Saturday, 21 August 2010

Cloudy Outlook

There is always that sense of relief that accompanies any occasion when I free myself from the shackles of tyranny. This week it happened again as I broke free from the shackles of Microsoft Outlook, and this post is here to tell you all about it.
For ten years now, I have been using Outlook to manage and maintain all the personal information I want to carry on me. With the aid of the PDAs I have had with me, a Palm, two Windows Mobile phones, and now an iPhone, I was able to carry my Outlook’s calendar, contacts, notes and to do items on me. Now I managed to do the same sans Outlook.

First, it’s important to clarify why I wanted to rid myself of my dependency on Outlook:
  1. Outlook is a Windows application, and I hate using Windows. Every time I boot my PC on Windows some agonizing thing takes place; I much prefer the seamless and faster experience that Linux offers.
  2. Outlook costs money. A lot of it, actually, as it requires one to buy the professional version of Microsoft Office to acquire an Outlook license.
  3. For a private person like me, Outlook’s information is saved on my local hard drives. This implies that backups are always compromised and that my information would be at the hand of anyone putting their hands on my hard drive.

So, what did I do to get rid of Outlook?
The solution was cloud computing – putting my information up on the web, where I can access it wherever I can access the Internet while a local copy is saved on my iPhone. It’s free and it works on any Internet browser on any environment (Windows, Mac or Linux). It’s backed up by much better facilities than I will ever have and it’s available to me much more than my home PC is (think how many times you've had issues with your home PC compared to how many times Google was down). Security is the biggest issue with cloud computing, though: you never know who can access your data; you just have to put your trust in the likes of Google, Apple, Amazon and all the rest of the companies that provide cloud computing services.
Specifically, I chose the following alternatives to maintain my information:
  1. Calendar: I use the Google Calendar that comes with my Gmail account. It syncs automatically to my iPhone.
  2. Notes: As of the introduction of iOS4 for the iPhone, any notes on your iPhone that you edit are automatically synchronized with the IMAP compliant email you have specified. In my case that IMAP account is Gmail, where I now have a new folder called “Notes”.
  3. To do items: Out of the numerous iPhone apps for this purpose I have been using the Toodledo app on my iPhone. I actually chose Toodledo because they have a tool to sync with Outlook, but you can also manage your tasks through their website or their iGoogle widget. By now Toodledo also have the facilities to manage notes.
  4. Contacts: I use Google Contacts, another tool that comes with Gmail. Just like the Google Calendar tool, it automatically syncs to my iPhone.
There you have it: personal liberty through the cloud. If anything, this liberty means I no longer need to maintain my home PC as rigorously as I have been doing thus far.

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