Recipe for Eliminating Microsoft Exchange and Outlook from your E-mail, Calendar, and Contacts, but still sync over the air to a Windows Mobile phone

So, here's my dilemma:

Given:

  • I use Gmail for my personal mail.
  • I use Gmail apps for my Path 101 domain for corporate mail.
  • I'm very particular about my address book.  I have 2000+ contacts and I try to keep them to people I actually want to remember, not just anyone I've ever e-mailed.
  • I need a calendar on my phone.
  • I have a Windows Mobile 6 based phone.

Needs and wants

  • I'd like use GCal for my calendar, because I get calendar invites to these Google addresses
  • Also, I share calendars with @ptrain, so we can see what weekends I'm coming up to Boston, figure out when to call each other (even though we're not big phone people), plan dinners with other couples, etc.  This is easily done in the GCal interface.
  • I want over the air syncing.
Problems

  • Sitting in a browser all day with your calendar and e-mail open, if you're using Firefox or Flock, is a good way to fist the memory hole and make the leak even bigger. 
  • Outlook is big, bloated, and slow.  It eats memory and is unwieldy to keep flipping back and forth to.
  • Google contacts suck.  It takes everyone you've ever e-mailed and records them.
  • Google doesn't normally play nice with mobile phones for syncing calendar and contacts anyway.

My solution:

So, first thing I did was to download Thunderbird, at the advice of Gina Trapani, who is just awesome.  Now that Gmail supports IMAP, Thunderbird makes for a really lightweight and easy to use desktop e-mail client. 

However, that's all it is, until you start adding extensions.  I added a couple key ones.

First, I added Lightning.  Lightning is a Thunderbird extension that adds calendaring functionality to your application.  If you're using gmail calendars, you're going to also need the Provider extension.  This allows bidirectional access to Google Calendar.

What's neat is that you can get more than just access to your own calendar.  You can add any calendar you can see in GCal... just by going to File>New>Calendar>On the network and providing the address of the Ical URL.  (in GCal, My Calendars>pick the calendar>Calendar Settings) and add it.   Here's a tip... if you subscribe to a calendar someone shares with you, it will ask you for their e-mail and password.  Just use whatever e-mail and password you use to login to the account that can see this calendar.  You don't need theirs specifically.

Ok, so now I've ported my e-mail and calendar into a lightweight desktop client.  Still much work to do.  How do I get my contacts from Exchange to Thunderbird.

Here's where you might have a bitter taste in your mouth... but I say you need to bite the bullet. 

Enter Plaxo.

Plaxo has a Thunderbird toolbar that works quite well for syncing contacts.  So put your contacts on Plaxo, sync them with the Outlook Toolbar, and sync them right into Thunderbird.  Plaxo 3.0 makes connecting all the dots on the back end really easy.

Now my desktop experience is complete...  E-mail, calendar, and contacts... but what about syncing?  I'm still syncing to my hosted Exchange account for mobile calendar and contacts.  

On paper, Plaxo Premium is supposed to help with both of these things.  They just realized a Windows Mobile app for syncing exactly these two things.  The trouble is, there's a missing link that makes only one of them work.

Let's start with what does work.  Unlink the ActiveSync connections to your calendar and contacts on your phone.  That will erase all those contacts and cal entries, so I'm assuming you still have them on the desktop somewhere.   What does work is Contacts.  This has always been Plaxo's strong suit...  keeping all your contacts in one place... and now you can plug directly into your Plaxo contact database using their WM6 app.  Sah-weet... worked on the first try.

But syncing to my Plaxo calendar... wait...  that could work, but my Plaxo calendar is no longer synced to anything else.  If I'm disconnecting my hosted Exchange, and the Thunderbird toolbar is only for contacts, how do I make sure Plaxo always has my latest calendar.

Well, they do have a Sync point for connecting to Google Calendar listed, but the damn thing just doesn't work.  So, the Thunderbird toolbar won't sync your calendar to Plaxo, and Plaxo won't sync to your underlying GCal.  

So, I went out and got a second application for the phone--GooSync, and paid for that one, too.  GooSync promises to sync your Calendar and Contacts to Google, but I only keep my calendar on Google, because as I said before, Google contacts sucks.  So, I turn off Plaxo's calendar sync, and I turn off GooSync's contacts sync.   I let Goosync just sync directly to my Google Calender.  So this way, thanks to Provider, I can change things on my desktop, have it write directly to Gcal, and then have Gcal always syncing to the phone with GooSync.

Results:

  • Lightweight calendar and e-mail app
  • Viewable and writable shared calendars
  • Over the air syncing for e-mail, contacts, and calendaring for Windows Mobile 6
  • No Exchange or desktop Outlook

Woohoo!!


I'm going to hold on to that hosted exchange account for a few weeks just in case, but then I can just toss it.

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