Friday, January 30, 2009

GMail nails it. Everyone else is wrong.

I love Microsoft's Vista (hey, it's worked great for me). I like Word. I especially love Excel. OneNote is a little beauty. And even PowerPoint isn't so bad, despite the story that Steve Jobs hated it so much he just had to create Keynote or he was going to refuse to do his Apple keynotes ever again.

But Outlook is simply awful, at least for e-mail.

Searches are excruciating. The thing crashes frequently or hangs up. And there are a limited number of ways that I've found to customize the program--and many of them cost a bunch of money and make the thing even more crash-prone.

As says in a recent Slate piece:
If you're still tied to a desktop app—whether Outlook, the Mac's Mail program, or anything else that sees your local hard drive, rather than a Web server, as its brain—then you're doing it wrong. (LINK)
You are. You're doing it wrong. And I would also sweep into that coffin other online mail systems too, like Windows Live or Yahoo Mail, and even Thunderbird for all you open source aficionados. Two reasons, and now Google has added a third, the final nail.

1. GMail uses tagging, not folders. You don't place a piece of e-mail into a folder to categorize it. You tag it. Which effectively means that any e-mail can be in an infinite number of folders. How can you live with that old way of organizing e-mail, the way that Outlook, Yahoo, every other program that I know uses? And in part because of this tagging, searches for mail have the beauty, speed and simplicity of a Google web search.

2. GMail threads your mail, always, all the time. What's great about that? You see all your mail, both the incoming mail and your responses, as part of a beautifully presented, threaded conversation. And that's what e-mail should be. It's not "messages". It's a conversation, asynchronous to be sure, but still a conversation. Once you've embraced that new reality, any other mail program feels like using a typewriter.

3. The final nail: offline. Google has just announced this week its offline feature, in which you can take your GMail offline from the Web and use it anywhere without an Internet connection, within a browser, just as you would if you were using a program like Outlook or Thunderbird.

The only use I have now for Outlook or Thunderbird--and I use Thunderbird for these purposes--is to backup Google's GMail servers. I am one of perhaps 17 people in the world who actually pay Google $50 a year for the privilege of having an ad-free GMail and with that they have a special up-time guarantee. But still, it makes me nervous that there is no GMail backup and so from time-to-time I'll download a copy of my GMail to Thunderbird so it sits on my computer. But with this final nail in the coffin, I'll probably remember to do that less and less.

PS: I do still use Outlook as a conduit out to my BlackBerry for contacts and calendar, but that's because I have a BlackBerry Enterprise Server that makes such over-the-air sync easy. The only thing that Outlook-BES really provides that can't be found elsewhere is contacts sync from Salesforce through Outlook and out to my BlackBerry. If Google/Salesforce filled that hole with a relatively low-cost option, I'd never have to use Outlook again.
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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sync e-mail etc. on your BlackBerry to Outlook

Two friends have asked me how to sync their mail on BlackBerry without a BlackbEnterprise Server or hosted BES account. And they've said they're committed to Microsoft Outlook. So besides telling them to dispense with Outlook (which many would say) here's what I recommend:

1. Run all your mail through GMail--if you aren't using GMail, forward all your mail to a GMail account. You can continue to use Outlook or the equivalent and get your mail from GMail through an IMAP (rather than POP3) protocol. IMAP can be enabled just like POP3 when you set up a new mail account in Outlook (or the equivalent). With IMAP, everything on Outlook will be in sync with GMail, because that's what IMAP does (versus POP3). Within GMail you can specify a return address for each of the e-mail accounts that you have, so if you have work and personal e-mail addresses, and set yourself up to get those e-mails through GMail, you can also reply from the e-mail address that the e-mail came in on even though it's running through GMail. With Outlook, not so easy--you will probably want to stick with one e-mail account in the reply field when you set up your GMail account in Outlook, but it doesn't need to be the GMail account.

2. Don't use the BlackBerry mail program but download and install the GMail for BlackBerry mail program (LINK). Sure it doesn't push mail to your BlackBerry as efficiently as you're used to on your BlackBerry, but in my opinion that's a small sacrifice for always having your mail in sync.

3. Calendaring is a little trickier but it works. You can download a program for Windows machines that will sync your Outlook calendar to your Google Calendar (Google Calendar Sync: LINK). And then you can download the Google Sync program for your BlackBerry (a different program!) that will keep your BlackBerry calendar in sync with your Google Calendar--and then by extension, with the Outlook-Google Calendar tool via the Google Calendar Sync tool. Comprendez-vous?

4. Contacts used to not sync at all between BlackBerry and GMail . . . but now they do! See this: LINK. Challenge then is how to get them into Outlook because there isn't an equivalent Google Contacts Sync to complete the loop like there is with calendars. Without a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, you'll be stuck here using the cable and doing a manual sync with the BlackBerry desktop tool.

Make sense? Well maybe it WON'T if you look at this complicated diagram. Double click for the full effect.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Resolution: Backup

I just took delivery of the sweetest little hard drive. I'll use it to fulfill my New Year's resolution of having a complete backup of my hard drive so that if my laptop's hard drive crashes or is otherwise vaporized, I'll have a complete backup, ready to go on a new machine.

The drive is one of the nicest, highest quality drives I've seen, encased in that ThinkPad black rubber material, with a keypad to provide secure access. No power cord required; USB cable slots nicely into the side of the case when not in use. Slightly larger footprint than a deck of cards and less thick.

The drive is this one from Lenovo, profiled on the Lenovo design blog here: LINK.