FastMail Escapes The 1990s With Sleek New Interface

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FastMail is a popular e-mail provider among power users who want to be customers instead of products. But its interface has been stuck in the 90s — until this week when it rolled out a brand new AJAXy UI. And it’s really, well, fast.

Here’s a video of the new interface:

I use FastMail and the old school UI hasn’t been a burden since I mostly just use the IMAP service with desktop and mobile clients. I assume most other users do the same. But I do occasionally have need to use the web client and I had started to worry that the lack of an overhaul meant that Opera, which acquired FastMail in 2010, wasn’t taking the service seriously.

So I was pretty pleased when I logged in today to adjust some of my filtering rules and was greeted with a shiny new interface that no longer looks like Yahoo Mail circa 1999. I’ve only been using it today, but so far it’s great. It’s nothing revolutionary — it’s similar to the interface Yahoo Mail introduced back around 2005. But it’s more responsive than I remember Yahoo Mail being.

You can now drag and drop items from one folder to another, archive e-mail with a click of a button and, probably most noticeably, e-mails are now organized by conversation, just like in Gmail. In short, it works like other modern web mail interfaces like Yahoo, Zimbra and Outlook.com.

I mentioned it being fast and responsive before, and I want to emphasize that again. This feels like a native application — actually, better than many native e-mail apps. The only thing that isn’t lightening quick is search, and even Gmail is getting slower in that department.

One thing I haven’t gotten a good sense for, however, is how much CPU and RAM it takes up over time. So far it seems small and stable, using fewer resources than Gmail or most Windows desktop clients I’ve used in the past year, such as Thunderbird, Outlook and emClient. I’m skeptical as to how long that will last, but I haven’t noticed any memory leaks or CPU spikes — yet.

Assuming there aren’t any nasty performance surprises in store, I’d say it’s ready to go toe-to-toe with any other web mail service with one caveat: there’s no calendar or task manager. Therefore it’s not ready to displace my desktop software as my go-to mail app, but it will definitely make life nicer when I’m forced to use the web client. Anyone looking for an alternative to Gmail should take a look, especially if calendar integration isn’t a high priority.

If you’re interested in switching, check out Joe Brockmeier’s experience migrating from Gmail to FastMail. His experience is similar to my own, but I’d mention that the actual migration was problematic at times — I had a lot of e-mail and the transfer failed a few times. Part of that is because Gmail doesn’t follow the normal IMAP conventions for folders. If you add multiple labels to something in Gmail, that gets translated into IMAP-world as having multiple copies of it in different folders. So if you were using two gigs of space on Gmail you could easily be using six at FastMail because of this duplication. I ended up deleting almost all of my labels, but if you depend on labels this is probably not a good solution. On a brighter note SaneBox is a great cross-platform alternative to Gmail’s Priority Inbox and it works with FastMail.

For those of you already using FastMail but who prefer the old version, you’re in luck: you can still revert to the old layout. But everything is so well laid out it took no time at all to “relearn” it. That could be because I’ve spent enough time using enough different e-mail clients that I have the lay of the land down pat, but even some of the more hidden features like changing rules and filters were intuitive to find. All my earlier settings seem to have transferred over as well.