Online Alternative to Outlook

By Ismael Ghalimi

If you do not have a Gmail account yet, send me an email and I will gladly provide one. Gmail redefined web-based emailing and single-handedly proved that AJAX works. What makes it infinitely better than any other email client is the fact that it works in a non hierarchical fashion. Instead of organizing emails through folder and having to decide which folder to put emails into, all you have to do is decide to archive or delete. That’s it. And if you feel that there is not much point in even having to make this decision, just click on this big ‘Archive’ button and move to the next email. Then you get Google’s famed search engine to retrieve the email you are looking for in no time. After two months spent using Gmail for all my email (all my email accounts forward to it), I can safely say that it totally redefined my emailing experience.

Of course, Gmail just does email, therefore advanced features of Outlook such as calendaring and task management have to be handled through third-party services. This is where Salesforce.com can save the day. Over the past six months, I have used this service to manage all my appointments, tasks and projects, and all I can say is that it works. Because tasks can be attached to a contact, an account, an opportunity or any other relational object managed by the application, the number of tasks one can handle is an order of magnitude larger than what could be achieved with Outlook’s linear approach. And when Salesforce.com adds recurring events with their Winter ‘06 release, all required features will be there for one to migrate from Outlook without losing much.

Now comes the trick question: “how about working offline?” There are three answers I could think of: first, Gmail added Gmail Mobile yesterday, making it available on cell phones and other mobile devices. Second, one can forward all incoming emails to a BlackBerry device. I do that with my 7290 but might just use Gmail Mobile when I upgrade to the new 8700. Third, because Gmail is an online service, as opposed to a client application, one can get access to email using any connected computer, instead of just the one where Outlook has been installed and properly configured for your email accounts. Of course, you could use the web-based Outlook client that comes with an Exchange server, but anyone who tried to use it with any web browser other than Internet Explorer will tell you that it’s not a good idea, really. And when you think about it, unless you are spending your life in an airplane, there are not many instances in life when one does not have cell phone coverage without any connected computer in sight. And if you find yourself in this situation, I would guess that you did it on purpose, getting yourself to the most remote place you could find for your well-deserved vacations, and the last thing you want is doing email.

At this point, there is only one thing missing: integration of contacts between Gmail and Salesforce.com. Even though you can export contact from Salesforce.com and import them into Gmail (I did that recently for 4,838 of them - Thank you Mr. Millheiser for the tip!), automatic synchronization would make it much easier.

3 comments December 17th, 2005


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