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A free, private Gmail alternative

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If Gmail were to reinvent itself with a streamlined design and stronger privacy policy, it would probably look a lot like it Skiff

Skiff’s email service, which launched last month, provides end-to-end encryption for messages to other Skiff users, claiming that they can’t read your email content. The app is beautiful too, with none of the forced product links that make Gmail feel bloated.

As a longtime Gmail user, it’s tempting to switch to Skiff. My free Google storage is almost full – thanks in large part to Google Photos – and I like the idea of ​​splitting my tech use across a wider range of smaller businesses.

[Image: courtesy of Skiff]

But under its smooth veneer, Skiff still lacks too many of the features that make Gmail so useful. While I’m not against switching email providers, giving up Gmail is still too big a step.

What Skiff Mail does well

This might be a trivial thing to worry about, but I like Skiff’s font and icons. Unlike Gmail, I have no trouble distinguishing Skiff’s link and attachment buttons from the custom font:based on Stabil Grotesque–is larger, rounder and easier to read.

Skiff’s layout also feels less chaotic than Gmail, with no direct promotion of related services (like Google’s Meet and Calendar), and no ads anywhere. While Skiff offers a document editor in addition to its email service, it’s neatly tucked away behind a drop-down menu.

[Image: courtesy of Skiff]

Search is also a pleasure to use, with a pop-up command bar that appears when you click the search button or press Ctrl/Cmd+P. Results appear instantly as you type, along with suggested filters that you can add by pressing Enter. Gmail’s search experience feels clunkier by comparison.

In terms of privacy, emails are encrypted end-to-end between Skiff users so that no one but the sender and recipient can access them. This isn’t true if you’re emailing a non-Skiff user, as their email provider (or perhaps their employer, for corporate email accounts) can still access the content, but Skiff itself says it’s your email. cannot read emails.

[Image: courtesy of Skiff]

All of this is available on a free tier with a fairly generous 10GB of email storage, with attachments limited to 30MB. A $10 per month “Pro” plan increases the storage space to 100 GB for each service and increases the maximum attachment size to 100 MB.

Google still offers more free 15GB of storage, but since this is shared with Google Drive and Google Photos, it can quickly fill up with other data, compromising your ability to send and receive email.

Where Skiff Mail Struggles

While Skiff’s email service has good bones, it still has a lot to catch up with Gmail.

The biggest missing feature for me is an automatic sorting system, similar to Gmail’s Promotions tab, that keeps dozens of marketing messages from reaching my inbox every day. I’ve also used Gmail’s social tab as a place for newsletters – a trick I learned from a colleague londonbusinessblog.com contributor JR Raphael – and Skiff has no way of setting up something similar.

Likewise, Skiff doesn’t let you set your own filtering rules and only supports labels instead of folders. That means I can’t create a “Protected” folder for contacts whose emails I don’t want in my inbox, but don’t want to categorize as spam. And while you can label emails individually, archiving them makes them disappear from the label view. (Gmail also offers labels instead of folders, but the version is more folder-like.)

All this adds up to a very limited system for categorizing emails and keeping a tidy inbox. For me that is a deal breaker.

Skiff is also missing some other features that are nice to have in Gmail (and common in other email apps). There is no undo send button, custom signature support, print menu, email or snooze function. And despite its privacy policy, Skiff doesn’t block the trackers that notify people when you’ve read their emails. Neither does Gmail, but several Gmail browser extensions do.

Skiff CEO Andrew Milich says many of these positions are coming soon or in the planning stages. He also doesn’t rule out the possibility that automatic filtering is similar to Gmail’s Promotions tab, although he adds that this should be handled on the user’s device itself to preserve privacy.

[Image: courtesy of Skiff]

But even as Skiff adds more of these features, it still has an inherent challenge: it’s a new, unproven service. backed by venture capital† While Gmail isn’t going anywhere, I can’t say the same for sure about Skiff.

Milich says users with an optional storage system called IPFS will still be in control of their data, no matter what happens to Skiff. With IPFS, users’ data lives on a decentralized storage network, so users may one day come up with software to plug Skiff’s data into alternative email clients. Meanwhile the Skiff apps themselves are open source

But right now, the idea of ​​a contingency plan is just theoretical. Given the importance of email for managing your digital life, I would like more assurance or proof that Skiff is in it for the long haul. Or at the very least should provide an export feature to help with the switch to another provider.

More Gmail Competition

Skiff isn’t alone in trying to improve Gmail. Instead, it’s part of a wave of companies building privacy-focused product suites aimed at replacing what Google offers.

The most direct alternative is: Proton, which last month updated its branding and launched new bundle pricing for all of its services, including cloud storage, a calendar and a VPN. Proton Mail has some of the table-stakes features that Skiff lacks, such as folders, a filtering system, and email signatures. It also blocks senders from tracking whether you have opened their emails.

But Proton’s free tier is stingier at 500MB, and both search and navigation feel slower than Skiff. It also lacks the ability to snooze and schedule emails, and intelligently sort emails into categories. I’ve looked at FastMailbut am wary of diving into a service with no free tier at all. Vivaldi’s New Email Servicemeanwhile, is a bit too old-fashioned for me with its dense three-column layout.

At least for now, I’m stuck with Gmail, despite the annoyances and my rapidly shrinking storage space. But with so many companies trying to build more privacy-focused alternatives, it could be a matter of time before one of them gets the hang of it.

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