Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Will Fastmail survive?

Yesterday the people who make the Opera browser announced that they had acquired Fastmail.FM, a commercial email host. Does this matter to anyone except the shareholders of those companies?

It might. Email is critical to many of us on the Internet. It may be true that email is for old people, but I find it pretty much essential for a great deal of the Internet’s usefulness. I’m a heavy user, in case you hadn’t gathered. I want to be able receive and send wherever I am and I archive everything. That’s a couple of gigabytes per year.

I move around a lot, connecting to the Internet through two or three different routes every day. Getting and sending email though the day used to be a problem for me because ISPs’ email servers tend to assume that you are connecting through that ISP. In the early 2000s I went through a phase of having to reconfigure the email client on my laptop wherever I was. To get round that I tried putting all email through a server I owned – Qmail on a Mandrake box – running in my home, running on a DSL line with dynamic IP. It does work, but it cost me grief to support it that I just didn’t need. (Gmail was in its infancy and wasn’t allowing you your own domain name at the time. Besides, I don’t like my Gmail address.)

Winding the clock forward to a few years back, I found Fastmail.FM. They are a specialist email hosting provider. They offer IMAP and SMTP over SSL (SSL is important because otherwise passwords are exchanged in plaintext, which might be over public wi-fi) and an email web client. They don’t do much else, but they do provide their email service brilliantly. I’ve been very happy with Fastmail for over three years. All my machines sync to the server, I have a nice fat email archive which I can search instantly, and I send and receive email on the move wherever I am. It’s just one less thing to worry about.

Now, Fastmail is being acquired. By a company with a marginally-functional email service of its own. Hmm.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Opera. They are another plucky David fighting the Goliath of Internet Explorer. They provide a credible browser which lots people like. They haven’t been as successful as Firefox, but then they haven’t had Google’s money behind them. I met their CE at the OOXML standards meeting in Geneva. He was saying some very sensible things.

But, I’m concerned that Fastmail might lose its service as a result. There are plenty of examples of companies getting acquired and effectively ruined. Will the acquisition of Fastmail cause it to lose focus in its email services? Opera says no, of course, and it’s encouraging that they say the Fastmail team will be kept on. Let’s hope that Opera means what it says and that Fastmail gets enhanced, not trashed.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out what it would take to move my mail archive and where I would move it to.

posted by colin at 1:23 pm  


  1. “But, I’m concerned that Fastmail might lose its service as a result.”

    Yeah, except for the fact that the Opera guys have made it clear that they aren’t going to change things for existing users…

    It’s more likely that they’ll keep FM as it is, and move their existing Opera web mail service user base there or something.

    Comment by flapper — 2 May 2010 @ 3:14 am

  2. @flapper – Every company that takes over another says something like that, of course. Let’s hope that Opera mean it.

    Comment by colin — 2 May 2010 @ 1:28 pm

  3. I used Fastmail for several years paying for accounts for my wife, my son, and myself. While I was a subscriber, I did almost always find their service to be top notch and they had a first rate site. While I was a subscriber to FM, I saw the creation of Gmail and watched it continually improve.

    At one point, I had a problem with the shared hosting for my domain name being put on a spam black-list. This caused me some grief, such as Fastmail rejecting emails coming to me or some such.

    I noticed that I didn’t have similar problems receiving email to my Gmail account so I went through the hassel of moving all my old emails to Gmail. As accounts expired, I did this with my wife’s and my son’s Fastmail as well.

    I think FM has a great product, but, honestly, I think Gmail is a better product. Yes, there are ads on Gmail. Yes, you are allowing potentially personal information to be stored within Google, BUT it is a nice and continually improving product. I keep my FM, now “free”, account active and perhaps one day I will go back to them… but that seems unlikely. Gmail adds features and polish almost continually but FM hardly seems different than when I left it a couple years (or more?) ago. I’m not sure I could, at this point, live without the threaded messages.

    Sure, I occasionally have problems with Gmail. It _SUCKS_ that Gmail has effectively NO customer support – there is nobody you can email when you have problems. I’ll readily admit I DO miss this from Fastmail.

    Comment by Kevin — 18 October 2010 @ 4:54 pm

  4. I agree 100% with Kevin, we used to use fastmail as well. We have migrated to Google. There are just too many benefits with complete integration into Calendars, cell phones, etc. Too many positives.
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    Comment by Patrick Rogers — 6 April 2011 @ 5:28 pm

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