No more Microsoft Outlook. An Alternative?

For some time I've been very disappointed with Microsoft Outlook. It was one of the best applications to ever come from the giant software provider, and even today its features and capabilities surpass any other email client. But with all that power comes a gigantic resource requirement, and over the last decade this once lean mean communications and organisation machine has been slow, buggy and expensive.

If I was to be an exchange server user, wishing to spend nearly £10 a month on a single mail box with a store for my calendar, tasks and contacts etc, then Outlook would be my single port of call, and spending that much on a single mailbox would mean I was the type of guy that didn't care about what it cost to get what I believe would be the best. What if I could get it for free or near to?

So I'm on a quest at the moment to see if I can live without the Outlook monolith on my computers and laptops and see if I can get complete email, calendar, tasks and contacts synchronisation including all the push email support that exchange and outlook services can provide, but without all the expense. So far this is what I have:

  • An IMAP email account so I can have my email synchronise with all my devices. It also supports IMAP IDLE to give full push email support (means that as soon as an email gets to the account its immediately pushed to all devices so communications are more responsive). Gmail has both of these as well as a few other free providers, but if you have your own domain name "" for instance you'll be paying a little more but FAR less than an Microsoft Exchange account. You can use your own domain with Google, but it would be cheaper to shop around.
  • A Google Gmail and Calendar account. This gives me the ability to store my contacts and calendar on line.
  • Mozilla Thunderbird for reading and composing emails on my computers and laptops. I'd also need the following add-ons for Thunderbird:

This isn't very much "stuff" which is a great thing, and best of all won't cost a penny for any of it (unless you have your own domain name of course, but would be minimum (Google is about £33/year/account).

So what I have next to do is to set these up. Setup the IMAP accounts in Thunderbird and it will detect them as support IDLE automatically which means that push email is immediately available without any extra leg work. You can also setup the IMAP accounts on your mobile phones if you have the appropriate Internet data tariffs.

Next add your calendar into Lightening by creating a new "On The Network" calendar using CalDAV with the URL Don't forget to add your Gmail account to the URL.

Getting your contacts to sync is a little harder, but not difficult. You need to go to the options of the "Google Contacts" Add-on in Thunderbird. Add your Gmail email address to the "Accounts" section and set the maximum contacts to something reasonable based on your current contact size and likely growth. You can always change these later. On the Advanced tab you can enable Disk Cache to keep things speedy, and set the Group Mapping to your Contacts group.

And that is largely it!! Simple! which is what we love, and you can add all of these to your mobile devices (as almost all of them support IMAP, and most modern ones support IDLE as well, and goto to find out how to sync your calendar and contacts with your device. I'm using a Nokia E71, and that supports Email for Exchange, and fortunately Google now supports Active Sync protocol which basically means instant synchronisation of your calendar and contacts to your mobile device just like email!


- Also note that Thunderbird is available for Windows + Apple Mac

Wed, 29 Jul 2009 14:50