Google Apps, launched way back in 2006, used to be free. A major draw to the service for technologists was the ability to host a personal domain and receive GMail-style services at no cost. Google provided hundreds of free accounts, later reducing that number over the years and eventually ending new free accounts in 2012, but maintaining services for users for over a decade.

Though billed as “free forever”, Google announced in January 2022 that by July, all “G Suite legacy” accounts need to pay for service or migrate their email, calendar, and other services elsewhere.

In typical Google fashion, the announcement of these services being end-of-lifed for free accounts has been done in the most frustratingly obtuse way possible — difficult to believe for a company that employs thousands of incredibly intelligent people.

There’s a support page (“support” in this case is a stretch) but the details seem to boil down to a few bullet points:

  • Your free account will be upgraded to a Workplace account, which means if you use legacy Google Voice, you may lose your phone number or the ability to transfer it to another Google account.
  • Once your account is upgraded, there’s no going back. You can upgrade it now, but if you find you’ve lost something… you’re out of luck.
  • You will need to pay, and will be given a 50% off discount for a year. This is really generous. Google owes free-tier users (who are not being served ads within mail) nothing.
  • If you’ve bought apps, signed into sites, or used other Google services (like Voice, Domains, etc.) you need to either migrate those services away or “simply”: upgrade to Workplace, add Google Cloud Identity’s free tier, downgrade Workplace…. and still authenticate using your formerly-legacy, now-hodgepodge account. Until they sunset Cloud Identity.

Basically, this is a lesson in two parts: first, TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) and second, diversity in services is a good practice to have.

What I’m doing

I’m taking steps to minimize the number of adjacent services that might be impaired when my account goes away:

  • Google Domains: I’ve added a secondary Gmail account as having full control over my domains. This ensures I won’t lose access.
  • Google Voice: I’ve transferred my very old, pre-Google-Voice number to another Gmail account.
  • Google Calendar: Off to my iCloud calendar. Export, import, done.
  • Google Mail: This is the tough one. Right now? Nothing.

Mail hosting alternatives

I used to host my own email. For a very long time. Nobody in their right mind should do so in 2022. It’s just not a reasonable hobbyist effort. Here are alternatives I’m looking at:

Google Workspace: The obvious incumbent, and at full cost it’s only $6 per user, per month. Not too bad, but I’m tired of Google yanking the rug.

Google Domains: If you registered or manage a domain via Google Domains, they offer email forwarding that you can use to forward aliases to Gmail accounts (or anywhere). You can then have your Gmail account send mail from your personal domain.

iCloud Mail: iCloud+ allows for users to add custom domains. You can share them with others in a Family Sharing scenario, or use them individually. There’s not a lot of flexibility, though: you can only add 5 aliases, there are no domain catch-alls, and filtering rules are limited. I’ve used this on a secondary domain and have found the integration with iOS to be perfect. Spam filtering and deliverability have been great, and tying it in with iCloud+’s “Hide My Email” functionality means you have a lot of privacy control.

Microsoft 365 Family: Microsoft’s offering is price-competitive and offers a lot more than just email; full Office licensing and discounts if you use Microsoft at work. While one of their personal domain requirements is that you manage your domain via GoDaddy, there are workarounds. I am hesitant to use a workaround that might someday change and impact mail delivery.

Zoho Mail: I’ve used Zoho services for years. Their free tier is generous, and their paid services are extremely cheap.

ProtonMail: You can connect a personal domain on paid plans. I love privacy-focused companies, and I’ve long-admired Proton. However, they’ve had some issues in the recent past.

Cloudflare: If you want to use standard Gmail accounts but still land domain mail into them, Cloudflare has a new product that might help, currently in beta. It requires that you use Cloudflare for your domain’s name servers.

ImprovMX: Also part of the forward-only game, they have a free tier forwarding service that could satisfy the needs of a small family or organization with a handful of addresses who are willing to use Gmail or other free providers.

Fastmail: For $5 per user, per month you get mail and calendaring and a very close drop-in replacement for Google Workspace. But, it’s only a dollar cheaper per month.

Yandex: For when you’re tired of the NSA reading your email and want to switch it up with the KGB. Nope.

There are probably other providers out there worth giving a shot. I’ll keep this updated as I come across them.