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Making a Smooth Move from .Mac to Google

by Matthew Russell
11/01/2006

Apple's .Mac product is a topic of much contention these days. For roughly $100 per year, some members feel like they're getting a good deal while others periodically wonder why they're paying money for stuff that they can get gratis via Google. Chuck Toporek's The .Mac Tax blog post is a bit dated, but still provides a relevant summary of the highlights from various points of view. Two issues near and dear to my own heart are .Mac's unwillingness to provide server-side spam filtering and the ability to edit calendars on the Web.

This article doesn't even attempt to try and make the hard decision of whether or not you should allow your .Mac account to expire. Actually, this article assumes you've already made that choice and presents a practical approach you can follow to get yourself on track for a smooth move to a Google-centric web experience. Getting your mail, address book, calendar, online storage, online photos, and blog squared away are among the topics we'll investigate.

First Things First: Setting Up GMail

Email is a good starting point, so let's dive right into this one first. Google's mail service is called GMail and provides a nice Web 2.0 experience. It's well integrated with Google Calendar and Google Talk, provides a novel approach to consolidating discussion threads, and gives you powerful searching abilities to find anything in your account. In fact, Google's advice is "never delete anything." Instead, just search for it.

Get an Invite

You can't just go to GMail.com and sign yourself up like other mail services. Instead, you must have someone with an existing GMail account send you an invitation, or sign up through your mobile phone. Google's Help Center addresses this topic by stating that the referral system is in place to prevent abuse. Whatever the case, you probably won't find getting an invite very difficult since you're bound to know at least one person with a GMail account already. You might also try checking on the Gmail Tools site, where folks often publicly share invites.

Forwarding Mail from .Mac to GMail

Once you have received a GMail invite and have set up your account, you'll probably want to have your .Mac mail forwarded to your new GMail account. In fact, one of the nice features of GMail is that you can have multiple accounts forward to it and still reply from each of those accounts within GMail itself. To get all of your .Mac mail forwarded to your GMail account, just login to .Mac via the Web and choose to forward your mail to your new GMail account. It's probably a good idea to leave a copy of the forwarded messages on the .Mac server (at least for a while), just in case you change your mind.

Thumbnail, click for full-size image. Thumbnail, click for full-size image.
Configuring .Mac settings to start forwarding messages makes switching to GMail easier. Google allows you to use other accounts from within GMail itself.

Forwarding your .Mac mail takes care of new mail that comes your way, but you probably want all of your existing mail sent over to GMail too, right? There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, but the simplest one seems to be creating a new rule in Mail to redirect all existing messages to your GMail account. To create a new rule in Mail, simply go to the Rules tab in Preferences and use the rule builder. Depending on the size of your inbox, you may want to just minimize Mail and come back to it in awhile. Google offers its own tips for switching on its GMail Help Page

Apple Mail Redirect Rule
Setting up a rule in Mail to redirect existing email to GMail.

Importing Your Address Book and More

You certainly don't want to be without your Address Book when you're working in GMail, and fortunately, all it takes is a simple run of the Address Book to CSV Exporter script to get your contacts in GMail, where they'll be intelligently presented in Google Suggest style as you type in recipients to messages you compose or forward.

You might choose to use Apple's Mail application with your GMail account. It's easy; just set up Mail accordingly. Of course, if you really like Mail's interface, make sure to explicitly factor that into your calculus to drop .Mac since the .Mac team just recently unveiled its new webmail interface that looks remarkably similar to Mail (although there's still no server-side spam filtering.)

If you're not sticking with Mail, you might recall that a handy feature Mail offers is auto-completion while you're typing in recipients to messages--even recipients that aren't in your Address Book. On many occasions, this feature may have saved you when you couldn't remember someone's email address, had no record of messages from them, and didn't know where else to look. As of Tiger, Mail keeps track of all recipients from message traffic and makes them available via auto-complete by stashing this information in ~/Library/Mail/Envelope Index, which is an SQLite cache file.

It may not be obvious how to extract the information from an SQLite file, but there's really not much to it. You can simply point the SQLite Database Browser at Envelope Index and then browse the "addresses" table, or you can run this Python script to produce a CSV file of email addresses and names from Envelope Index. (Note that you will need to install pysqlite to run the script.) Once you've used the script to export the file, consider emailing yourself a copy, so you'll never be in a hard spot because you forgot to put something in your address book. Or just sit there and marvel for a while at how many different addresses are in it.

SQLite Browser
Use the SQLite Database Browser to inspect your Envelope Index file, which contains email addresses that may be useful.

Finishing Touches

A couple of finishing touches to consider with GMail include setting up a signature to let people know that you're migrating away from your .Mac account, and adding a thumbnail image of yourself, which GMail and GMail's built-in version of Google Talk share with others much like Mail and iChat do. Your signature might say something to the effect of "I'm switching to GMail and won't be checking me@mac.com anymore after 1 Jan 07. My new address is me@gmail.com. Please update your address books."

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