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Monday, February 09, 2015

Review: Outlook 2013

As documented previously, I've recently run into quota issues for gmail. Along with the need to aggressively delete e-mail to get under the quota, I've finally decided to take backing up my e-mail seriously. This is important, because together with photos, a lot of e-mail is actually useful for searching and remembering details that aren't recorded any other way. Even if you've decided to pay for storage on Gmail, for instance, there's always the chance that your account gets hijacked phished or otherwise deleted/hacked, so having a backed up archive locally protects you in that event.

As a well documented cheapskate, I first tried the free solutions. Mozilla Thunderbird, for instance, is well known and popularly acclaimed. But it was too slow and couldn't really manage huge inboxes. I tried various other solutions before giving up and acquiring an Outlook 2013 license through an employee purchase program at Microsoft.

Setting up Outlook is fairly straightforward, and it auto-configures now for Gmail accounts as well as Hotmail and Yahoo mail. For Google Apps for your domain accounts, however, you have to go through custom configuration. There are a few bugs there, but eventually I got it so that everything sync'd.

Performance is decent. It can't match the search index that's built on the browser based version of gmail, but it's acceptably fast and works even when you're offline. The real feature that made me pay for a license, however, is the auto-archive feature. This essentially lets you move old e-mail into an archive which you can then access and search separately. I did an archive and the machine went away for a few minutes and created a 9GB archive of my e-mail all the way back from 2004. It's searchable, opening the folder isn't fast, but it works and I can apply filters to it and search it after creating an index, which takes forever.

The biggest pain point is that I have to force myself to keep Outlook running. (It's not a hog: 200MB of RAM is all it takes --- keeping a Chrome window open to Gmail costs quite a bit more!) The sync with a live server is also somewhat slow: I frequently get a ping on my browser window a few minutes before Outlook fetches the mail. What's also interesting is that while it automagically imports your calendar (and it does a great job of that), it doesn't automatically import contacts, and the auto-complete does not auto-populate.

What auto-archive does not do, unfortunately, is to remove archived e-mail from the IMAP server (in this case GMail). This isn't great, but on the other hand, means I can now very aggressively delete e-mail in the future.

There's a market opportunity somewhere for an e-mail app that doubles as a backup for cloud-based storage, but I'm sure people like me are a rarity (most people don't even backup their photos). However, just like Open Office Spreadsheet was never a good substitute for Excel, there's no serious alternative to Outlook if you need the capability of offline e-mail or archives.


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