I’m frequently asked if I prefer Gmail or Outlook Exchange, but I happily use both. Today I posted a thorough comparison on Lifehacker, but the following is how and why I use both.
Not only will this explain how I use Gmail and Outlook, but it’ll describe a fair amount of my workflow with email and social media.
Separating My Worlds
As a geek and business-owner who’s building a web product, my online activities overlap between personal and business worlds. Still, I’ve made distinctions between which email program and domain I use for each.
I use Outlook (and the setconsulting.com domain) for all correspondence related to work projects or with people where the role is generally work-related. That includes direct inquiries from this blog and any correspondence with people from a work setting.
I use Gmail (and dancingwithwords.com / goralnick.com) for all personal correspondence, social media activities, beta sign-ups, and purchases.
One caveat: even though it’s not particularly popular in the geek crowd, I use Outlook 2007 for reading and managing RSS. This offers me the benefit of having offline access to my feeds and takes little effort to flag articles in my regular task system. I mention this because to me it’s really all about convenience/workflow and not just about business vs. personal activities. The fewer places I have to check, the better for me.
Then why separate?
While part of my separation relates to identity and branding, that wouldn’t merit separate email applications—either program would let me send from multiple email addresses. It’s a matter of both convenience and the natural features of the products.
If you live in a top-down, things-have-their-place world then Outlook is for you. If you have a system for managing your data and tasks, then Outlook lets you do it that way (albeit, it may take some time to customize). Since Outlook has a task list (with many views for accessing it), it’s much better at managing things that need to be deferred or followed-up.
If you live in a bottom-up, let’s-jump-in-and-get-moving world then Gmail is your place. Gmail makes it easy to find things and work rapidly, especially for messages that can be quickly dealt with by short messages or archiving. They keep it simple so you can. For getting stuff out of the way fast, Gmail is great.
And perhaps as importantly, I can log into my “connected world” in Gmail or my mostly-work oriented world in Outlook. Outlook helps keep me safe: entering a web browser can be a dangerously distracting place for me.
My life has (at least) a couple modalities, so I have two email systems to go along with it.
Why I Use Outlook
Here are some things that I love about Outlook.
The Offline Experience
All my computers have a fully synchronized version of my Microsoft Exchange data that’s available online and off. With the exact same workflow I can process a lot of messages on a train, plane, or subway.
As I mentioned earlier, I use Outlook for my RSS, which means I can catch up on blogs while offline. I recognize that Google Gears offers most of the features for their Google Reader without an internet connection, but Outlook 2007 has the exact same experience online and off.
Tasks, ‘Nuf Said
Tasks can be intimidating in Outlook with so many options, but once you get going with them they’re darn amazing. I love the integration of the Task list into the calendar, which means that I can get the total picture of my day in one screen (the calendar).
I fully recognize that Remember the Milk has some pretty amazing integration with Gmail, but it still takes more steps and screens. And the fewer steps for me means the more likely it is to happen.
In addition, the fact that Outlook’s tasks are in sync with my handheld’s reminders, online or off, is a big help.
One of my favorite features in Outlook is its ability to flag a message with a due date and then file it away. It’s the easiest way for me to make a task from a message and then plow through the rest of my Inbox. There is zero copying with all the benefits of a task. (Yes, I’m still caught up on the Tasks thing.)
Mobile Phone And ActiveSync Experience
As of now, Microsoft has a large chunk of the mobile phone market supporting both Windows Mobile and ActiveSync. Since they’re all designed to work with Exchange, things just play well. It’s an okay phone experience that stays in sync with my Outlook application on my desktop.
For BlackBerrys and iPhones there’s much better mobile integration available for Gmail, but sadly that doesn’t help me as it’s limited on Windows phones. However, both BlackBerry and the iPhone offer full Microsoft Exchange support.
Note: if you go through the trouble of installing a Java Virtual Machine on a Windows Smartphone then you can get Google Apps working on a Smartphone…but it’s an awful lot of trouble and not particularly speedy in the end.
Loving My Add-Ins
I’m actually not a big add-in guy, but I’ve been pretty happy with some of the tools I’ve installed in Outlook. At the moment I’m enjoying Anagram (which lets me turn an email signature into a contact in seconds, amongst other things), Xobni (which explains the relationships between contacts and offers a powerful search feature), and OneNote (a note taking and organizing application, and its Outlook add-in allows my notes to very quickly turn into tasks or other items).
Why I Use Gmail
Here are some things that I love about Gmail.
Gmail’s Rockin’ Filters
Gmail’s Filters just feel faster, safer, and more inviting. So I use them more. Thanks to filters I’m at the point where nearly everything that makes it to my inbox is a personal message. That makes my email processing so much faster.
Fast Search, and Stuff I Want To Hold Onto
I don’t have to worry where I put something in Gmail, because it’s so easy to find it, even if it’s stuff that’s years old. Yep, I actually moved all my personal email from 1995 onward into Gmail because it’s so lightning fast to find it there.
I can reliably search for a conversation, receipt, itinerary, login information…without any trouble. Outlook’s search is depressingly inaccurate sometimes and it still lends itself more to top-down than bottom-up searching.
Experimenting is Cheap
I love Google Apps for Your Domain because it gives me an inexpensive place to manage my family’s email accounts while offering decent spam filtering and pretty good administrator features. Sure, it’d be okay to get them on Exchange, but it’s not worth the money when they’re not going to use all those other features (like the ones I wrote about above).
It Just Works
Gmail to me is pretty simple. But not too simple that you can’t do stuff. It’s simple enough that if I don’t think too hard about workflow or organization, it’s easy to find messages, recall email addresses, and file things away. For the place where I put my less-urgent correspondence, it’s great that I don’t have to work too hard to manage it.
Where do you manage your email?
Do you use one place for all of your email and organizational activities? Two? Three? I’d be curious to hear what works for you.