Monday, January 11, 2010

Syncing Outlook Across Multiple Devices

Here’s the scenario: I have two computers that I regularly use, one is a stationary computer functioning as a desktop, and the other is a small laptop that I can take anywhere with me. I want to be able to use Outlook as my email and RSS client on both machines, but I need to synchronize my activity between the computers before that is a viable option. Sounds simple, right? Well, not so much.

There are multiple solutions for synchronizing Outlook across multiple machines. I am not interested in putting money into this, so I am not looking for a commercial product, despite reviews that say they work well and seamlessly. I was able to find a free solution to the problem by using Google Reader, Google Calendar, and an IMAP email protocol.

Google Reader

Transferring the RSS feeds to Google Reader was the easiest of the tasks that I performed, but it was the one I liked the least. The reason is that I *really* like the way that Outlook handled my RSS feeds, so I was reluctant to move away from that. It was a simple process to export the feeds and import them. For those interested in how to do it, here’s a walkthrough.

Export Feeds from Outlook
  • 1. In Outlook 2007, click File > Import and Export…
  • 2. Click Export RSS Feeds to an OPML file, then Next.
  • 3. Select which feeds you want to save, and click Next.
  • 4. Select a save location and filename, and click Next.
Import Feeds into Google Reader
  • 1. Open up Google Reader, and click Settings in the top right area.
  • 2. Click on the Import/Export tab.
  • 3. Select Choose File, and browse to the file you created with your feeds in it.
  • 4. Click Upload.

At this point all your feeds should be ready to go in Google Reader, and there’s not much more to do other than delete the feeds from Outlook to reduce redundancy.

Google CalendarTransfer

Syncing the calendar between my computers proved to be the trickiest of the tasks that I did. This had another layer of complexity, in that I was also synchronizing the calendar with my Blackberry Bold 9700 in addition to the two computers. The solution that I came up with was to use Google Calendar as a central hub for all my devices, and have them individually sync with it. Fortunately, this is possible because Google provides a helper program for Outlook that syncs with Google Calendar, and also a Blackberry app that will do the same.

How well does it work? A lot better than I expected. I have tested my setup and all devices are able to add, delete, and modify events on my calendar, and they will be updated on the other devices. I have it configured to sync every 2 hours, so it could be a maximum of four hours between the time I add an event to one device and when it is on all of them. Fortunately there’s an option to sync on command.

Interested in the goods? Here’s the information.

Google Sync for Blackberry

The application for Blackberry that syncs the calendar is called Google Sync for Blackberry. It does the calendar, and also my contact list, so I can have a backup on my Gmail account. Here’s how to get it.

  • Visit on your Blackberry’s web browser.
  • That’s all. Just install that application and input your Google account info.
Google Calendar Sync

This is a tool provided by Google that will sync the Google Calendar with Outlook. It just does the calendar, so if you’re looking for contact sync as well, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

  • Visit this link to this Google Help article.
  • Step 2 under “Get Started” has the download link for the Google Calendar Sync.
  • Install, input your Google Account information, and watch it go
Gmail IMAP

What is IMAP? IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. It’s an alternative to what I was using, which was POP (Post Office Protocol). I won’t go into the complicated stuff about the differences, but the main one that I’m interested in is that IMAP allows me to synchronize my activity on Outlook with my Gmail inbox, and this will in turn synchronize with my other machine.

How to set it up:
  • Open Gmail and click on Settings.
  • Click on the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab.
  • Click the radio button to Enable IMAP.
  • Click on Configuration instructions directly below that for detailed instructions on how to configure Outlook (or another supported email client) properly.

IMAP is different from POP in that it requires an active connection to access your mail, unless you configure it to download all the mail directly. I don’t need this since 99% of the time when I’m using my email client I have an active internet connection, and the rest of the time I have my Blackberry.


I was really pleased with how well I was able to make the two machines (and a phone) synchronize. It’s too bad that synchronization isn’t built in as a feature of Outlook for home users, but I’m glad I was able to find a workaround. Have you had any experience with this? Were my instructions helpful (or unhelpful)? Let me know.

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