February 7th, 2009

Access Multiple Inboxes and Other Folders from a Single Account

I read about how Gmail supports “multiple Inboxes” and this seemed like a nice new feature.  However, LuxSci has allowed users to access the Inboxes and other folders from other accounts in its unified WebMail interface for over a year and a half now … i.e. this is old news. However, it’s not really “old news” as their “multiple Inbox” feature is named in misleading way — it is not supposed to give you access to other people’s Inboxes!

In this post, I’ll show you how to simulate multiple Inbox access in Gmail using the “multiple Inboxes” feature and indicate how this is not really a true multiple Inbox scenario and has some significant limitations.  Then, we’ll show you how to set up the same thing in LuxSci. Finally, you’ll see how to use LuxSci for true shared folder access.

Using Gmail for accessing multiple Inboxes in the same account?

Well, as described in this CNet blog posting, Gmail’s “multiple Inbox” solution is not really designed for giving you seamless access to folders in other Gmail accounts.  Instead, their feature is just a way for you to see the results of certain filters and queries on the side like an extra folder.

The CNet blog posting showed how you can use a bunch of Gmail tools (which LuxSci also has) to effectively forward copies of messages from one (remote) account to your main Gmail account, to create a filter to identify just those forwarded messages, and then to make a “view” of those messages based on who they are “To”.  Using the “Multiple Inboxes” feature, you can see copies of the other account’s messages in your main Gmail account as if they were in a separate Inbox.  This is cool and useful.

Of course,  this is not ideal because:

  • You are playing with forwarded messages and not the Remote Account’s actual Inbox … so any changes (such as adding labels or deleting messages) is not reflected in the original account.
  • You still have to alter your “From” address when replying to these messages.
  • Your Main Account will use up much more disk space due to keeping copies of the forwarded email.
  • The filters that match the forwarded mail may fail in the case of messages that were Bcc’d to the original account, or which were sent to that account via aliases (i.e. where that other account’s email address is not visible in the To or Cc fields).

But hey, at least Gmail allows you to do something, right?

Can you do the same thing at LuxSci?

Yes, if you want you can setup the same scenario on LuxSci as in Gmail (though in the next section, we’ll show you how to set up true multiple Inbox shared access, and how to improve on some of the shortcomings of Gmail’s solution using LuxSci’s features).

To do the same thing at LuxSci, you would:

  1. Log into the LuxSci account whose Inbox you want to appear in your Main LuxSci account.  We’ll call this the “Remote Account”.  For this example, this could really be any account at any provider that supports forwarding of email — even a Gmail account.
  2. Setup forwarding to your “Main Account” at LuxSci.  If the Remote Account is hosted at LuxSci, you can setup forwarding under “My Email Tools > Forwarding”.  If you like, you can turn off the “leave local” setting so that copies of the messages are not also stored in the Remote Account (which will save on disk usage).
  3. In your Main Account at LuxSci, create a new folder for messages from the Remote Account.  I.e. if that is your “blog” account, maybe call it “Inbox-blog”.
  4. Next, create a new custom email filter to match all messages “To” the email address of your original account (under “My Email Tools > Custom Filters”).  This will actually match addresses in the “To” and “Cc” fields (and some other fields).  The Custom Filters tool will save any such messages to the folder created in Step 3.

That’s it –messages sent to your Remote Account will show up in the new sub-folder of your Main LuxSci Account.

Next, if you want to be able to send messages from the address in your Remote Account, you will want to create a custom email signature where the “From” and “Reply-To” addresses are set up as those of the Remote Account (under “My Email Tools > WebMail Signatures”).  Then, when you compose messages, you will be able to choose that identity for sending.  When you reply to or forward messages originally to the Remote Account, that signature will be automatically selected for you.

There’s one more thing you might want to do to make this solution even better.  The messages that are Bcc’d to the Remote Account, or which otherwise arrive there without the Remote Account’s email address in the “To” or “Cc” fields, will be forwarded correctly to the Main Account, but the rule that filters them into the separate folder will not work as the “To” and “Cc” message headers will not contain address of the Remote Account (this would probably be a problem with the Gmail solution as well).

With LuxSci, you can easily resolve this by:

  1. In the Remote Account, create a new custom filter that adds a new email header to all messages.   Something like “X-Comment: remote@account.com” (using whatever the email address associated with your Remote Account is).  This effectively tags all messages as having passed through the Remote Account.
  2. Make sure the email forwarding rule occurs after this new custom filter.  This is easily done in the Custom Filters area.
  3. In your Main Account, edit the custom rule that matches and saves messages from your Remote Account.  Instead of using the criteria that the message must be “To” the remote address, you will now use the criteria that the message has the header “X-Comment: remote@account.com”.  In this way, you will identify all messages to the remote account, no matter how they are addressed.  I.e. this will handle Bccs as well as email aliases.

This is one solution for viewing mail from one account in another account.  This may be ideal if you are not permitted access to the other account’s email messages directly.

A Better Solution: Shared Folders

LuxSci has an even better solution to the multiple Inbox access dilemma — shared folders.  With shared folders, you can grant either read-only or read-write access to one or more folders in your Remote Account to your Main Account.  This is very different from the previous forwarding solution in that:

  • You are looking at the actual email folders of the Remote Account, not copies in of messages located in the Main Account.
  • Any changes made to the messages in the shared folder are immediately visible to everyone viewing the shared folder.  This includes the delivery of new messages, tagging of messages, annotation of messages, and deleting of messages.
  • Folders can be shared with any number of different users, and the read-write or read-only access can be specified individually or globally.
  • As you are looking at actual folders, different folders can be shared with different people and assigned different levels of access.  Furthermore, there is no trickery needed to be sure that you see all of the messages that are shared.
  • LuxSci shared folders are visible only in the WebMail interface — they are not visible via IMAP (though you could have many people login to the same IMAP account at the same time to share folders that way).

To set up a shared Inbox:

  1. Login to the Remote Account on LuxSci
  2. Go to “Email > My Email Tools > Email Folders”
  3. Click on the folder that you want to share.  This opens up the folder properties in a pop-up window.
  4. Click on “Sharing”
  5. Enter the user name (email address) of the Main Account and specify if the access should be Read-Only or Read-Write.  (You can also share with your entire account, everyone in your domain, or everyone in a custom group of users).  Press “Add”.
  6. Back in your Main Account, you will see this folder in your email tree under “Unsubscribed > Remote Account Name > Folder Name”.  You can subscribe under “My Email Tools > Email Folders” so that the folder shows up higher in the tree, if you like.
  7. Now, you can use this folder in your Main Account just like any other folder that you own
    1. Drag and Drop messages to and from it
    2. Delete messages in it
    3. Tag messages in it
    4. Annotate messages in it
    5. Read and download messages in it
    6. If the folder is “Read-Only”, you can read messages and download them, but nothing you do will alter the folder.  Even reading a message will not “mark it read”.

You may also want to set up your WebMail Signatures so you can reply and send messages from the Remote Account’s email address.

Use of shared email folders does give you true access to multiple Inboxes and other folders from multiple accounts.  You can access folders from any number of accounts in this way.  The only limitation is that the users which you are sharing folders with must be in the SAME overall LuxSci account, unless you are a Global Account Administrator of multiple LuxSci accounts.  In this case, you can set up user groups that allow you to share items across accounts.

Sharing folders across accounts with Global Administration

At LuxSci, each account has one or more users.  Typically, if you belong to an organization, all users in your organization would belong to the same overall LuxSci account.  As such, payment and account decisions are taken care of by your account administrator.  You can also share things with anyone in your account.  However, it often happens that users have addresses in different accounts.

LuxSci has a special feature called Global Administration.  This gives people who are in charge of multiple LuxSci accounts the ability to administer all of these accounts via a single login to LuxSci.  Here is how you can share folders with users in other accounts as a Global Administrator:

  1. Login to LuxSci as a Global Administrator
  2. Go to the “User Groups” WebAides area
  3. Create a new set of User Groups
  4. Share this group set “read only” with all LuxSci accounts that contain users who you want to be sharees of folders.
  5. Make a new “User Group”
  6. Select the users who should be the sharees of the folder from the list.
  7. Back in Remote Account, in the email folder sharing properties for the folder, select to share the folder with this new “Group” of users.  Since user groups can include users from multiple LuxSci accounts, this allows you to share your folders with people from multiple LuxSci accounts.

The limitation of this solution is that only users with an Enterprise WebAides license can be in a group and only users with an Enterprise WebAides license can share email folders and WebAides with groups of users.  So, while Global Account Administrators can setup sharing of email folders (and WebAides) between users in different accounts, it does require that these users have WebAide licenses.

There is no license required for sharing email folders among users in your own account (unless you want to use User Groups to facilitate it).

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