Why Linux Users Will Love FastMail

I switched from Outlook.com to FastMail a few weeks ago. There were three variables behind the switch:

  1. I felt bad using a Microsoft product—albeit a fantastic one!
  2. My girlfriend switched and was a big fan.
  3. The nagging sense that Microsoft would eventually bail on custom domain support for Outlook.com (they bailed on new custom domain support two years ago but have continued to support existing setups, which is pretty nice but not encouraging).

I had heard nothing but good things about FastMail and while my initial experiment with it two years ago wasn’t great, I felt more committed this time.

I’m not sure if FastMail’s documentation got better or if I was just in a better headspace this time, but getting it configured was pretty easy. I have a lot of old email addresses from old web projects but setting up the domain records was simple, with detailed steps from FastMail. I had one issue that the help desk resolved fairly quickly (FastMail has great email support).

Email

I was shocked how fast their servers are. I never considered Outlook.com sluggish, but Fastmail flies. I get email notifications within nanoseconds of the mail hitting the server—across all of my devices.

FastMail makes it very simple to manage multiple email accounts from its web interface. Sending mail from different accounts/domains is easy and adding accounts is also easy. I’m not using Fastmail to check other email service accounts, like Yahoo! or Gmail, but the documentation says that’s possible.

The web interface is nice. There are shortcuts and in general, the web interface feels like a client, which is important to me.

The FastMail webmail interface

Last time I used FastMail, the spam filtering was awful, but it’s been just about flawless this time around.

Fastmail has an Android client that crashed a lot on me so I use CloudMagic and there haven’t been any issues.

Calendar

Fastmail also has a calendar that uses CalDAV. As long as I was switching off of Outlook, it seemed like a good time to finally get off of Google Calendar, which I don’t use that much anymore, anyway. I moved a bunch of birthdays and personal appointments to the FastMail calendar and I’m now officially done with Google Calendar. I’m able to get the FastMail calendar on my phone with CalDAV, although I did have to pay for an app to make that happen. The Fastmail calendar is great. It has a simple interface, does reminders, and shows dates and times, which is sort of the life’s purpose for a calendar.

The FastMail web calendar interface

Fastmail also allows you to sync contacts with Thunderbird (via a plugin) and with your phone (via CardDAV). I’m not using CardDAV on my phone but I am using it with Thunderbird. What that means is between the calendar, mail, and contacts, that Thunderbird is like an enterprise client. I think of it as Outlook, only faster.

Security

FastMail always had good security options but just pushed out a big update a few weeks ago. They simplified their security tools, making them more like other services. The updates included easier-to-implement two-factor authentication and application-specific passwords. What I like (and appreciate) about the application passwords is that they’re data-specific, so the CalDAV password Fastmail generated for my phone doesn’t provide access to my mail or contacts. And if you lose or retire a device, you can go into FastMail and pull the access. Just make sure you clearly name your application-specific credentials.

The web interface times out after a few hours of inactivity, which is actually kind of annoying on a personal level. But I’m enough of an adult to understand it’s a good feature from a security perspective.

FastMail is based in Australia, which is a privacy-centric country. Privacy wasn’t a huge factor in switching to FastMail, but it’s a nice plus.

Price

FastMail isn’t free, although there is a free 30-day trial. Prices range from $30/year for barebones email without domain management to $90/year for a business class account. I’m grandfathered into $40/year package, but they have something comparable, with more storage, for $50/year. As I’ve mentioned before, I like paying for services since it gives me recourse if something doesn’t work. And less than $5/month is a small price to pay for something as important as email. And your calendar. And your contacts…

Conclusion

FastMail isn’t a Linux product per se, but it uses lots of open standards so that you can interface with it effectively using your own tools. You’re not locked in to one client or tool. And that’s the beauty and dream of Linux-—to use your own tools the way you want to.

I was looking for an old email a few days ago and I wound up in Google Inbox, which is an alternative interface to Gmail. It felt like Google was trying to handle my email for me and I didn’t appreciate it. FastMail lets me choose how my email is handled. Which is the way it should be.

I’m actually embarrassed I didn’t move to FastMail sooner. It’s a great, open product that any Linux user should love.

If you’re trapped in a proprietary email system, why not buy a domain, sign-up for FastMail, and free yourself?


FastMail
What works: Everything! The email. The calendar. The speed. The service.
What doesn’t work: Nothing!
Who should work with it: Anyone who doesn’t want to be trapped in proprietary email and calendar environments.

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