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Email Affairs – My Version of “50 Shades of Grey”

Gmail Intro

My first kiss with Gmail.

I have a confession.

As you may know, I am in a committed relationship with Gmail. I met Gmail about 5 months after he launched, back in 2004. Gmail and I have been together for almost 9 years now. It’s been a great relationship. He gives me lots of email storage, and a great interface. As our relationship grew, he gave me a wonderful calendar, then communication and collaboration tools. Yes, there have been some disappointments in our relationship, such as Google Wave, but there have been some great fun times too like “do a barrel roll”. (Really, if you haven’t done this, go Google it now.) Gmail has always had my back, he automatically saved all my documents at his house, with his brother Docs. (It’s a great app called Google Cloud Connect; unfortunately it broke when I moved to Office 2013.) Gmail kept all my information safe and secure there and he gave me the key so I could access my stuff when needed. He understood what I needed, and he even provided the directions for me to get there. He gave me great communication tools and an easy way to share my stuff. It was the perfect relationship. We even expanded our family when I added Google Apps For Business.

But, like I said before, I have a confession. I’ve been seeing someone else. I never intended to have these feelings, but they crept up on me.

You see, way back in 1997, Microsoft launched a fresh new email host called MSN Hotmail and I signed up for an account. Now, this was several years before Gmail stole my tech heart. There may have also been a short stint with Yahoo mail during this time (I don’t talk about it much). For those of you too young to remember, in the early days of email service, it was all about experimenting with different services, and not committing to just one. We were all so young and had multiple email accounts at the time. Gmail and I seemed to click, so settled down with him in 2004.

Every so often, over the years, I would check in with Hotmail and see what he was up to. Did he settle down, expand his offering? You know, the general stalking of a previous love. At first, it looked like Hotmail kept the status quo. Nothing new and exciting. But his sexy younger brother, Office 365, was breaking some new ground with small business. I have to admit, a new technology targeted right at my clients caught my interest. Not only did Office 365 target small businesses, but it also had a built-in relationship with my guilty pleasure, Microsoft Small Business Server. This was getting interesting. Then things changed in July 2012. Outlook.com launched; I guess Hotmail decided it was time to try something new and get back into the game. I started spending more time with Outlook.com.  And I was impressed. I loved the way he kept my stuff organized in folders, and it was so easy to share my files. He also has a built-in relationship with my desktop version of Office 2013. The more mature Outlook.com is looking more and more attractive with each new feature.

I haven’t committed to Outlook.com yet, but he is slowly growing on me. I still love Gmail, but his controlling and sometimes pushy attempts to keep me locked to him are starting to bother me. Outlook.com needs to take a few pointers from his younger brother, Office 365, and add instant communication tools, such as Skype. If Outlook.com can meet most of the functionality I currently rely on in Gmail, it may be the end of Gmail.

PS: I have never read, or intend to read, 50 Shades of Grey, so this may not be as exciting as the book to some.

Outlook, Google Apps for Business, and BB…What a Challenge

A few weeks ago, one of my clients handed me his new Blackberry Z10 and told me that it wouldn’t sync to his calendar or contacts via Outlook. Honestly, I thought he had lost it, how could BB release a product without this core functionality. Well he was right! It didn’t sync via Outlook at all (since this incident, BB has added this functionality in its newest desktop update). The client would soon be leaving for an overseas trip and needed a solution asap.

My clients company uses Google Apps for Business (free version), and had previously connected their phones to their systems, via a USB cable, to sync their calendar and contacts. (I am amazed at how many of my clients still sync their phones using a direct connection.) Because he hasn’t moved to the paid version of Google Apps, we are unable to use the Google Apps Sync, which syncs your Google accounts with Outlook, and in turn, syncs wireless to your device. Luckily, we had just purchased a sweet ultrabook with Office 2013, which gave us the tools we needed to come up with a solution for him quickly.

First, we created an Outlook.com account and connected it to Office 2013.  Then we copied all of his contacts to Outlook.com.

Contact Sync

Next we added his calendar events to the Outlook.com calendar.

Now, we added the Microsoft Outlook.com account to his BlackBerry. He was now able to see his contacts and calendar. Moving forward, he adds all his new contacts and calendar events to the Outlook.com accounts via Outlook.

Outlook Calendar Sync

This solution has been very successful. He can access his contacts and calendar anytime, and no longer needs to plug his phone in. One less cable to carry. This also provides a backup for his critical data. Our next step is to start using the SkyDrive integration to share files while he is on the road.

PS: Microsoft has released the Hotmail Connector for Office 2007-2010 which provides the same integration. Here is the link for the free program http://office.microsoft.com/en-ca/outlook-help/microsoft-office-outlook-hotmail-connector-overview-HA010222518.aspx

 

Side Note:

I have been finding that as each service updates, it’s getting harder to have these services work together as seamlessly as it has in the past. Personally, I feel the providers are forcing the users to pick one environment, whether it’s Microsoft, Google, or Apple.  All this does is frustrate the users, because it takes away previously had functionality and forces the user to pick a service which best meets their needs; and they may have give up, or modify, workflows to get all the functionality they used to have by combining the services.

Saturday Night, Popcorn, Wine and Backups

Saturday night had finally arrived after a long week of nonstop work.  I was comfortably dressed in sweats and a tee, complete with fuzzy slippers.  The family was getting ready to watch The Avengers, which none of us have seen before. The popcorn was popping, a bottle of red had been opened (for the adults), and I was just finishing up some emails.  Then it happened.

My work phone rang.  I looked at it, then the wine, kids and hubby who was just finishing up the popcorn.  Do I answer it?  I had been working 14-18 hour days for the last few weeks and was beat.  Downtime was a necessity at this point.  But I answered it anyway.

An acquaintance was calling about her laptop.  It had just crashed, and she needed to retrieve her files ASAP.  The client’s Monday morning presentation was on it, and she desperately needed those files, and she had not done a single backup.

Ever.

After some discussion and a few attempts of pushing power buttons and pulling the battery, I knew I would have to be on-site to recover the data.

I packed my bag with my recovery discs and off I went, looking at the wine, listening to the family settling in to watch what happens when Bruce gets mad, and smelling popcorn as I closed the door behind me.

I arrived at the client’s house and, luckily, I was able to boot the laptop.  Our first priority was to backup her critical files to a USB key.  But we both knew that a local backup was not enough, and she needed an off-site backup as well.  We quickly created a Dropbox account and moved her files to the cloud.  Her laptop will probably fail any day now due to a hardware issue, but at least she knows she has a copy of her files that she can access from any Internet-connected device.

 

Here are 4 quick, easy and free cloud solutions to backup your files to:

  1. Cloud Storage – Dropbox offers 2 GB of free storage (there are similar online services, such as box.com).
  2. Google Drive – another cloud solution.  Sign up for a free Google account and take advantage of the 5 GB available to you.  A great addition to this service is Google Cloud Connect.  This add-on automatically syncs your Office documents to your Google Drive storage.  Personally, this is what I use and I can’t count the number of times it has saved me.  I have mine setup to automatically save to Drive every time I save the document.  I then have at least 2 copies, one locally and one in the cloud.
  3. SkyDrive – this is the Microsoft alternative to the Google offering.  You can access 7 GB of free online storage (but as far as I am aware, this currently does not have the same Office Suite sync feature that Google does).
  4. iCloud  – the Apple solution for those who enjoy the iDevice ecosystem.  It has 5 GB of free storage, and has similar (but not identical) sync features as the Google and Microsoft solutions.

Luckily, with today’s technology and resources, off-site backups, or just backups in general, are easy and very inexpensive.  Call your IT Professional (during the day) to discuss a backup strategy that works with your budget, files and workflow.  Trust me, it’s much cheaper than calling on a Saturday night.  But if you do end up having to call me on a Saturday night, a good bottle of red would be nice.

I prefer a shiraz.

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