How to switch from Mobile Me iCloud to Google Apps

I decided to divorce myself from the Apple-a-tron that is iCloud for a number of reasons.

  • I don’t like being forced to upgrade to iCloud
  • I don’t like being forced to upgrade to Lion to use iCloud
  • As a user of Adobe CS5 and numerous peripherals for photo/print etc, I can’t see how upgrading to Lion is going to make anything easier for me (actually the reverse)
  • I felt it was time to move my online self to a domain that I control, instead of or

So, how to do it? I run a number of Macs, and an iPhone so whatever I choose has to work on both, and be relatively painless. This guide isn’t for total beginners, I wish I had the time to describe every step in detail with screenshots, but anyone with a sense of adventure should get through this guide without difficulty.

Step 1 – buy a domain

OK, so I got myself a domain, for the sake of argument – that was the easy bit.

Step 2 – sign up to Google Apps Free

Again, this was pretty easy. I just went to

And went through their sign up process. You will need to verify your domain by adding a dns TXT record to the zone file, or by uploading a file to the website for your domain – but this is straightforward and much the same as verifying a website for use with Google’s Webmaster Tools or Analytics.

Once you have verified that you own the domain, then you need to active the services. Activating your email in Google Apps will require you to configure the MX records for your domain to point at Google’s mail cluster.

You will be asked at some point if you want to set up other users – just select No at this stage as we are only interested in setting up the first mailbox account.

Once you have got this bit done, you should be able to log into Google using your new email address (e.g. and start using gmail in the way you already know and love.

Step 3 – Configure for Google Apps

OK, this is where I learnt a few things about how Google handles IMAP folders and how can be configured to work with it.

Enable IMAP access for your Google mailbox. This is done in your mailbox settings (click the gear/cog icon top right of your Google mail window) > Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. Leave the options as default (Auto-Expunge on).

Now, in, just set up your account as follows:

Configuring for Google AppsAnd the SMTP settings that matter… smtp settings

Mailbox behaviours that work for me Mailbox Behaviours for Google AppsAnd finally, the advanced settings Advanced Settings for Google AppsGetting the folders to behave themselves

Mail foldersTo prevent from creating extra folders in the gmail system you must tell which folders in the Google Apps mailbox to use as the default Sent Items, Trash, Junk, and Draft. You do this by expanding the new Gmail mailbox in’s left column, and selecting each folder in turn, then selecting from the menu, Mailbox > User This Mailbox For > [Draft, Sent, Trash, Junk]

Once you have done this correctly, you should just be left with the Starred and Important folders, as shown in the screenshot opposite.

About Gmail’s folder system

Gmail (Google Apps mail) uses a slightly funky system for storing messages in IMAP folders. It’s actually pretty neat, and allows very effective use of space. It creates folders virtually from the labels you attach to messages in the web interface. So, if you have a message with a 10Mb attachment, and assign it to two labels, then it will only take up 10Mb in your Gmail account. Try it and see! However, when you view it using or any other IMAP client, you will see the same message in two folders. Unfortunately, on your Mac, if storing the messages locally (which I always do) then the magic is lost and you will be keeping two separate copies.

This is esoteric, and doesn’t really matter in day to day usage, but sometimes, you might want to find a message on your Mac, and you might think it’s gone… forever. But – there is an idiosyncrasy in the way IMAP clients interact with the labelling system. If you drag a message from a Gmail folder in mail, to a local folder on your mac, you might think yo uhave removed it from your Google account. You haven’t. What you have done is remove Gmail label from the message in the Gmail system, and copied the message to your local Mac disk. The message will still exist in the  Gmail account in the “All Mail” folder.

The “All Mail” folder in Gmail is (you guessed), another virtual folder, but this one is a bit special. It contains all messages including those that have no labels at all… i.e. those messages that do not appear in any folder in an IMAP client such as So, if you can’t find a message in, then there is always a slim chance it might be buried somewhere in your Gmail account.

Currently, there is no easy way to filter out all unlabelled mail in Gmail. This is something that people have requested for years, but Google have not yet provided.


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