”

  1. Interesting. I have noticed a downgrading of quality with Google in general lately. When I search for something specific in my emails, I seem to be missing some of what I am looking for. Also, Google has continuously put some of my favorite news items in spam, probably because they are conservative. (Townhall is the main one I have trouble with.) I do like the way Google filters out the bad emails. I rarely get an email that is truly spam. I can’t help you with answers since I am the mom who was intelligent back when you were in ninth grade–now you are the intelligent one! :)

    1. Glad you finally admitted I’m the intelligent one! |:-)

      I’ve also noticed Google sending some of my newsletters to the spam folder–NRA, ICR, Answers in Genesis, and my Netdata alerts. Of course, I suspect Google isn’t targeting conservative newsletters, but perhaps newsletters in general. I am not subscribed to any liberal newsletters so it’s hard to tell.

      Maybe a liberal could provide some insight? Does Gmail block emails from sources like CNN, Girl Scouts, or Planned Parenthood?

  2. Hey Benjamin,
    In the same predicament and while searching for alternatives, Google has your article listed as the #1 featured result.

    While I don’t have as many users as you, I do have 7 users used just for my family and not for business.
    Out of all the options you tested, I am liking what I see from ZoHo Mail that you also liked and I think I will make the transition to them over the next week or so.

    Thanks again for your research. I was considering BlueHost as I couldn’t find any company offering email only services without giving me a hosting package as well. With hosting packages, they tend to leave email and web email as an after thought service and concentrate on the hosting aspect.

    But ZoHo Mail has ticked all the boxes for me.

    1. Hi, Dave. You’re welcome, glad you found the article useful. If you do switch to Zoho mail please let me know how it went–I’ve got some test domains on it, and it seems to work well. But I’m stuck moving b3n.org due to a comedy of errors of getting a locked iPhone from Verizon and now I have to wait on the email migration until they unlock my phone so I can port over my Legacy Google Voice number to the ESIM.

      Zoho has a new product called Zillum https://www.zoho.com/zillum/ which is the Zoho suite for families (up to 10 family members) which may be worth looking at. I’m not sure what the limitations no that are compared to the standard business plans–I do a fair amount of business so I’ll probably use the business plans.

  3. mailinabox [dot] email

    Small VPS supports it. Script installs. Calendar, Email, Contacts, Web mail. Uses Nextcloud.

  4. I wonder if you have other unmentioned criteria, such as moving all your existing user’s email to the new service. I’ve got lots of folders with lots of old messages that I’d want to move with a click or two, not many thousand clicks!

    I also use the wildcard functionality pretty extensively such that walmart@mydomain.org and lowes@mydomain.org both come to me if I haven’t setup an group or alias for them. Do you know which of these would allow me to continue that practice without making a pile of (probably forgotten) aliases?

    1. I tried the link and it says the offer is not longer available., only two days after your post.

  5. Thanks Benjamin. They also updated their help article as help: https://support.google.com/a/answer/60217
    Seems they are offering those who use it for personal use to keep using the free legacy package.

    I’ve moved over to ZoHo Mail already though. Couldn’t deal with the uncertainty. But at least I’ll get to still keep my account. Maybe after my 1 year subscription is up at ZoHo Mail and I can move back to Google? lol

    1. LOL! I can’t blame you, Google went right up against that deadline! I guess for me it paid to procrastinate this time. I’d be curious what you think of ZoHo after using it for a year (I am using it for a few business accounts). I had just finished porting out of Google voice and was literally days away from starting to migrate to ZoHo. I’m not going to port the numbers back–too much work.

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