The chances are that you have at least one computer at home, one at work and a smartphone in your pocket. You may have an internet enabled PDA and an MP3 player with address book and calendar features too. So how do you keep track of what's kept where?
The easy answer would be to move everything to an online service such as Windows Live Hotmail or Gmail. But what if you prefer the power tools of Outlook to the simple layout of Google Calendar? What if you want to manage your contacts in a desktop app but have them available to access when you're out and about?
Here's how you can synchronise contacts and events between the big mail services and their desktop rivals.
1. Synchronise Outlook with Hotmail
If you're a user of Microsoft Outlook 2003 or 2007, there's an easy, all-in-one way to access contacts, synchronise calendar events and manage emails both online and offline.
Microsoft Outlook Connector 12.1, which is now a free download, enables you to hook up Outlook with your Windows Live Hotmail account. You can locate the add-on by going to the Microsoft Download Centre at www.microsoft.com/downloads and searching for Outlook Connector 12.1.
Once installed, a new menu will appear in Outlook that enables you to add Windows Live Hotmail accounts to the program directly. You should be prompted to add and configure the first account when you launch Outlook after installing Connector. All of your tasks, contacts, email and events will now be updated on both your local machine and your Windows Live Hotmail account.
2. Back up Hotmail contacts on your PC
If you don't own Microsoft Outlook, or you just don't want to use it, there are other ways to synchronise Hotmail with desktop applications for easy management in XP. The features enabling this are buried pretty deep in the interface.
Log into your mail account and then choose Options | More Options. You'll see a page full of account features. In the section headed Customise your Contacts, click Export Contacts. You're given one option only – to export to a CSV (comma separated values) text file.
Once safely on your desktop, open your Windows Address Book (you'll find it in Start | Programs | Accessories). Go to File | Import | Other Address Book. Choose Text File (Comma-Separated Values) and browse for the saved file. You'll be given the opportunity to change the field mapping, but it should already be spot on. Finally, hit 'Finish' to complete the import.
3. Upload contacts to Google Mail
That same contact file can be uploaded to other services, including Google Mail. Log into your Google Mail account and click the Contacts heading in the sidebar. This takes you to a very handy online contacts manager that includes solid address book features. Click Import and you'll discover that Google Contacts helpfully supports address books in CSV format from online services such as Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail.
Until you have time to sort out the new contacts, we suggest adding them to a new group (titled From Hotmail, for example). This will enable you to edit the imported contacts more easily. Any duplicates will be merged.
4. Import and export from Outlook to Gmail
You can export contacts from Outlook and Outlook Express in CSV format too, which makes importing and exporting contacts from your desktop to Gmail a breeze. Exporting from Google Mail to Outlook (or Outlook Express) is made easier by several options.
Go to Export in Google Contacts and you'll find that you're able to output a CSV file that's specifically tailored for Microsoft Outlook. The formatting also suits other Microsoft contact managers, including Windows Contacts, Address Book, Outlook Express and Hotmail. All of these apps allow you to import contacts in CSV format.
Another useful feature is that you can choose which contacts to export from a list that includes groups that you've already created, Google Mail's default groups or the automatically generated Most Contacted group.
5. Import events into Google Calendar
By now you're able to move contacts from just about any address book, online or offline, to any other – but what about calendar events? Again, the ever-handy CSV file format does the job if you need to import from Outlook. You can export calendar events in CSV format from Outlook by going to File | Import and Export and then choosing CSV. You'll be prompted to choose which folder to export to.
When you have the CSV file ready, log into Google Calendar and click Add. Choose Import Calendar and follow the on-screen instructions to add the file's events to any of your existing folders. Hotmail Calendar doesn't have an option to export calendar events, but if you use Outlook then you can retrieve events from Hotmail using Outlook Connector before exporting the calendar in CSV format.
Google recommends importing less than one year's worth of data at a time to reduce errors. It's also worth noting that we've had little success when attempting to import tasks, since Google Calendar is currently firmly event-oriented.
6. Manage Google Calendars with CalDAV
There are several opensource alternatives to the calendar features found in Outlook. Sunbird is from the same stable as Firefox and Thunderbird, and it connects straight to Google Calendar via CalDAV, enabling you to manage it direct from your desktop.
CalDAV is an HTTP based data exchange protocol based on iCalendar ('.ics'), a plain-text format designed for the electronic transfer of events information. By contrast, Outlook supports iCalendar import, but not export. To connect Sunbird to Google Mail, first download the program from www.getsunbird.com.
Launch and go to File | Subscribe to Remote Calendar. Choose 'On the Network' when prompted, then check the CalDAV radio button on the next screen. In the Location box, type (without the quotation marks, as always): https://www.google.com/calendar/dav/ [your Google Mail address here] /events. After selecting a name for the calendar, you'll be prompted to log into the Google account. Sunbird will then download events direct from the Google servers.
7. Create task lists from calendar events
Finally, here's a simple alternative to both Outlook and Sunbird. Remember The Milk reduces calendar events down to basic task lists. Tasks can be dated – like calendar events – and organised. A mobile version of the service is also available if you sign up with the website.
You can also work with tasks offline using Gears (which was formerly known as Google Gears). To enable this functionality, install Gears from gears.google.com on your browser first. When you sign up for and log into Remember The Milk, you'll automatically be prompted to enable the Gears version.
From that point on, clicking the green Gears icon in the toolbar takes you offline. Alternatively, you can launch the service in Gears mode offline from a desktop shortcut.
First published in PC Plus Issue 280
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