A grim outlook on email

notresponding360 Over the weekend, I reorganized my email system. Looks like that wasn’t a good idea. At least, not the way I did it.

I use Outlook 2007 to manage all my email. I bring in email from 3 different domain addresses as well as from Gmail into a single PST file on my computer, all via POP.

Not only does this give me a single view on all my email, it also gives me access to all of that email even if I’m not connected to any network, as well as giving me complete access to my calendar and contacts lists.

I’ve done it this way for years.

But I know that it’s a really ineffective way to manage email when you need to access it on different devices and from different places. Too often have I been through the ridiculous process of copying gigantic PST files from desktop PC via server to travelling laptop and vice versa.

After asking friends and colleagues what they did in environments like mine – a mixture of domain email and web email like Gmail – I decided to channel all my email through Gmail via IMAP and then bring Gmail into Outlook.

That way, I’d have only one email account to deal with, one that I have confidence from experience that I can always get to from whatever device, whether that’s a PC or a mobile device. And doing that via IMAP rather than POP means that any changes I make on any device (deleting emails, for instance) would be reflected everywhere.

In Twitter conversations last night, some people were suggesting I move completely to Google Apps. I don’t want to do that – I’m happy with Outlook and my desktop apps (Word, PowerPoint, etc) as well as how I tend to share content with others using a mixture of Dropbox and Live Mesh.

So yesterday, I set up my Gmail account to fetch email from my separate domain addresses. At the same time, I disabled POP in Gmail, enabled IMAP, removed all email accounts from Outlook and re-did the Gmail one in Outlook as an IMAP account.

The fun started the first time Outlook attempted to synchronize with Gmail.

I’ve had my Gmail account since October 2004. It still contains almost every email since then, some 46,000 messages. I should have realized that Outlook would want to bring in all of that. And of course, I already have all of that in various PST files, the current one as well as archives.

Where things stand at the moment is that Outlook is suffering from severe indigestion with its efforts to synchronize content with Gmail. It’s unresponsive most of the time and has completely crashed three times today so far.

So I’ve reverted everything I did over the weekend until I figure out the best step for this, which I think will have to mean first deleting all that 4+ years’ worth of stuff still sitting in Gmail (and which, incidentally, represents less than 36% of the free storage Gmail currently gives you). One of the limitations of Gmail, though, is you can either delete emails one screenful at a time, or everything. No other choices that I can see.

Meanwhile I have an email gap in Outlook from Saturday morning. A pretty weak excuse for saying that email’s a mess, I know, but it is, more of a disaster zone than it usually is.

Normal service will resume as soon as possible. Or maybe not. Perhaps this is the time I should really push those better ways of contact.

And if anyone has a ‘an easy as 1-2-3’ guide to what I’m trying to do, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Chip Griffin

    Gmail will let you delete batches of mail. You just need to use the search function to get what you want. For instance, you could select everything from a particular date range, then delete that instead of doing it screen by screen.

    As for the 50k message problem, I think you can subscribe to only certain folders in Gmail using IMAP. So, if most of your old mail is archived then you could just choose not to grab those. If everything is in the inbox, that won’t help unless you create a folder for everything beyond a certain date and move the stuff there. Then you could always gradually move stuff into a subscribed folder (say 2k messages at a time) so Outlook doesn’t choke.

    Also, keep in mind that if you are pointing the IMAP to a place on your computer where Outlook has a bunch of messages, those will also all be sent UP to the server, which is just as big a problem as downloading them all. The solution there is to put them in a different PST and again gradually move them into the “live” IMAP folder on your desktop/laptop.

  2. James Cridland

    What He Said regarding deleting chunks of email.

    Also, you might like to check Google Mail Labs for a nifty bit of IMAP control that would, for example, stop your Outlook actually seeing the ‘All Mail’ folder in the first place. That would fix your problem without any issue.

    However, I would question whether you need Outlook at all. Seriously. The web interface at Gmail is incredibly powerful, with keyboard hotkeys and all manner of timesaving tips. Add some of the goodies within the Labs (like offline access, canned messages, etc) and there really is no need to have a piece of email software at all.

    I’ve not run email software (for home) for the last four years, and I have no intention to start. Similarly, if I could, I’d junk Outlook at work tomorrow.

  3. neville

    Chip, greatly appreciate that advice, thanks. And you, James: that Google Labs IMAP extra control is nifty. And re Outlook, well, others on my case about that, too, so time to think again about all this, in the midst of the email mess

    Shel, I’ve tried doing that but it doesn’t work for me. I only use the laptop for audio/video work and when I’m on the road. Day-to-day machine is a desktop PC that has all the apps I use every day. So I’d end up using two computers for doing day-to-day things that only need one computer. Email on one, others apps on another, no, not workable for me.

  4. Shel Holtz

    I DO use two computers every day. I swivel my chair from one to the other. It works great. Desktop is for apps, laptop is for audio (podcast, etc.) and email.

  5. neville

    But I don’t want to do it that way ;) Other than video/audio work, desktop PC when at desk, laptop when away. That arrangement works for me.

  6. James Cridland

    I use five computers – three at home, one netbook, and one PC at work. Perhaps that’s why I’m rather against any software solution that isn’t simply the browser…

    I’d give Google Mail’s web interface a week, to be honest – I promise you’ll love it, particularly if you switch on keyboard shortcuts. Oh, and for anyone using it, ensure you’ve retained “English-US” in the settings tab; changing it to “English-UK” will give you less features, and make no actual difference in any case.

    Incidentally, if you want those annoying pop-up email alerts like you get with Outlook, the Google Talk software does that job admirably for the PC; there’s also a similar piece of software for the Mac, though I’m unaware of any for Ubuntu – but then, that’s one of the first things I turn off any email software.

  7. Steve Davis

    Hi Neville. I sound more like you than Shel when it comes to the way you like to use your machines. Here is my setup:
    One main PC for doing my grunt work and also for being my main email hub. I still use Outlook (one day that might change) to grab emails from multiple email accounts. I have actually split some of those accounts into separate PST files – but that is a story for another day.
    When I am on the road running workshops or visiting clients, I use a tiny, Dell Netbook which is kept stripped down to browser and office software. I also have my Blackberry Pearl.
    Here’s how I knit it all together:
    Outlook does main send/receive and archiving on main PC.
    Two key email accounts actually sit on Network Servers so I can dig into them to see old emails on the road via a webmail interface on my Netbook or Blackberry.
    My main SteveDavis account is duplicated into a Gmail account. I have also loaded the Gmail app onto my Blackberry. This means I can dig into old emails from my BlackBerry via the Gmail app and/or my Netbook via the browser.
    My remaining email accounts are accessed on the road via webmail interfaces.
    I get to see ALL incoming emails on my BlackBerry, allowing me to delete fully, reply, or delete from my handset for dealing with later.
    This works for me and I hope I have explained it clearly enough.
    Next on my list is to explore if I can load the Gmail app on my BlackBerry a number of times so that I can have a dedicated Gmail icon per email domain, which would be blissful.
    PS All settings are POP not IMAP

  8. neville

    James said:

    I’d give Google Mail’s web interface a week, to be honest – I promise you’ll love it, particularly if you switch on keyboard shortcuts.

    I did, and I have to say I don’t like it. At all. It could be because I’m so used to Outlook, ie, managing email in an offline situation and not via a web browser all the time.

    But it’s not really about Outlook. I do use Outlook but for the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve managed email with an Outlook ‘shell’ called NEO Pro. I really miss that.

    It’s more about how to interact with email, ie, what I can do with it with a particular means of interaction. I don’t really like the “PST syndrome,” but neither do I like the web browser approach principally because I find the browser distinctly lacking in the kind of functionality I’m used to with NEO Pro.

    Steve, thanks for those tips. More to think about.

    What I am thinking of doing now is simply reverting more or less to what I had before with Outlook. I think, though, that I may do a hybrid of sorts with some of what I tried to do with some of what Steve’s doing, using POP not IMAP.

    Another experiment for the weekend.

  9. James Gallagher

    While I’d imagine you’re not overly enamoured with IMAP it’s still worthwhile for the functionality you get. Aside from Neo Pro, what other plugins or search utilities have you running in Outlook e.g. do you have Instant Search enabled? Other than that I’d look at the suggestion from Chip and see about a staggered IMAP folder sync.

  10. neville

    I have no plugins in Outlook. I don’t use the search functionality within Outlook at all as NEO Pro’s is good (their new Outlook add-in, NEO Find, is outstanding on searching Outlook for email).

    As I’m constantly bombarded with suggestions from my Twitter friends on giving up Outlook entirely, I am going to try one alternative: Chaos Intellect suggested by @DT. I’ll run that for a while. Meanwhile, I am still going to sort out Outlook.

    Appreciate your suggestions, James.

  11. neville

    Jason, thanks for your suggestion. It might have had some credibility if you’d mentioned in your comment that you have a connection with the company that makes that product, assuming that from the links you provided. ;)

    Still, Email Center Pro does look good. One to add to the comparison list if I decide to seriously investigate ’email in the cloud’ options (which I’m not doing at the moment).

  12. James Gallagher

    I wouldn’t agree with abandoning Outlook, when you have an application that works for you the backend shouldn’t dictate the client but support it (that said I’m an avid Google Apps fan for my mail and love the latest ActiveSync efforts for Calendar and Contacts). Good luck with your efforts anyway and don’t forget Chip’s suggestion on the IMAP controls (might be worth creating labels specifically to break up your Gmail archive into manageable chunks).

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