Gmail and Zoom Are the Worst

Posted on Mar 31, 2021

May I scream into your screen, please, dearest reader of this humble site? Pleeeeease Ok, here it goes:


Wow, that felt awesome. Now you might be wondering a couple of things about me and my unhealthy relationship with some software and services:

  1. Why the hell are you still using them?
  2. What went wrong this time?
  3. What’s your plan to abandon those ships?

Let me start with the last one. That’s precisely the problem: there’s no viable plan for me to quit using them, at least none that I can think of? Zoom, for example, has entered my life because… people. I’m a very social person and I try dissuading people to use better stuff like Jitsi phone calls or email,1 but some insist on using videoconferencing… and using the worst possible service and software for that, of course: Zoom… Why wouldn’t you? Even Google Meet is better than that pile of smelling crap.

And what about Gmail? Wait, isn’t Gmail email, that thing you’re such a fan of? Yes, it is some sort of email… except when it’s not.2 It’s a Google-y version of an open standard, with very subtle traps laid all over the place just to make you use their horrible web interface. More on that later.

But I keep using it. In fact, it’s my only email account and the reason is that I can’t afford switching to a serious email service right now that lets me bring my domain… which is my long-term wish: to use my own domain in my email address… maybe even host my own email server. Long story short: I don’t have the energy to make that happen right now and I need an email account… so… Gmail it is.

So, what happened that triggered my rage?

Gmail Hates Your Local Mail Setup

Gmail is Google. Google is an ads agency. Google wants you to run their spying code as much as they can. So, they subtly force you to use their web interface as much as they can too.

The Gmail web interface is notoriously lacking. Basic stuff like OpenPGP signing and encryption is not supported in any possible way because… they don’t want you encrypt any mail… (How are they going to scrap your email for ads targeting if you encrypt it?) If you want to use OpenPGP with Gmail you must set a local mail client up.

So off I went to set neomutt up. I know, there are other clients out there, but bloated as it is, neomutt is way, way, way more mature and does its job. I also set up isync to get local copies of my email so I can read it offline. There you find out that… Gmail does very weird, non-standard things on IMAP, like including the contents of INBOX into the contents of the All mail folder. In IMAP INBOX is meant to be separate! Result? When archiving an email from your Gmail Inbox, you end up getting duplicates unless you tell client to copy the message into the All mail folder and then delete the message from INBOX.

Sending emails using Gmail’s SMTP server? Seems the reasonable way to go, doesn’t it? It seems so until you find out their SMTP server also stores your sent email to Sent… That’s also a non-standard extension. The SMTP server should just… send… SMTP is a very UNIX-y protocol, born in the golden age of people who knew how to code atomic, single-purpose programs… Per standard, storing should be done by your client… OK, so now everytime you send an email, unless you tell your client not to do their job, you get a duplicate.

Yep, Gmail expects you to sync back from their servers an email that originated from your local system, so that you can store it. The standard way is simply… well… you sync up your local Sent folder…3

Ugh… I hate these guys… And all I wanted was an offline, local setup for me to be able to sign emails and read them if I don’t have an online connection for some reason… sigh I sometimes believe things were easier some decades ago…

Zoom “Loves” Linux… Wait… No…

Zoom is notable because it gained traction during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Nobody really seemed to know them before that? And they weren’t prepared at all for the massive surge in users they had, as everyone figured out in a pretty bad way pretty soon in April 2020.

One of the “nice” features of Zoom is that is cross-platform and even provides binary packages for quite a bunch of Linux distros. Nice of them I guess? Until you find out… this…

Depends On      : libx11  libxtst  libsm  libxi  nss  xcb-util-image
                  xcb-util-keysyms  libxcb  glib2  libxshmfence  libpulse
                  pulseaudio-alsa  libxfixes  libxrandr  fontconfig  mesa
                  libxrender  libxcomposite  libxslt  dbus  ibus

These are the dependencies for the official Arch Linux package release they provide. There it is… sitting… waiting for you to install this package and break your local configuration: PulseAudio’s ALSA interface.

This seems like nit-picking, but is not. PulseAudio and ALSA do not cooperate. They never have, they never will, and the worst part is that in theory PulseAudio is meant to do so?

I know, folks… Zoom’s target Linux users appears to be DE users which set up audio “automagically” (until they don’t), not a girl like me who uses ALSA directly as in the old days, because she uses a WM… OK, I can understand that. But then… hm… could you rather be more agnostic?

“You’re being an elitist there, Ariadna… C’mon… You can’t possibly ask for Zoom to design their package around your personal taste… and you don’t even like their software…” you might tell me.

OK… granted… They have a WebRTC client! Yay! No, wait, it’s terrible. It lacks quite some of the client features, e.g. a basic input levels meter just to know if everything’s working fine? But actually, don’t worry, nothing is ever working fine and it’s all quite random to be fair. Yesterday if I plugged my mic in I lost sound output and if I plugged it off I got output back again and no, it’s not my sound configuration, because I had tested it beforehand.


So, this post is just a rant without a true conclusion. Just me venting about software I truly would like the world to be freed of. If you have any ideas, please share them in the mailing list? Am I begging for help? I don’t know any more… Sometimes I want to go back to the 8 or 16 bits era and stay away from all these “fancy” things I’m sure we don’t really need that bad.

  1. I’m anti-videoconferencing. I don’t care whether the platform and the service are open or not. I find the whole concept utterly annoying, time-consuming, pointless, and everyone looks bad in webcams anyways. Wars were planned without videoconferencing in the past, you know? ↩︎

  2. ↩︎

  3. I am definitely going to try mbsmtp out, but it all feels like workaround over workaround just to make Gmail do to what it should do as mandated by the standards that govern email. ↩︎