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Christian Nimsky's Weblog

Moving from GApps to Zimbra

Christian Nimsky

Well this note won’t move markets or anything since we’re talking just a handful of users here, but Nimsky family ops here in California - after long and arduous discussions - has moved its email hosting from Google Apps For Your Domain to a hosted Zimbra implementation provided by 01.com.

Zimbra rocks, and I’m glad they got picked up by Yahoo.  For more on why we moved and some tips for making the jump yourself, read on.  If you could care less about switching email, skip the click.

First of all, I want to say that I really liked GApps.  It was the right package at the right price for me as an independent consultant and for us as a family to use for what is clearly not an enterprise-grade email need.  It was as though somebody tapped into our wishes and gave us a new alternative to the unappealing choices between free email accounts with limited calendaring capabilities and hosted Exchange solutions.

But it didn’t work out.  The availability of hosted Zimbra and three main issues with GApps ultimately drove us away:

  • We knew of and had even tried Zimbra prior to GApps.  It does more things than GApps and has better mobile device integration, but at the time we couldn’t find a hosting provider we were pleased with.  We now had some new hosting options.
  • We used an elaborate means of syncing Google Calendars to our BlackBerry devices through a service called ScheduleWorld (which is a great service in its own right that deserves recommending) however the combination of GApps, ScheduleWorld and some 3rd party SyncML software on the BlackBerries did something that caused calendar mayhem.   Imagine having your calendar events duplicated about 50 times.  It seemed as though the GApps version of Google Calendar had more such issues than the regular Google Calendar had.
  • We didn’t have a good solution for syncing online address books to BlackBerries and nothing from Google indicated they had large near-term ambitions for their somewhat limited “Contacts” function in GMail much less stronger BlackBerry support coming up.
  • The last straw was a strange restriction or software bug by Google limiting our ability to create internal-facing email distribution lists and email aliases that we use to control spam and filter our mail.   Our needs are modest; we only use 20 or so such aliases for the family and yet we couldn’t add any more and if we deleted one we couldn’t create another.  After requesting lots of documentation (and then receiving it) Google Premier-edition Support gave us a simple-yet-cryptic reply after a my increasingly strident requests for follow-up: They didn’t have any information [regarding my question on how or when they intended to fix the problem] but that they were continuing to make improvements to the Google Apps product.

This answer and lack of a plan didn’t work for me; I’m happy to pay for high-end email but it has to work and bugs have to get fixed - even if I’m just using it for personal email.

So, one MX record change and some funky POP3 import gyrations later (see notes below) our mail is now on Zimbra.  Below are a couple of notes to keep in mind if moving your email away from GApps.

Random Tips For Migrating Away From GApps Mail

GApps only allows for POP3 downloads of email however POP3 does not carry with it the “labels” you tagged your GMail with.  To avoid downloading your entire inbox as a single stream and then re-organizing your mail on another server into something like folders, etc. you can do the following:

  1. Clean up your GMail and empty your Trash.  Make sure Trash is empty because it will be used as a “folder” that can hide mail from the POP3 fetching process.
  2. For the remainder of this process do not empty your Trash again.
  3. Delete all your GMail.  That’s right; move it to the Trash.  Your Inbox should now be empty.
  4. Use GMail’s advanced search features (click “Show Search Options”) to find all email by GMail Label, going through your Labels one-by-one.  An example search would appear below:
  5. GMail Filter Options
  6. Select all the mail returned by the search (be sure to get all of it, not just the first page of results).
  7. Move the selected mail to the Inbox.
  8. Download via POP3 into whatever mail application or service you like, and after the download finishes tag it, file it or do whatever you need to do to “reconstruct” the organization you had using GMail Labels in your new system.  Be sure to set your POP3 download options to “leave all email on the server.”
  9. Select all the email in your GMail Inbox and delete it again (sending it back to the Trash).
  10. Repeat with your next Label.
  11. Do not forget to include Labels such as Inbox and Sent.  Also if you use “Starred” mail in GMail, go get all your “Starred” mail”
  12. When done, return all your mail in “Trash” back to Inbox so you have your GMail account as a backup. 

Final Note:  I have not mentioned how to handle Archived GMail because I didn’t use their Archive function.  I’d hope that retrieving mail from Archive could work using a similar method.  Also be sure to understand how whatever application you are using handles POP3 imports and where it puts them.  It helps to have the imported email go into a clean, temporary folder that doesn’t have new emails you might be receiving from other sources sneaking into it while you complete this process.

And now the Disclaimer: When moving this much email around you need to be careful - the steps are repetitive and the process is unforgiving of errors.  Don’t cry to me if you do this in the wee hours of the morning when you are tired or are otherwise distracted and you nuke or misfile a ton of email.