Sunday, June 07, 2009

Can Gmail replace Outlook and where does that leave my Blackberry?


The problem and the plan.
I have long desired to be free of the shackles of desktop installed software, and have been using Google Docs for some time. One bit of software I didn't think Google would be able to top was Outlook, with its calendar, tasks and contacts (and of course emails). I didn't think I'd see a day when it could be replaced by an online application.

Well that day may now be here, let me explain my wacky Gmail Vs Outlook experiment in finer detail;

Emails
Well that's fairly straight forward, I use the accounts facility in Gmail to pull emails over from my various Pop3 accounts. Gmail even nicely labels them and allows me to send emails from each of those accounts. The storage is a huge 7GB and the spam/ virus filtering is the best I've ever seen, and I've seen many! I use a bunch of rules in Outlook to deal with mail that I have to receive but don't want to keep, and hey, it looks like the filter settings in Gmail are going to do much the same thing. I have to hang onto some emails for years at a time and the search facility in Outlook is really handy for finding old messages, I'm hoping the huge storage allocation in Gmail coupled with the ability to use the Google search engine on ones inbox will comfortably cover this aspect of the way I need to work.

Calendar
For a considerable length of time now I have been using the Google Sync tool to sync my Google Calendar to my Outlook Calendar, if I use Gmail as my main email application then the calendar link is neatly and conveniently situated at the top of the screen at all times. If I managed to stop using Outlook then that also means I don't need to run the Google Sync tool on my computer, and whilst it is marvelous it is a little buggy, I've not had any problems with it personally but a few of my clients have suffered all kinds of palaver!

Documents
This is something of a no-brainer, I have been using Google Docs for a long time and just like the calendar link, the link for accessing my documents is at the top of the Gmail page. Unless you're doing something terribly complicated then Google Docs will suffice for 90% of office needs.

Contacts
I was a little concerned about how I would keep the contacts list I've spent years building up in Outlook, the problem was solved by the Blackberry sync tool mentioned below.


How this all fits in with my Blackberry
Having Gmail pick up all my Pop3 mail certainly makes picking up emails on my Blackberry a lot easier as I only have to point it at one mail server rather than a whole list. I have set Gmail to always appear to respond from the address an email is sent to: If someone emails andrew@corndog.co.uk the reply appears to come from andrew@corndog.co.uk. I'm yet to discover if this will hold true on my blackberry.

Ever since I got my Blackberry Pearl (just a few months ago) I've hated the way it syncs with my PC. It appears the only way to get it to sync is to connect it via USB, manually fire up the Blackberry Desktop software then sit there and manually approve or disapprove the options an endless stream of prompts throw at you. Because it's a pain in the bum I don't tend to sync my Blackberry very often, which is bad, and leads to all kinds of professional complications I won't go into here. Then I found a far better way of synchronising my blackberry to my emails, calendar and contacts...

The Google Sync Tool for Blackberrys
As is often the case a quick bit of prodding around on Google came up trumps and I very easily downloaded a sync tool to my Blackberry. This will instantly sync any changes made to my calendar and contacts, whether I make the change on my phone or my Google Calendar. Neat huh!

The Conclusion
Well I don't have one yet, that would be foolish at such an early stage! If this madcap experiment works it means all I need to work anywhere in the world is a browser, now that's impressive! It will also mean I can spend more quality time with my little Linux netbook that I love so dearly!

On the downside whilst I'm spurning Microsoft I am somewhat leaving myself at the mercy of Google. This plan also restricts me to standard office work (word processing, presentations, spreadsheets etc), it does not help me in the slightest when I need to use Photoshop, Dreamweaver or Lightroom. To a certain extent this is currently okay with me, I'll do graphic and photography work when I'm in my own office in front of my own computer. The issue of not having Dreamweaver with me as I travel is becoming less important the further I wander into the world of Content Management Systems (CMS) like the lovely Drupal.

The Payoff
If this experiment works then I'll be able to rid myself of Microsoft office and more importantly that heinous resource hog Outlook. Over the last few years whenever I've launched Task Manager in Windows to see why things have ground to a halt Outlook has been at the top of the list, greedily chomping away at my memory. Moving office applications online also means that I'll be largely platform independent, and I may be able to move away from Microsoft entirely and invest in a sexy Mac! I do apprecaite that (much like my Linux netbook) this solution isn't yet simple enough to appeal to everyone, but I make my living from tinkering with technology so it's just fine with me!

Should anything bizarre develop with this experiment I will of course report back here!

Thanks to Graham Birks for the photo of me shown above.