In terms of an email interface, Gmail pretty much delivers the goods. If you have the choice to use Gmail instead of Exchange, well that’s a pretty attractive option for a number of reasons and as good as Outlook is, what a lot of people are discovering is that it’s not the killer app that it was once thought to be.
That seemed like a pain, so this week I just started using Gmail as my default. I’ve not looked back. This is anecdotal and maybe I am a market of one, but it is a big deal for me. I have “lived in Outlook” for years. It was the one part of Office that I thought I would never replace. I suspect I am not alone.
I would actually look forward to a Gmail client app that hooks up to Exchange via MAPI or webDAV, better yet for it to be Gears enabled for offline use (interestingly, with my EVDO card I find that offline requirements simply don’t register with me anymore, I’m always connected).
On my Mac I’ve tried several options to connect to the NewsGator Exchange server, here’s my rundown:
Apple Mail App: My default choice, I use it every day. The integration with Address Book and iCal are super and the general layout and workflows make it a really good email application. Not all is wundabar in Steveland though, if your shop extensively uses Exchange calendaring, forget about looking at other people’s schedules or making your available.
Mail App uses IMAP or POP to connect to Exchange, and they have an “Exchange” account type which I believe is based on WebDAV, but no MAPI support. The Exchange connector is pretty seamless, I’ve never had a problem with it.
Mail app is also very extensible via plugins and add-ons, here’s a list of the best plugins and it has been my experience that these tweaks and addons really do make a big difference.
Zimbra Desktop: I love the idea of Zimbra, I’m less enthusiastic about the actual experience of running Zimbra. Mostly I just don’t like not being able to open a message to a separate window, and yeah that’s pretty specific but with something like email the smallest quirks become annoyances pretty quickly.
The integrated calendaring and address book are adequate but with very little in the way of synchronization, meaning I have to use Zimbra instead of iCal. Plus, you can’t, as far as I could tell, subscribe to additional calendars so using Google Calendar for home, etc. or as a synch hub just isn’t an option. Basically, committing to Zimbra is like using a weak version of Entourage.
Microsoft Entourage: In all respects this is a feature rich app but I still don’t like it. Why? Primarily because it’s a walled garden. I can’t use iCal or Address Book and what that means is that no other apps that use schedule or contact data have access to my data. Sure there is a synch service but I had a horrible experience with it and for the brief period of time I used Entourage I ended up turning Synch off (even then it still kept trying to synch, go figure).
It’s also kinda slow but if you rely on scheduling services, well this is your best bet when going against Exchange. One other note, if you use Time Machine you have to exclude Entourage’s database from backups because it just won’t work.
Synchronization: So I mentioned synch services a couple of times, let me break that out as a separate topic. You can use Microsoft Synch services but I really recommend against it because it’s unpredictable and prone to wiping stuff out that you care about. There are many third party synch services for all or parts of our PIM environment, like Plaxo and SpanningSync. I use both despite the fact that this might be redundant.
First and foremost, SpanningSync kicks ass for synching Gmail to iCal, and even the recently announced calDAV support in Gmail comes up short so I’ll keep paying $15 a year to Charlie for his product. Plaxo is really awesome for address book synching but their calendar sync engine is limited to one google calendar so I’ll use them for address book services but not calendar.
I rely on iCal for a lot more than keeping my work calendar, I also subscribe to my Tripit calendar for travel itineraries, have a family calendar, various subscriptions for other groups I am involved with. In short, calendaring has come a long way from simply managing your daily meeting schedule and Entourage just comes up short on this front.
Also, I should point out that I don’t sync to Google Contacts, just Calendar. No particular reason for this other than Google Contacts has not really proven itself a necessity to me and because I use an Exchange server for work email, it’s not likely to. I love contacts in Gmail but it has yet to cross the threshold to be what I use to manage my address book master data.
Thunderbird: Piece ‘o crap and yeah that is sure to fan the comment flames because there really is a dedicated albeit very small community of people who like this app. It lasted less than a day for me.
Eurdora: Older piece ‘o crap.