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Google Apps vs Outlook.com for free email hosting at your domain

UPDATE: outlook.com no longer supports custom domains:

After July 2014, domain administrators will no longer be able add or remove email accounts in your domain. Domain administrators are encouraged to move to Office 365 to get enhanced features and capabilities for modern enterprise-class mail, collaboration and communications.


Back at the end of 2012 Google’s big announcement was that they no longer offered a free version of Google Apps. Google Apps is basically a free Gmail account but at your own domain instead of at gmail.com. If you pay for the pro version (“Google Apps for Business”) you get more storage, support and a few other features. Nonprofits can get it free by request.

Google Apps is a great product but who can we turn to now for domains that have simple email needs and no budget? I host most of the sites I build but I no longer host email on my server in order to keep it safe and speedy for my WordPress managed hosting clients.

live mail outlook

What is outlook.com?

Outlook.com is the successor to Hotmail. If you have a Hotmail address, you can upgrade to outlook.com. Note that Office 365 is more of a direct, enterprise-ready competition for Google Apps. It gives you an Exchange account, and web versions of all 8+ office programs (not just the 5 free “SkyDrive” ones). But Office 365 is not free – there are 3 service levels.

Google Apps vs Outlook.com

Here is a comparison chart between Yahoo, Outlook.com and Gmail (all of which are free).  They are all really similar in terms of feature lists – and all allow forwarding to other email accounts (Outlook.com allows forwarding to just one address but Google apps allows for more than one). The key thing this chart doesn’t address is the experience of using the web-based interface. The interfaces are all very different – with Yahoo being a distant 3rd in terms of usability. Of course all 3 offer many ways to access your email without every using their browser-based interfaces. Some other take-away notes:

  1. Outlook.com didn’t offer IMAP till very recently.
  2. Outlook claims “virtually” unlimited storage.
  3. Outlook shows ads (more that mail) BUT it doesn’t target them based on your email content – in other words, it’s robots don’t read your email.
  4. You can get free email in the form of  x@outlook.com or you can use your own domain free. (Gmail/Google Apps no longer offers a free option for using your own domain name)
  5. Outlook.com  has web-based versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint so you can work with those kinds of attachments directly. It is like Gmail and Google docs + Google Drive. See image below.
Look in the Sky - It's a drive!

Look in the Sky – It’s a drive!

How to set up free outlook.com for your domain

Now that I’ve done this process a few times I can offer some tips:

  1. Start with this LifeHacker article.
  2. Note that you can have multiple administrator accounts for your custom domain. Each administrator must register the domain on the Windows Live Admin Center website and enter a unique MX record that authenticates that user (an MX record specifies which server in your domain should receive incoming email) that’s associated with that administrator at your registrar or Domain Name System (DNS) provider’s website.
  3. The Domain administration interface at live.com / outlook.com is much much simpler and has hardly any features compared to Google Apps. But that can be a feature in itself.  Basically just add new user accounts and go on your way.
  4. Check e-mail at http://mail.live.com or you can set up your own subdomain just like Google Apps does via a Cname DNS record
  5. Where to make more accounts for your domain? You can make up to 50 email accounts for free.
    Start here: https://domains.live.com/ and click “get started”
    Note that you  have to log in as the new user in a browser in order to confirm the account before using it. Live will ask you for a captcha to confirm you are a human and there are two other simple screens to proceed through before you can start using the new account.
  6. Important note: Please sign in at least once every 365 days—otherwise your account looks inactive and could be deleted. I’m not sure how that compares to Gmail these days but there are a few levels of security you have to go through in activating a new Outlook.com email account.
  7. Also see: answers.microsoft.com FAQ
  8. To use Apple Mail (or any other IMAP client) read these instructions. Here’s the most relevant part: “For incoming mail server settings, make sure that the account type is set to IMAP, then enter “imap-mail.outlook.com” as your incoming mail server. Enter your real Outlook.com e-mail address and password in the username and password fields.”see: ActiveSync and POP settings

Are there other free email options?

The short answer is Zoho. They offer a similar suite of tools and a free option – with email at your domain. But I have not used it.

For free (and paid) email/webmail Wikipedia has a useful table with many options:


Lifehacker has a great article about alternatives.

LH notes




…or just pay for Google Apps!


PS: here’s a tip if you are having issues with the outlook.com (and hotmail.com) spam filter. it’s pretty agressive and only has two settings. There is no way to turn off the spam filter. For those that don’t use the web interface and want to use some other spam filter this can be a real problem. solution: set up a filter

  1. Go to the gear icon, go to “more mail settings”
  2. Then find “Rules for sorting new messages”
  3. Finally, add a new rule of the form “Sender’s Address” “contains” @ then select “Move to Inbox”

turn off spam filter in outlook hotmail


UPDATE: After struggling with some senders being blocked I am “downgrading” Outlook.com and am motivated to try out Zoho’s service.

UPDATE 2014: Well, I have not tried Zoho yet but I have a couple commentors that seem to be happy with it.

Posted in Web Design | 11 Responses

Gravity Forms FreshBooks Add-On and Recurring Payments

Gravity Forms and FreshBooks — my two favorite services (software is a service, of course) — now play nicely with each other.

Let me start with the bad news: the invoice that can be generated is not sent automatically (it is only added to FreshBooks in Draft mode) and there is no provision to send recurring invoices currently.

But there is lots of good news too:

  • Automatically add clients to a FreshBooks account when any kind of Gravity Form is submitted
  • You have the option of asking for a PO number that gets passed to FreshBooks
  • Automatically create invoices and estimates from a form submission (draft mode only – the invoices are not sent out)
  • Update existing client details when new forms are submitted

Sample project

See the public view of the form I set up:   http://www.artsadministration.org/register/

Here is a screenshot of the feed:

FreshBooks Feed Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 3.42.13 PM

Recurring Payments… on the Titanic

This Gravity Forms plugin can’t set up Recurring Payments in FreshBooks. But that research led down a rabbit hole that I want to share with you now…

This gem below came after a very long talk with PayPal customer support where they were not sure if it would work. And then FreshBooks support also was not sure if it would work. FreshBooks support is usually great but I know that the PayPal API is a big mess – they keep old versions around which is nice for backwards compatibility but they don’t organize their APIs clearly and their site in general has gotten very confusing and bloated. Titanic… well there is some joke here about how PayPal is just rearranging deck chairs instead of getting to the heart of the problem and revamping their whole site. I know Gravity Forms is considering dropping support entirely for PayPal in favor of Stripe.com which offers a wonderfully clean and simple experience.

Here’s what I found out:

FreshBooks works with the “Payflow Edition” of “Website Payments Pro”.  With this kind of account PayPal is both gateway and processor.  FreshBooks says it requires “PayPal Payflow Pro” (where PayPal is the gateway and a separate bank account is required as processor – $10/mo extra fee, other fees, a very different kind of account) for recurring payments. By testing directly myself, I confirmed Website Payments Pro Payflow Edition  works for recurring payments.


Update: a reader reminds me that Gravity Forms can initiate recurring payments – if done directly with Stripe and not via FreshBooks. Gravity Forms Stripe Add-On  supports recurring payments – but you need to buy the Pro version ($49/yr) and always remember to enter API keys for Stripe (right after you turn the plugin on) or the form elements won’t work and other “bugs” will appear.

Posted in WordPress WooCommerce | Tagged | 1 Response

Google Apps – 3 options for forwarding email via filters and groups

Here’s some instructions on how to add and subtract people’s email from a forward or a list. First decide if you want to forward to one person or set up more of a list that forwards to multiple people (who can be in your Google Apps domain or outside of it).

There are 3 options:

1) If you just want to forward to one person you can use the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab in the Settings section.



2) But if you want to forward to multiple addresses you want to use filters – as it says at the bottom of the screenshot above.

To make a filter that catches all emails fill in something random in the  “doesn’t have” section:

Read More »

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Tint for social mashups and connect pages

An interesting new option for a very visual way to ‘mash up’ any social feeds.

The video on the front page is pretty good at explaining what it is.
Here’s a quick test I did just importing my Facebook page and Pinterest profile

It choked on my LInkedIn profile and I didn’t take time to troubleshoot it but I can see it’s a very powerful and easy to use tool to make a dynamic view of your social and other media. You can make two connections with a free account but pricing jumps to $50/month from there for extra theme options and more

You can aggregate and curate from ANY Facebook profiles/pages/groups/hashtags, Twitter accounts/hashtags/favorites, Instagram accounts/hashtags/locations, Youtube channels/playlists, Pinterest accounts/boards, Google + accounts/hashtags, and any RSS into one beautiful hub. And them embed it into a site,  app, Facebook Page etc etc etc…



Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 3.46.21 PM




  • Tagboard.com: no pricing listed on their site – starts at $250/mo. It’s free to set up a “board” but embedding cleanly requires a paid account. Very similar to Tint: paid accounts can curate/approve content before it gets displayed. Real time user generated content with good control – they offer a kiosk/live event kind of service in addition to Web embeds.
  • Juicer.io: two sources/1 embeddable feed free, 5 sources for $20/mo. This is a simpler but much more affordable service.

Here’s some inexpensive options that do something similar – and give you control of the code to fully customize it. Not many of these let you follow hashtags so if you need that option choose carefully.


Posted in Product Reviews | 1 Response

WCSF: Notes From WordCamp 2013

Sadly, I missed WordCamp this year since I was still in Japan. But I did watch the State of the Word Video:

…and I have two take-aways…

1) Stats

First is the statistic that I keep focusing on — because I am always using it with my clients —  how many sites use WordPress?

WordPress powers 18.9% of the internet

…up 2.2% from last year. And over the past 12 months, WordPress was downloaded a total of 46 million times.

See below for a nice infographic with more stats. And follow the stats over at w3techs (up to 21% as of 1/2013)

2) MP6 Interface for WP 3.8

The other project Matt mentioned is the new admin interface designed — developed under the ‘codenamed’ MP6 plugin. I chekced it out and wanted to share some screenshots in case you want a peak at the future interface we 18.9% will be working with.


here’s some more stats….

WordPress Infographic For 2013
View the full 2013 WordPress Infographic designed by ElegantThemes.com.
Posted in WordPress | Tagged | Leave a comment

April’s war on WordPress security

This is a month that will go down in infamy. Well, at least as far as WordPress security goes. There is a massive worldwide “brute force” attack going on and servers far and wide are experiencing slowdowns and lockouts.

There is not alot of information yet.  The attack is known to be using forged or spoofed IP addresses. It is trying to guess passwords – that’s why it’s called a “brute force” attack.

Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 3.57.48 PM


SOLUTIONS – server level

The solution I’ve opted for – at least for now – is to protect all WordPress login pages with HTTP authentication on the server level with 1 script. This should foil all attacks – they wont even load the login page – unless the attack script gets smarter that it is now. The nice thing about this solution is that I can easily edit or reverse it without editing all sites.

SOLUTIONS – via plugins

First of all, make sure you don’t have any users with the default username “ADMIN” – that’s what this attack is targeting. But even if you don’t have any users with that name the attack can still slow down your server.

Stealth Login Page
After much hunting for a plugin-based solution I finally found this. It will easily let you obscure your login page so these attacks won’t have a chance to slow your server down. I suppose the server has a small overhead when dealing with the redirect for requests for the default login URL but that must be much lower than having to serve the login page and bounce incorrect logins (and track IPs of incorrect logins). It allows you to redirect all requests to the default login page while preserving requests that add a short configurable code to the login URL.

The better solution is to block the default login URL via http authentication as mentioned above – but many users will not know how to set that up.

update: This URL is not working today (april 26) but the rest of the site works so hopefully will be fixed soon
this plugin is a paid version of what the free plugin above does  ($9.99). It integrates with a free “Custom login” plugin that allows you to customize the look of the login page. It allows you to redirect or “kill” all requests to the default login page while preserving requests that add a short configurable code to the login URL. This plugin requires Custom Login > version 2.x which can be downloaded for FREE in the WordPress repo.

Google Authenticator
I have not used thus one but it sounds like a good option yet needs more “stuff”.  The Google Authenticator plugin for WordPress gives you two-factor authentication using the Google Authenticator app for Android/iPhone/Blackberry. You need the Google Authenticator app installed on your smartphone.

This plugin will let you add a math CAPTCHA to the login page – and a variety of other locations as well. At this point the spam robots can’t get past even a simple CAPTCHA so it should do something to help with server slow downs due to frequent attacks – however the spam robots can still access the login page and therefore still slow down your server via many requests.

A better solution might be to block the submit button somehow – but I’m not sure such a plugin exists and if it did I’m not sure how easy it would be for the robots to still submit the form even if the UI blocked the submit button.



SOLUTIONS – other good plugins

These other plugins offer great features – but won’t help much for this particular attack…

1) Better WP Security
This plugin does alot more than limit your login attempts – so it has a chance of cleaning up whatever wil cause the next big security issue. it’s got a great ‘easy’ mode where it will highlight the 5 or so highest priority items that need attention. And it will clean those items with just a couple clicks. The plugin also has lots of useful information to teach you about security. The downside is that there are lots of tabs and lots of options and it takes time to find your way around.

2) Limit Login Attempts
This is nice and simple. as soon as you turn on the plugin it just starts working. It will escalate lockouts from 20min to 24 hours so that’s a nice feature. It’s default is 4 tries and in this current situation that might be a bit too many but it depends how many sites are on your server.




security side note: the Social Media Widget plugin (social-media-widget) is being used to inject spam into websites and is recommended to be removed.


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GigPress vs “All in one event calendar”


AI1EC has many more features than GigPress—so I’ll start with a list of the advantages of  the “All in one event calendar” (aka AI1EC) vs GigPress:

  1. More layouts: gigpress has just a list view; AI1EC has poster board and many more (daily, weekly, monthly and list/agenda) and allows user to switch between them
  2. Categories: in any layout user can pick one or a few categories to view. Tags are another option for filtering – and with some custom work you can rename these to be “Bands” and “venues” or something like that.
  3. Subscription by category: both plugins offer iCal subscription but AI1EC offers subscription by category (so if someone wanted just one “band” to appear in their calendar that is possible – but takes a couple steps so only technically sophisticated folks will do that I think.)
  4. Widgets – the AI1EC widget has that date thing on the left with a hover card for each entry. It would take more work to have it spit out a really simple format like gig press. But the AI1EC widget can show just one category which is a powerful feature.
  5. Facebook: AI1EC has a feature where it can push your events to Facebook – not as posts to your Facebook wall but as Facebook “events”. I have not used this feature yet and saw some bugs with it in the last version of AI1EC.
  6. AI1EC makes a separate “page” for each event
  7. AI1EC makes recurring events easy

However, GigPress has an advantage with fewer features – it’s easier to use if it fits your needs. If you only need list views of events and don’t mind linking to separate posts (that you need to make as a separate step – if you even need a whole post/page for events) then GigPress might be a great choice for you.

A list of my AI1EC sample sites

These two are minimally modified:

Single events are using the built in AI1EC Google maps option:
This one has a ‘buy tickets’ option that I had to add manually:



Posted in Web Design, WordPress | 2 Responses

Gravity Forms for Ecommerce with tax and shipping options

I love Gravity Forms. It’s the best form building tool for WordPress and now it offers a new feature that allows more complex calculations between fields. Combine that with the PayPal Payments Pro and you have a really fast, simple and powerful ecommerce option for those times when a full WordPress ecommerce system/plugin is not needed. Easier to set up, easier to maintain and gets the job done.

The sample below allows for a variety of shipping prices based on order total (but you could base it on total number of items too). It also adds sales tax – but only if your shipping address is set to California. Of course you could set it to any state. Note that the shipping field disappears when selecting a different state. The key is to set up a “subtotal” field and put your calculations in there.

There are some notes in this form – let me know if you have further questions about how this is set up in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help explain the options. See screenshots at the end of this post.

UPDATE 8/2020: I found this bit of free code from GravityWiz that gives you a ‘subtotal‘ field – I tried it and it works. it is a simpler solution that saves lots of work if you need to edit your form products with any regularity or if you have lots of products.

see also: https://docs.gravityforms.com/gravity-forms-pricing-adding-tax

UPDATE 4/2014: I have had users ask me for a copy of this form. Here’s a XML export of the form – should be ready to import into your Gravity Forms. Let me know if it helps.

 Gravity forms admin screenshots

greavity forms shipping subtotal gravity forms gravity forms california sales tax


2020 update: screenshots of  GravityWiz ‘subtotal‘ field in a calculation field type. With conditional fields for only applying to California. 


Posted in WordPress, WordPress WooCommerce | Tagged | 9 Responses

Not For Sale: End Human Trafficking and Start Human Empowerment

Looks like a great non-profit – their goal is to fight the growing slave industry. I gave a donation and encourage my readers to check it out.

I want specifically to point out the design of their support page (they title it “empower”). It’s very impressive. They offer multiple ways to get involved in an interactive series of checklists. I’m not 100% convinced it’s what all visitors need – I would prefer a “quicklink” to just making a cash donation. But still it’s very innovative and other NGOs might find it inspiring. I can think of some other non-profits that I built WordPress sites for that could perhaps use a simper version of this kind of page to help communicate the many ways to promote their cause.

Want to get involved with Not For Sale? Want to be a part of the modern-day abolitionist movement? Not sure how to get started? This tool is designed to help identify which Not For Sale projects and programs are best suited for you.

By answering a few questions, the tool can tailor a list of action steps that will best help you get involved. Begin by choosing which areas of society you identify yourself, then you can refine your results by answering further questions about time commitment, community engagement, financial support and leadership. Let’s get started!

via Empower – Not For Sale: End Human Trafficking and Slavery.

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WCSF: Notes From WordCamp 2012

Post “State of the Word” @WordCamp 2011


Well, this is long overdue but I finally cleaned up my notes from WordCamp.

Adding custom content types: I’ve always been on the lookout for a Drupal-like “views” module for WordPress. These tools come close:

Other fun things I learned about

  • SASS for CSS
  • REM not em for best responsive CSS
  • S2member for member and paid level management
  • Hellobar: a simple idea: use the top 30 pixels of yoru site for eye-catching messages. Hellobar includes A/B testing and it’s own analytics so it might be worth paying for on a ongoing basis. Other similar solution like Foobar are just a plugin with no extra fees. (let me know if you have a free version you use)
  • SlideDeck:  Slider & Gallery Plugin that gives a powerful UI and lots of sources and skins for building sliders
  • Flare social sharing bar
  • HappyTables: free restaurant website-building tool – developed around a customized version of WordPress

Chatting with Matt about new WordPress usage stats.

Notes from 2011

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