If you’re a blogger, freelancer or an Internet entrepreneur then you need your own custom email address, right? Because sooner or later you’ll feel embarrassed to show your @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, @hotmail.com, or @aol.com email address to the public. So the usual option is to sign up for a domain name and a web hosting plan and then use an email client like Outlook Express to access email. But that sucks!
And then Microsoft introduced Windows Live Custom Domains back in 2005 and later in 2006 Google introduced Gmail For Your Domain (now known as Google Apps). A free Google Apps account was the perfect solution since we got a Gmail like experience for our custom email accounts. And I was super excited when I was able to host my email in the Google cloud.
Unfortunately, Google discontinued the free edition of Google Apps back in 2012. They almost indirectly announced on their Official Enterprise Blog that individuals have to use a personal Google Mail account and businesses have to purchase Google Apps for Business to manage their email accounts. Yes, Google Apps for Business is $50 per user per year.
So it means that even if you need just one mailbox you still have to pay $50 a year. And yeah, there was a way to get its free edition by using a hack but that no longer works now.
Luckily there was a Microsoft alternative at that time, called the Windows Live Admin Center (previously Windows Live Custom Domains). It was the perfect alternative to Google Apps as we could create up to 500 accounts on Outlook.com (previously Hotmail.com) and experience its fresh, clean, and an intuitive interface.
But back in April 2014, Microsoft announced on their Windows Live Admin Center website that:
Outlook.com no longer offers support for new custom domain sign ups. New customers looking to manage custom domains are encouraged to use Office 365, Microsoft’s premium online service, which also includes enterprise-class mail, collaboration and communication tools.
However they also mentioned that existing users can continue to use the service but earlier this month Microsoft sent an email to all Windows Live Admin Center customers and informed that they will continue to support existing Custom Domains but users won’t be able to add or remove email accounts. In other words, R.I.P. Windows Live Admin Center.
We want to inform you of some important changes to the Windows Live Admin Center: As of April 10th 2014, Outlook.com no longer supports new custom domain sign ups. We appreciate that you have used this service and we regret to inform you of this change. This email will explain the upcoming changes and your options as a valued customer.
As a current customer, we will continue to support the ability to log in to Outlook.com with your existing custom domain email address, but as of July 31st 2014, you will no longer be able to add or remove accounts in your domain.
Of course, this move was expected because we know the “Windows Live” brand is dead but they never rebranded Windows Live Admin Center.
Now, what are the Google Apps alternatives?
Google Apps for Business – If you want to enjoy Google cloud; Costs $50 per user per year.
Office 365 Small Business – If you want to enjoy Microsoft cloud; Costs $60 per user per year.
Zoho Mail – If you’re looking for a free alternative; Free & ad-free for up to 10 users.
Atmail Cloud – $79 per month for 50 users.
FastMail – $40 per year for one account; $15 per year per account.
Hushmail – $5.24 per user per month.
Pobox – $50 per year for one account (10 – 20% discount for additional accounts).
Rackspace Email Hosting – $2 per user per month (Rackspace Email); $10 per user per month (Hosted Exchange).
These are the paid alternatives to Google Apps and hence may not be the perfect choice (especially if you need less than 5 accounts). But wait, there’s another workaround and I believe that’s the perfect alternative to Google Apps. It’s by using Gmail itself but after customizing it the way we want so that it becomes a mail hub. And yeah, it’s free and it works!
The Best Google Apps Alternative: Use Gmail As Your Mail Hub
I’m going to show you how to use your personal Gmail account as your email server – that’s to create a custom email address like [email protected]. You will need a free Gmail account (create a new account or you can use your existing Gmail account) assuming that you already have a domain name and a web hosting plan (I prefer a cPanel Hosting as it’s simple and easy to manage).
All my domain names are hosted by HostGator.com and InMotionHosting.com and both are cPanel Hosting. So I’m going to use HostGator for this tutorial. But please note that the steps may differ when you try this on another web hosting account that’s not using cPanel control panel.
Phase 1: Create An Email Account On Your Server
Open the control panel of your web hosting (cPanel in this case) and navigate to “Mail” section.
Now create a new email account – [email protected].
You will see the newly created email account listed there and now you have to retrieve its server settings. So click “More” and then click “Configure Email Client”.
You will get both “Auto Configuration Scripts” and “Manual Settings”. You can ignore the “Auto Configuration Scripts” and note down the recommended “Secure SSL/TLS Settings” as you will need this information.
Phase 2: Add As A POP3 Email Account In Gmail (To Fetch Mails)
Go to Gmail > Settings > Accounts & Import.
Here you can add another email account that you own so that you will be able to access the same from within Gmail. Click “Add a POP3 mail account you own” and enter your newly created email address. Click “Next Step”.
Enter the details of your new account on the next page (that is the “Secure SSL/TLS Settings” of your new email account).
If Google is able to verify your login credentials then it will show a message that “Your mail account has been added.” and will ask whether you would like to send mail from your new email account. So you have to select “Yes” and click “Next Step”.
Phase 3: Add As SMTP Account In Gmail (To Send Mails)
You can enter a custom name to show to your email recipients if you want or Google will use your default Gmail name. Click “Next Step”.
Now Google will ask whether you would like to send emails though your Server (i.e. your cPanel hosting server in this case) or Gmail server. You MUST select the “Send through example.com SMTP servers” option or else your recipient will see your @gmail.com email address.
Now click “Add Account” and Gmail will once again verify your credentials and will ask you to confirm your email address by entering the confirmation code sent to your new email address ([email protected]).
Since you have already added your new email account in Gmail (using POP3) you can go to your Gmail Inbox and click “Refresh”. You will get a “Gmail Confirmation” mail and you can complete the verification process by clicking on the given link or by manually entering the “Confirmation code” that you have received in your confirmation mail.
Now go back to Gmail > Settings > Accounts & Import and see if your new email account is added under “Send mail as” and “Check mail from other accounts (using POP3)” option.
Voila! You’re done. :)
BONUS: Hate Gmail? Try Outlook.com!
Yes, Microsoft has shutdown Windows Live Custom Domains but you can still use Outlook.com as your mail server in a similar way. Because Outlook.com also allows us to to send email using an SMTP server so that the recipient will not see our @outlook.com address. You can go to Outlook.com Inbox > Options > Your email accounts > Add a send-and-receive account.
Conclusion: When is it perfect?
The above solution is perfect if you need just one email account or when you need multiple email accounts but only one person will need its access. If you want to create email accounts for a group then you either have to use multiple Gmail accounts or have to go for one of the above Google Apps alternative.