Thursday, June 11, 2009

oh, you've got mail?

So. While I'm importing mail into Entourage, since Microsoft can't figure out how to get it from Microsoft Outlook to Microsoft Entourage (refer to my previous post)...I thought I would describe the process I'm using. And I may decide in the end to reveal the prophecy of the future of Microsoft.

First, pages like this were very discouraging when they said things like:

Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit released the .PST Import Tool to migrate data from Outlook® 2001 for Mac to Entourage® 2004...[however]...Office XP [and later] PSTs can NOT be used with [this] Import Tool.

So you have to buy a 3rd party tool to do this. They are available (it seems) for $10, $20, $28, and $34.97, although some work only with older versions of Outlook. And they all look like a time drain to me, especially if they don't get it 100% right and I have to fix it after I get in too deep to abort.

So, I found another approach that works quite well: GMAIL.

It turns out that gmail, Outlook 2007, and Entourage all have IMAP support.

If you're not familiar with IMAP, it's like POP on steroids. POP (post office protocol) has been around forever. I mean forever. It's a pretty simple protocol. I know because I've written a POP3 mail system (both server and client) in Visual Basic. IMAP (internet message access protocol) is much newer and richer, and it includes support for multiple folders. I could go into lots of details on how both of these protocols work, but it would be very boring. This page has a decent and brief explanation of POP and IMAP if you're interested.

Anyway, couple Gmail's support for IMAP and its unbelievable free disk space offering (up to 7+ GB today, and growing), and you've got a great tool for transferring email between clients. Here's the process:

  1. Set up a new Gmail account with over 7 GB of storage
  2. Enable IMAP support on the Gmail preferences page (here's how)
  3. Configure an IMAP account in Outlook (2007 in my case) (here's how) (note that Entourage is not on the supported Gmail client list--we'll get to that)
  4. Drag-n-drop folders from Outlook Post Office to the Gmail account
  5. Wait a few hours for the messages and all their attachments to transfer (to be fair, this might have been faster if I weren't running Outlook under Windows XP on a virtual machine running in Vmware Fusion 2.1 on my Mac)
  6. Configure an IMAP account in Entourage 2008 (here's how - make sure you follow the directions exactly - look at the screen shots for the right boxes to check)
  7. Right-click on the IMAP account in Entourage, and choose "Receive Complete Folder List", which will bring the empty folder structure down into Entourage

    get folder list
  8. Go through and click on each folder in the tree to download the messages (I haven't found a way to force Entourage to download all - athough there is an option for download all Entourage still wants you to click on every folder before it actually does it).
  9. Drag the folders from the Gmail/IMAP account into the main folders, copying both folders and messages--in my case those folders are tied to two POP accounts: one personal and one work.
  10. Delete the messages from the interim Gmail account

This is working quite well, actually. I haven't decided if I'm going to go back and resurrect all of my old post office archives (.PST files), though. I may get a few of them, but it's very time consuming.

I've just completed all the steps above for all but one of my folders, the biggie--Sent Items.

I say I've completed all the steps, but I've actually stopped two shy. I haven't copied the messages over from my IMAP account to my main folders or deleted them from gmail.

Because when I think about it, what benefit do I get from doing that? Here are some reasons I have decided (for now) to leave the messages on gmail, and to continue to use gmail as my archive.

  • Messages are online, which means they're available anytime I can get to the Internet
  • Messages are online, which means they're not liable to get lost if my computer gets stolen
  • Messages are online and IMAP enabled, which means that I can access them from virtually any email client I choose to use without having to upload/download again,
  • I can use gmail to access my mail
  • Messages are local as well, so they can be accessed when offline
  • Search on gmail is arguably as good or better as Entourage (and Entourage is definitely better than Outlook)
  • Having my messages in gmail makes them prime for converting to Google Wave when it's released (can't wait).
  • Arguments for online privacy and security grow thinner every day, and will have all but vaporized within a year or so

And this, friends, is how email died. Email as we know it anyway. The next generation (of humans) have gmail or hotmail accounts now, or just use facebook messaging, and don't understand the value proposition of having email that only lives on one computer that you have to haul around with you everywhere.

And as online email and collaboration clients get richer and richer (nod to Google Wave again) coupled with near ubiquitous access to the Internet, the next generation's perspective becomes clearer all the time.

So, after this experience, I've decided. I'm done with lugging around bags and bags of email with me everywhere I go. E-mail should live in E-ville. No pun intended.

And this brings me to my final prophecy about Microsoft. Microsoft has for decades now been the king of the strong arm tactic. They have been very good at getting their software everywhere, and locking everyone in. Hats off to them. But the world is changed.

And this particular issue, the one with email, has shed lots of light on how it is changed.

There are lots of aspects to it, but suffice it to say that the next generation doesn't think in terms of "my files" being in "my operating system" on "my computer". To them it's just information that is accessible. If you think I'm wrong, try grounding your teenager from facebook. You may as well revoke J.D.'s rights to own and bear firearms. Take the teen's phone away or their computer away or their tv away, and it's a minor inconvenience. Delete their facebook account? You may as well gouge out their eyes. Because so much of their life is "out there", and their phone, their computer, their TV, is just a portal to getting "out there" where that e-life is permanent. Devices and operating systems and local file stores are almost inconsequential. They're certainly a bother. If you're not convinced, read again through the process I outlined above.

I know some people are excited about Microsoft's new project: bing. I'm not. And I HAAAAATE the commercials on TV. They're bizarre and unnerving, not edgy. And what's worse, Microsoft is at least 5 years behind Google, who already bings better than bing.

Microsoft should have pressed their advantage with hotmail and some of their other online services--should have expanded it into something like Google Wave instead of continuing to try to improve their Office suite and milk $$$ out of us for minor improvements and wholesale user interface circusry.

But if you like a strong arm, and if you like your email to be the One Microsoft Way (their real snail mail address) then you're gonna like your future with Microsoft. For a while.

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