2009 has been a long year. It has also been the most prosperous year I’ve ever experienced. It has been a year of shifting perspectives, innovative tools, unexpected hardships, and unexpected blessings. It’s a year that I’ve spent re-acquainting myself with me in order to move forward with a new outlook on life and how I live it.
It’s funny that I should say that I have a new outlook on life because this article is precisely about how I’ve eliminated one outlook that I couldn’t seem to work around. And when I say outlook, I literally mean Outlook…Microsoft Outlook.
For years I’ve used Outlook as my primary communication tool. Calendars, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, and E-mail all contained in one convenient location. For years I’ve cursed at my computer time and time again when what I believed to be the necessary evil (Outlook) would fail to open, crash, slow my system down, you name it. The only reason I stayed with it so long was because of Exchange Server. The two together make for a seamless integration of all of your devices, keeping all of your data in one location accessible anywhere.
Trapped in the confines of Microsoft’s infrastructure has been the only option until recently. And by recently, I mean within the past year or so. You see, the functionality offered by Outlook and Microsoft Exchange is not exclusive to Outlook and Exchange. It is a concept; an idea that all of your information should be in one location and you should not have to do things more than once, and that duplicate information is inefficient.
The problem has been that the only tools available require spending more money than any of us want to spend on these things. How much does a day-planner need to cost? That has changed.
I credit this personal shift to a conversation I recently had between Loren Kutsko, Director of Strategy and Information Management at Food for the Hungry, and Mark Kaech, Grassroots Campaigns and Special Projects, also at Food for the Hungry. It’s inevitable that when you put us together, we’ll talk about the latest tools and happenings in the technology world. When I expressed my apprehension about making some major shifts in how I manage my information, which ultimately translates into a more seamless transaction in the real estate contract process, I was met with the reality that I was still doing things the “Gen-X” way, and not the “Gen-Y” way and that the tools that I need are available at a fraction of the cost.
As someone who considers himself open to change, to be struck with the possibility that I’m not standing at the front of the technology-progress boat anymore caused me to reassess my ways.
I’ll keep this simple. I want my contacts on my iPhone to be identical to my contacts on my computer. When I read a message in my inbox and it’s marked unread, I want it to be universally marked unread so I never have to read it again unless I need to re-visit the message. I want my calendar on my phone to have the same information as my computer, and the same information as my online calendar at Google.
I want complete and seamless synchronization of all of my data so I can get to it anywhere, anytime.
The Old Solution
Microsoft Exchange Server in concert with Mobile ActiveSync, Outlook, and Outlook Web Access. If not self hosted at my own facility with over $6000 worth of hardware and software required, at the very least, paid for on a single-user basis at an exchange hosting company for about $10.00/month.
The New Way
This is so simple it amazes me that I didn’t think of it before. A note of caution. If you aren’t willing to rethink how you manage your information, almost completely, you’ll be very frustrated if you try to do this. In fact, you may not be able to do this. There are also some pre-requisites that are assumed prior to making this type of change.
- You need your own domain name. Lose the gmail extension, the yahoo account, the free e-mail identity. Get your own domain name and start branding yourself personally so you never have to change it. If your company gives you an e-mail address, use it for company communication only, and get your own identity. email@example.com is far more valuable than firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You need a smart phone, and preferably, an iPhone. More tools will emerge at lower and lower costs, but this is where I am today.
- I matters not whether you have a MAC or a PC anymore. Entourage and Outlook are no longer needed.
- Please use either Firefox or Chrome as your primary internet browser. Internet Explorer should only be used if the idiots on the other end of the website you need to use have failed to develop a more compatible site and it requires Internet Explorer to work. Safari will suffice, but I personally avoid it. Firefox is my first choice for now.
So What are the Changes I Actually Made?
I moved all of my data from Exchange to Google. I moved my calendar to Google Calendars, my contacts to Google, and all of my e-mail to Google. My notes are kept nice and neat using Evernote, my tasks…well, I never used tasks because we still need a good system that supports task dependencies and hierarchical action plans. My website resides at another hosting provider, but all of the e-mail traffic is bounced to Google and handled by Google in a very easy to use Gmail interface. No, I do not have a @gmail.com address.
How did I do this? Well, it didn’t happen overnight. I have lots of information that needed to be moved, and I’m still sorting out a few things here and there. My website never went down, but my e-mail was interrupted for a few hours, so if you do this, you should make it a late night event.
All of these steps were accomplished in phases to ensure it was going to work, but there were some leaps of faith involved. I made sure to get into the forums on Google to search for potential problems, then I dove in.
Before you do anything, backup all of your Outlook data.
Step 1: Establish Google Apps account for my domain. (assumes you have a domain name already: www.godaddy.com to solve this problem.)
This is so easy. Go to www.google.com/apps and sign up for Google Apps for Business. It’s $50.00/year per user. Go for the free 30 day trial (you can click here for that).
Step 2: Using the MX settings that Google gives you after you’ve setup your account, go to your domain manager at Godaddy.com or wherever you registered your domain, and modify the MX records. Don’t screw it up and record the settings that were already there. If you need to call someone there, do so. They’ll help you do it.
Step 3: Watch the mail start rolling in. It takes about 2 hours or so to kick in.
Step 4: Setup a new e-mail account on your iPhone using the gmail settings. Now you have completely synchronized e-mail on your phone and through your gmail interface.
Step 5: Export all of your calendar data from Outlook or Entourage, or from wherever you keep it.
Step 6: Import your calendar from within your new Google account.
Step 7: Export all of your contacts from whatever program you’re using.
Step 8: Import your contacts into Google.
Step 9: Setup a new mail account using the Exchange option on your iPhone.Since you have already setup a mail account on your phone, make sure that your iPhone is set to sync only Calendar and Contact items, not mail. The iPhone only allows one exchange configuration, so having a recent backup is going to make your life much easier at this point because you can delete your current exchange setup (if you have one) without losing your data.
Step 10: This is the last step. Login to your Google Apps account (http://www.google.com/a/yourdomain.com), click the Service Settings tool bar item and then Mobile at the bottom of the drop-down menu. Make sure you enable Google Sync at the bottom.
That’s it. Your e-mail will be delivered to Google, you’ll be able to use the Gmail interface to manage it, and you’ll have it on your mobile device on demand. Your calendar and contacts will begin to fill up in your phone, seemingly magically, and everything will be synchronized.
Mashable.com recently published these findings regarding Gmail vs. Outlook. I stand with Google now.
Oh, and the very very last step. Uninstall Outlook :).
If you need some help walking through this process feel free to contact me and I can help you through.