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Switching webmail from Google’s Gmail to Microsoft’s Outlook.com

Update:

Over at the Microsoft blog was announced a new tool that makes all of the above obsolete.  You can now make use of this built-in Outlook.com feature to import all your e-mail, contacts, folder structure and read/unread mail status.  Easy peasy !

outlook_cover_640x360

As the (probably) final post in the series about switching online services from Google to Microsoft, this post describes what for many will be the most difficult migration / switch-over.  It sure was for me, as I have a very big e-mail archive that is meticulously organised with labels.

But I now had switched over my other services, so consistency demanded I did the same for my webmail.  Besides, I truly loved the minimal, modern UI of Outlook.com so much, I was even prepared to take some of the cons with it.

Personal cons of Outlook.com:

  • Message filtering.  It is by far one of my biggest gripes with MS’s webmail.  It’s just too limited, as you cannot specify multiple filters per filter field.  In Gmail, you can put ‘OR’ between e-mail addresses to filter a whole list of senders for example.  Also, you are unable to assign more than one action to a filter, like applying a category (which is Gmail’s label, btw) AND moving the message to a different folder.
  • Advanced searching.  There’s no search criterium available to search within categories.  Since I don’t organise on folders, but on categories (allowing to tag a message more than once, instead of making a copy), this annoys me a lot.

Well, that’s it really, for me 🙂  Nothing that can’t be fixed in a humble update.
YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

So how would you go about switching webmail accounts ?

To begin with, or even if you just want to try out Outlook.com, without giving up any part of Gmail, you can configure Gmail to forward any incoming message to your new Outlook.com account.  There’s an option to keep forwarded messages, which effectively gives you a mirrored inbox; one on Google’s interpretation of webmail, one on Microsoft’s vision.  This is an excellent way to compare the two services side-by-side, should you be in doubt.  As a word of advice, it might be a good idea to run this forwarded mode for a couple of days or weeks, in order for you to really get to grips with the new webmail interface.  It will take time to notice certain stuff (like message filtering, contact integration, etc.).  Another bonus is that you now have a free backup of any new e-mail 🙂

forwarding

Next, the big move.  I assume you want to migrate your old e-mail messages, and rightly so.  There is more than one way to accomplish this, or at least, there used to be.  You might have heard of a service called TrueSwitch, which promises to move all of your e-mails, contacts and agenda entries from Gmail to Outlook.com.  I actually used this, because it provided the only way to retain any labelling: it created a folder for each label, so I could then place all messages in a folder under a category, and next archive those messages in a big ‘Archive’ folder.  Only drawback was that it apparently took only the first label (alphabetically?).  Oh, and it had troubles with foreign characters, like ‘è’.

But that option is now gone since a couple of weeks, as the service has shut down.

That leaves you with the other option: manual import/export.  It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, and as you will find loads of tutorials online for this, I won’t go into details.  The bottom line is: for the moment, Outlook.com does not support the IMAP protocol, so you can’t use just any desktop e-mail client (like Thunderbird) to set this up.  The best option is to use the Outlook desktop software which does support EAS (Exchange Active Sync).  There, you configure both your Gmail (using IMAP) and your Outlook.com (using EAS) inboxes.  Sync them completely (remember to check all folders, also ‘sent’).  Once your e-mail is downloaded, you can simply drag & drop your Gmail messages in the desired Outlook folders, and the e-mail client will sync everything on the go.  Once it’s done, you don’t have to use the client anymore if you don’t want to.

There is actually a third option, but that is only worth considering if either you don’t want to put in a lot of effort in the migration, or you only need a dump of your Gmail messages, without organisation.  Outlook.com, like the other webmail services, offers you the ability to download messages from another account via POP.  You could configure your Gmail account here, and Outlook.com would start downloading Gmail e-mails to your inbox.  Best is to set up a filter for these messages as to not flood your inbox (when I tried this, I let the downloaded messages land in a separate ‘@gmail’ folder).  Take note that this will take a very long time (possibly several weeks, depending on the size of your Gmail inbox), and you don’t really have any control or progress indication available, so the risk is there that you miss out on some messages.  Like I said, only an option if you don’t care that much about your e-mail archive.

pop

It’s clear that the biggest hurdle – at least for me it was – is the organisation of your messages, as Gmail uses the label system only (no folders).  You should think through how important this is for you with regards to finding ancient mail.  Keyword search obviously will still work, but I have noticed that Outlook.com uses a ‘wider’ search.  You will find more, but it’s also more difficult if your keywords are generic.  So it actually might go either way for you in deciding you need your historical Gmail labels.

Finally, if you decide you like what Microsoft has cooked up, you can either delete your Google account (which is very straightforward), or play on the safe side, and simply put it in sleep mode.  That is, don’t use it anymore, and activate a permanent auto-reply (aka OutOfOffice).  Make sure to check the option ‘send reply only to people in your address book’; you don’t want to acknowledge spambots of your valid e-mail address.  This way, you inform your contacts that you now use an “[at] outlook.com” address, without having to send out a huge spam mail yourself.

OoO

I already talked about migrating your contacts, and for now I still use Google’s Calendar.  Microsoft’s Calendar just simply isn’t up to Google’s level at the moment, and together with personal limitations (sharing of my wife’s personal and work calendar), this prevents me from switching just yet.  However, I’m sure Microsoft will address this, and once they do I am able to wave goodbye to that as well, truly unifying my online services once more…

Read my other posts about my online services switch from Google to Microsoft:

Moving address book from Google Contacts to Microsoft People
Moving photo albums from Picasaweb / Google+ Photos to SkyDrive
Switching personal cloud service from Google Drive to SkyDrive
Moving file hosting service from Dropbox to SkyDrive
How Google is slowly losing me as a client to Microsoft
Switching search engines from Google to DuckDuckGo


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Moving address book from Google Contacts to Microsoft People

Moving your Google contacts to Outlook.com promises to be one of the easiest aspects of the whole Google to Microsoft migration.  Because when you link your Google account in your (Microsoft account) settings, you get a very decent view on all your Google contacts.

There is a caveat in this,  however.  Like the majority of switching users, one of the first things I did in my new (old) Microsoft account, was link my Google account.  This would ‘sync’ my contacts and calendar automatically, and without error might I add. BUT this also means you no longer have the option to physically import Google contacts, which in turn means that you must keep your Google account alive and kicking.  Furthermore, you won’t be able to edit/delete contact details unless you create an Outlook version for the contact in question (this part is handled very well in the People UI, fortunately).  This latter fact is logical because there is no 2-way synchronization between the two, but it is annoying that you can’t remove a contact that was ‘linked in’ by Google.  Some users report that even after deleting the contact over at Google, the contact still remains in your address book…

I created an Outlook version of most, if not all, of my combined contacts (beautifully merged from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype and Twitter), thinking that Outlook would sync the information on first creation.  This apparently happens partially, from what I can tell.  It would take over someone’s personal e-mail address, for example, but not his/hers work e-mail.  So very inconsistent behaviour here, making it impossible to determine what information I have at Outlook, and what information will be removed once I cut the Google link…

An option would be to temporarily remove your Google account link, and then manually import Google’s CSV file of contacts.  Microsoft’s People has a good merging tool, so any duplicates won’t be much work to resolve.  Still, I feel like ‘People’ could use a lot more polishing.  E.g. there is no way you can manually choose a contact’s picture, it will always be the picture of the (most popular?) social network you have linked.
As a matter of test, I imported three contacts from a Google CSV file (formatted for Outlook).  Two contacts were imported as expected, and merged perfectly, but the last contact was screwed up, creating a duplicate, but with a scrambled name (containing part of the CSV record), making me fear to bluntly import all of my contacts, as the merge tool won’t be able to detect this kind of duplicate.

So if you, like me, should wish to sever the connection between the two contact management systems, there is a risk that you lose some (or all, depending on your manual additions) information.  This leads me to hang on to my Google Contacts list for now, although I do my updates in MS’s People application.

In hindsight, I recommend not to link your Google account when you switch, but first use the option to import Google contacts.
I can see myself trying the option I suggested rather soon though: temporarily decoupling my Google account, hopefully then getting the “Import Google contacts” option and import them through the People interface.

Btw: that’s another thing that’s unclear to me.  Decoupling your Google account; will it have a big impact ?  Does this decouple only Google contacts (unlikely) ?

In any case, I don’t like having two address books, so one will have to go.  I just wish Microsoft would provide an option to ‘reset’ your address book, and import Google contacts, also after you already linked you accounts.

Update: I know myself all too well, it seems 🙂  Even before publishing this post, I just had to know, so I have tried to just bluntly import Google Contacts’ CSV file into my already filled up address book of People.  As expected, I got all duplicates, but that’s for the merge tool to worry about.  I can now confirm that the imported Outlook contact does have all fields filled out that you had in the Google version of the contact (well, at least the important ones, not sure about the more exotic Google-specific fields like ‘Relationship’).  So after merging, you can be sure to have a complete contact, and if you so desire, you can delete (or archive, to be on the safe side) all of your Google contacts.

One word of caution though: make sure you go over the duplicates confirmation screen, as some contacts might be mistakenly proposed for merger.  Especially when you don’t have an e-mail address of a contact, and his/her name resembles another contact strongly.  Also a certain false positive: two different people using the same e-mail address.  This happens more than you want, but keep an eye out for them.  Luckily, they are very visible in the list, as you normally would have two boxes (the imported Google contact created as a new Outlook contact, and your existing Outlook contact), whereas the false positives will have three, so they stand out very cleary if you scroll through the list quickly.

 

Read my other posts about my online services switch from Google to Microsoft:

Moving webmail from Gmail to Outlook.com
Moving photo albums from Picasaweb / Google+ Photos to SkyDrive
Switching personal cloud service from Google Drive to SkyDrive
Moving file hosting service from Dropbox to SkyDrive
How Google is slowly losing me as a client to Microsoft
Switching search engines from Google to DuckDuckGo


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Moving photo albums from Picasaweb / Google+ Photos to SkyDrive

This is probably the first thing that sparked my decision to leave Google for some (or all) of my online services, which are webmail, contacts, calendar, online photos, personal cloud, file hosting, and to a lesser extent, my search engine of choice.  Click on any of the links at the bottom of this post to read about my transition of each of them.

 

I used to be a convinced Picasaweb user.  This was mostly due to -at the time- the very large amount of free storage, low costs for additional storage, and an online interface that was better than the competition.  I remember being impressed by the speed at which full-screen photos were loaded when you flicked through an album.  I also loved the integration of EXIF data and geographical location information (effectively creating a map of where you’ve been).

This was then coupled to the (still) excellent Picasa desktop software, originally developed by Idealab’s Lifescape, from where you could upload your photos.  However, the way you could decide which albums and photos to sync was confusing to me.  I couldn’t get it to work just how I wanted.  Either I synced all and only starred photos, or I could activate a ‘web sync’ feature which wasn’t very transparant.  Then there was the option to explicitly create an album in Picasa, which you could then sync to the cloud.  Anyway, it all wasn’t very intuitive, and I didn’t like it.  It always felt like something that was slapped together and added on top of it.  But apart from that, the Picasaweb service and Picasa software was excellent, while none of the competition came close.  Of course, it helped that I was living in the Google ecosystem.

But with the arrival of Google+, slowly but surely Picasaweb was being eaten alive by it.  Google first decided to use Picasaweb as the storage hub for photos in Google+.  Next, it mirrored all albums in it’s social network, leaving you with two places where your photos were.  Then, when Google upgraded it’s Contacts pictures to high resolution, each time I updated a contact’s picture, a separate album was created in my Picasaweb photo album collection !  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what this was about, at one point thinking to blame my switch from an Android to a Windows Phone smartphone.  So I asked the Internet, but the Internet didn’t know, leaving me to come up with an explanation of my own.
Before finally axing Picasaweb as it existed, Google redirected everyone to Google+ Photos, with an option to return to classic Picasaweb.  This option is now gone, and the picasaweb subdomain sends you to Google+ Photos.  R.I.P.  Apparently, you can still access the Picasaweb interface by using the following URL: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/myphotos?noredirect=1

 

So there you are.  If you want to host your pictures with your favourite service provider, Google, you have no choice but to host them in Google’s social network.  In effect, Google now no longer has an online photo album service.  “Sure it does”, I hear you say, “it’s just called Google+ Photos”.  Fair enough, but I want a decoupled photo storage service.  If I wanted that to exist inside a social network, I’d use Facebook.  But I don’t, so Google cannot help me with that any longer.

Funny thing is, or to put salt in the wound, around the same time, the pricing plans for extra storage were changed as well.  From $5/year to $10/month for exactly the same product.  I’ll leave the math to you, but I can tell you that it’s more expensive.

Since in the meantime, I had switched from an Android phone to a Windows Phone one, and there was the prospect of moving my personal cloud and my file hosting/sharing service to SkyDrive, what better candidate than the latter ?  SkyDrive now offered decent performance at an attractive price point ($10/year).  It integrated three services into one (file hosting/sharing, personal document cloud (with office online editor!), and online photo albums), and has a straightforward synchronization.  It just feels right.

 

TL;DR: Going about this migration or transfer is actually pretty easy thanks to the Dropbox-style functionality of SkyDrive.  You share a photo album online, by simply copying the pictures in a separate folder under your Skydrive\Pictures folder.  It’s obviously a bit more work, as you have to manually select files (unless you upload all your snaps unfiltered, then it’s easy).
The good thing is, if you had web sync enabled for your photo albums in Picasa, your local files will have synched any descriptions you might have put with the online photos.  Very helpful (thank you, Google) if you have a lot of travel photos for example, which you annotated with all the places etc. which you undoubtedly have forgotten by now.  Unfortunately, you do lose all comments of course, as this was a feature of Picasaweb, and can’t be saved in the image’s EXIF data.  For me personally that wasn’t an issue with only a handful of comments.

 

Read my other posts about my online services switch from Google to Microsoft:

Moving webmail from Gmail to Outlook.com
Moving address book from Google Contacts to Microsoft People
Switching personal cloud service from Google Drive to SkyDrive
Moving file hosting service from Dropbox to SkyDrive
How Google is slowly losing me as a client to Microsoft
Switching search engines from Google to DuckDuckGo


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Switching personal cloud service from Google Drive to SkyDrive

In this next post in the Google to Microsoft series, I will talk about my migration of Google Drive files to Microsoft SkyDrive, or whatever it will be called in the future.

Having decided to move both my online photo albums and my Dropbox files over to SkyDrive, it made sense to also migrate my Google Drive documents.  These are documents that I want available anywhere: on my desktop pc, my tablet, my smartphone, and on any computer I have Internet access to, so I can work on them from no matter where on no matter what device.  Some of these documents I want to share with certain people, so they can view and/or edit them.
This one is a bit trickier though, because there are some differences between the two services.  Not in the way my documents are hosted and shared (they are more or less equal), but with regards to features and speed.  I’ll try to list some things from the top of my head here:

  • Speed.  At the time of writing, Google is definitely #1.  Loading documents and working on them is just snappier.
  • Versioning.  Google & Microsoft both offer a versioning system, but I feel that the way Google presents this in the interface is clearer and easier.
  • Collaboration.  I haven’t tested real-time collaboration on SkyDrive, but I know from experience Google does this really well, to the extent of showing where the other user’s cursor is.  In any case, it’s not a deal-breaker for me, but versioning is.
  • Online editing.  This is two-fold, as Microsoft gives you the option to edit the document in the desktop version of the office program in question, like Excel 2013.  This is a huge plus, as you get the speed, and every feature you can think of.  It’s too bad then, that the Excel Web App doesn’t offer simple things like conditional formatting, while Google’s online editor does.  But I’m convinced MS will implement this in the near future, and you can of course apply conditional formatting if you edit in the desktop version of Excel (the web app will render it correctly, but you won’t be able to change or create it).  The Excel Web App also has a limitation on how it works on summing time units, as it is limited to 48 hours.  That’s a shame, because I manage my work timesheets online.
  • Compatibility.  Both offer the option to save a document as pdf, and both can read all the common office formats.
  • Integration.  Surprisingly maybe, this one goes to Microsoft in my book.  Mainly because you have one service that incorporates online photo albums, smartphone photo synchronization, private documents, file sharing, and notes.  With Google, you’d have to keep switching between Google+ Photos, Google Drive and maybe a service like Evernote.  It won’t feel uniform at all, as Google Drive doesn’t even look the same as Google+ (Photos).  Google has some sort of note taking application in the form of Google Keep, but it doesn’t seem very advanced, even though it is somewhat integrated in Drive.  And how will all of this be presented on your mobile device, be it smartphone or tablet ?  Like I said before, the photo thing in itself was reason enough for me to switch.
  • Drawing.  Ah, nearly forgot this one.  If you’re into creating maps, diagrams, drawings, sketches, etc. you might not want to switch just yet.  Google has a relatively simple, but great drawing editor.  I used it only twice to draw up a network topography, but it does its job brilliantly (simple and fast), while Microsoft doesn’t really have an alternative.  On SkyDrive, you’ll have to resort to PowerPoint or WordArt, which while it will help get you to your design goal, is cumbersome to use.
  • Presentations.  I haven’t used either Google Drive Presentations or SkyDrive’s PowerPoint, so I’ll have to come up empty on this comparison.

All in all, I feel that Microsoft will (and will have to) add more features to its online Word and Excel Web App editors.  I’m confident they will, as they basically only recently launched this (proper) version of SkyDrive, and they are already on-par with Google’s Drive.  It’s the little things that will finish the job, along with a slight performance upgrade.

Although the above now is a proper A vs B article, I didn’t really want it to write it that way, but it might help some of you that are pondering the switch.

So anyway, I now wanted to move my files over from Drive to SkyDrive.  That’s really easy, in fact.  Google has an option that will export each and every file on your Drive to a corresponding Office format (be it MS Office or Open Office) and stuff it in a zip archive.  I can tell you that this is pretty reliable, although you might want to check any spreadsheets that are somewhat complex, as sometimes the layout gets changed a little bit.  Nothing catastrophic, fortunately, so you won’t have too much work.  After you unzip all your documents, simply move them to your SkyDrive folder for upload, et voilà.
As an alternative, but I haven’t tried this out myself, you could in theory install both desktop clients, and copy your Google Drive files to your SkyDrive folder.

 

Read my other posts about my online services switch from Google to Microsoft:

Moving webmail from Gmail to Outlook.com
Moving address book from Google Contacts to Microsoft People
Moving photo albums from Picasaweb / Google+ Photos to SkyDrive
Moving file hosting service from Dropbox to SkyDrive
How Google is slowly losing me as a client to Microsoft
Switching search engines from Google to DuckDuckGo


6 Comments

How Google is slowly losing me as a client to Microsoft

It all began when Google decided to axe their Reader service (switch reason #1). Google Reader is was regarded as the single go-to solution for an RSS aggregator.  It was The Little Google Service That Could, and everything it did, it did well.  An API used by countless of 3rd party services and mobile apps, fast, clean, integration with other services like Pocket, sharing to social media, etc.

Since I used Reader multiple times a day, and there initially wasn’t an awesome alternative around that had the same to offer, I was really displeased.  Especially since, in my view, together with Gmail, it was one of the irreplaceable cornerstones of Google’s application landscape.  Why are they discontinuing it ?  I’m pretty sure it has to do with money somewhere (as in not-generating-a-fortune money).  Removing iGoogle ?  That I understand.

Ever since this news was published, I have switched over to Feedly.  As long as Reader is still alive, they sync with it, and once it dies, they (promise to) switch over to a proprietary system called Normandy.  I’m cool with that, because Feedly has filled the Reader gap to the best extent of all the alternatives.

Then there is also the fact that I switched from an Android smartphone to a Windows Phone one in December 2012.  I changed partly because I simply wanted to try something fresh.  After having used Windows Phone 8 for a couple of weeks, I realised I wouldn’t want to go back to an Android experience (on a phone).  I still have an Android tablet to tinker around with, but I am of the opinion that WP8 is the superior smartphone platform today.

I use the Google services on my Windows Phone, most prominently Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and to a lesser extent Google Drive.  I never really cared for SkyDrive, until I moved my pictures to it as a cause of switch reason #2: Picasaweb.

Picasaweb, the online photo album service of Google, I was always reasonably happy with.  I found it a bit unintuitive at times with the coupling to the Picasa desktop application with regards to online synchronization, but it offered good features and storage space.  But then Google decided to hide Picasa(web) in the background and annoyingly push for integration in Google+.  In fact, I think that annoyed me the most.  Yes, you could go back to the classic Picasaweb view, but I am sure it too will be axed in favor of Google pushing their social network down our throats. I don’t want my photo albums on a social network, only a selection of separate pictures.

So I gave SkyDrive a try, also because I though it would be handy to move my Dropbox files there, and end up with one integrated system for pictures, documents and files that are automatically synced, easily shared, and provide a good online interface to share photo albums.  As an extra, SkyDrive currently has roughly the same pricing as Google had until about a year ago: around $5/yr for 20 GB.  Switch reason #3: storage pricing.  Granted, my Google storage subscription plan is kept as an early adopter, but if I want to expand it, or I miss a payment, pricing will become $10/month for about the same. SkyDrive is unquestionably the cheapest at the moment.

In conclusion: so far I switched RSS reader, online file storage and online photos to Microsoft.  The integration on their mobile platform, interweaved with social media content, is awesome.  Google’s integration used to be awesome, but at least for me, it’s dwindling at a rapid speed (especially photos).  I still use Google Drive, but that I could also switch very easily to SkyDrive. YouTube I don’t care for much (Vimeo is a good alternative), and I already switched search engines long ago to DuckDuckGo.

Remains: mail, contacts and calendar.  The most difficult triplets to switch.  I have a huge history kept in Gmail, and my calendar and contacts are meticulously maintained.  An import of all my mails from Gmail to Outlook.com has already been completed, but for the moment Gmail is still ahead in terms of speed and options.  Labels I can map to Outlook categories, but that manual task is beyond my situation.  The fact that many logins are linked to my Google account helps them a bit as well.

But it won’t take much anti-user decisions on Google’s part to make me also switch those last remaining services over.  And why wouldn’t I, aside from the hassle ?  It would mean an even leaner integration on my phone, desktop and possible future Windows tablet.

I kind of just ‘had it’ with them, to be brutally honest, and I’m not alone.  It has actually come to a point where I trust the old Micro$oft more than Google.  Who knew ?

Update

Oh, I even forgot to mention what irritates me the most about the current Google policy.  The fact that they deliberately ignore the Windows Phone customers.  There are official Google apps on every platform (Apple and even Blackberry), but they obstinately refrain from releasing Windows Phone apps for Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Drive, etc…  I guess they are afraid of something.  This is nothing more than blocking a promising player in the mobile market.  And that is exactly the kind of egotistic behaviour that ticks me off, and drives me further away from them.  Remember your own slogan, Google: “Don’t be evil”.

 

Read my other posts about my online services switch from Google to Microsoft:

Moving webmail from Gmail to Outlook.com
Moving address book from Google Contacts to Microsoft People
Switching personal cloud service from Google Drive to SkyDrive
Moving file hosting service from Dropbox to SkyDrive
How Google is slowly losing me as a client to Microsoft
Switching search engines from Google to DuckDuckGo


1 Comment

MS SourceSafe : die, please.

That’s it. I definately decided that Microsoft’s version control software with the ironic name “SourceSafe” is spawn of the devil.

I just spent the entire morning on fixing things between IIS, VS, and SS because of a stupid namechange/directory shift. Had I used Subversion -like we do at Fusebox- I am sure I could have fixed everything in half an hour. Unfortunately, I can’t choose what version control software our client uses… 😦

Man, that stuff really got to me today. First, I was plain suspicious about it, then, I actually had to use it and I began to dislike it, but now… I simply hate it !!

(this is the 6.0 version btw, I heard MS did their best with the 2005 shipment, but that is an entirely different story, now is it)

Seriously, if you do have the choice, go for Subversion (TortoiseSVN is a beautiful tool).