Microsoft Outlook

I’ve used Outlook for several years for email and contacts so I’ll write about some of what I like using it for. Email -I have Yahoo, NAU, and Google Gmail for email and use an IMAP connection to sync the Gmail and NAU  accounts (Yahoo doesn’t allow IMAP on the free accounts) to Outlook. This allows me to access my email and write replies when I’m offline while still giving me full access to my email from any computer with internet access. This is a popular use of Outlook and really works quite well for me. Whenever I’m online Outlook and Gmail sync automatically, so the content in both inboxes and outboxes is always the same. One feature I like is that when I ‘Star’ an email in Gmail, Outlook automatically adds it to my task list. Google has instructions about how to set up the IMAP connection here. If this doesn’t do the trick, there are hundreds of other blogs that describe how to set this up; do a Google search for “IMAP Outlook” or “Gmail Outlook” and you’ll find plenty of info.

Outlook 2007 also has a pretty cool calendar. If you’re new to using Outlook, you probably won’t like it. It took me about three years to appreciate its abilities and find a use for it. I finally did the switch from the ragged notebook -one page per day- to Outlook when I got tired of spending time writing appointments and rewriting them when they changed. I now have one less notebook in my backpack and have an extra hour a week because I don’t have to write in recurring stuff. The extra hour somehow doesn’t pan out like it should, but Outlook’s working well enough that I don’t trust the notebook anymore. There’s a setting in Outlook that lets you minimize it to the taskbar; this is a great way to keep Outlook running all the time without it taking up a bunch of space on the monitor. Outlook has to be running for the reminders to work, if you can’t remember to start it, drag the shortcut into your startup folder.

A few basic features of Outlook Calendar are color-coding, reminders, and recurrences. Color-coding allows you to color an appointment from one to twelve colors (yes, one appointment can have up to 12 colors) to help separate birthdays and holidays from meetings and vacation and bill payment dates. Below is a screenshot of Outlook, showing color and how cool it looks.

Reminders are optional and can be set to open a popup window anywhere from two weeks to two minutes before the appointment. The popup has a snooze button with a dropdown list to specify snooze time. Or, you can dismiss it if you don’t want it to pop up again. This is an invaluable feature for me because it allows me to move these appointments out of short term storage in my brain, kind of like how I can sleep better if I know the alarm is set to wake me up. Recurrences allow me to make an event recurring; i.e. Thanksgiving day always falls on Thursday of the last full week in November, and it’s easy to tell Outlook this info. Outlook will faithfully remind me about Thanksgiving Day on the right day of every year. Election Day is on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November every four years; Outlook is as capable to handle this as it is to tell me to go out and get the mail every day except Sunday, that is, if I was that obsessed with letting a computer run my life.

I still wasn’t completely satisfied. I tried Google Calendar a while ago, before it was able to sync with Outlook. I liked all the features and the layout but I knew that something totally internet based wouldn’t work well for me. I needed something that was available all the time, even if that meant only being available on one computer. Now Google has a nifty little tool that will sync Outlook and Google Calendar automatically. This is a really great breakthrough for me. Now I can have the best of both worlds. To do this, you’ll need to create a calendar in Google. You don’t have to add any content, just sign into Calendar. Then download this nifty gadget from Google, found here. Follow the instructions to install it and that’s it. Google will sync one or two ways, whatever you specify, at the time intervals you set. It’s pretty awesome. I don’t have to lug my laptop with me all day or print out my day each morning. I just find the closest computer and log in to see what’s next. Below is a screenshot of Google Calendar with the same appointments as in Outlook -just no different colors here. 

Google won’t keep the color coding, but I can live with that for now. Maybe they’ll improve that soon. I still prefer Outlook’s layout, and the machine based program runs a little faster for making a lot of changes. But for checking Outlook on the go, it fills the bill perfectly. Google is really good for sharing calendars but I haven’t gotten into that yet.

I’m a huge fan of Microsoft OneNote 2007, if anyone knows how to sync it with Google Notebook or set up an Exchange, I’d love to hear about it…