Getting Outlook on multiple machines

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How to get your Outlook data on multiple computers and more.

Temple F writes:

I would like to clone my current Outlook file (emails, contacts, calendar, tasks, settings) over to a 2nd and possibly 3rd PC. I don’t believe I’ve seen any reviews on some of the complete add-ins for this purpose. I saw something recently on OW (gSyncit)that did calendar and I think contacts through Google Calendar sync. But it was not the more complete and automatic solution I was looking for.”

The answer is something we’ve been banging on about for a while.

Outlook wasn’t designed as a place for data to be shared among multiple devices. Outlook, from its early days as an Exchange Server client, was made as an end-point for information to make it accessible to humans. In technical terms the Outlook database (PST/OST) is a single locked database which makes sharing and backups difficult.

We’re used to the idea of Outlook being the main store of our email/contacts/calendar information – however more and more people want to share that information in multiple places. That can be multiple computers (desktop and laptop) as well as mobile devices (phones, iPhone, Android etc).

There are ways to backup or share Outlook data but they are generally clumsy and unreliable. That’s partly because Outlook’s underlying basis wasn’t designed to share data, only to import data and display it.

To do it effectively and easily you need to rearrange the way you think about your data storage – moving the main data storage away from your computer. Rather than keeping it in Outlook, the same information needs to be available from somewhere more accessible to many devices at once.

That means storing it on a server which is accessible from multiple computers or devices. In a company or small business that means Exchange Server or Small Business Server. For individuals (as well as organizations) it can now be some online service to store your email/calendar or contacts.

Anyone who has used these services knows how good they can be. Rather than messing around copying PST files between computers all you do is connect each to the online storage. The same information can be available to non-Outlook options like smartphones or a browser. 

Any changes you make in one place automatically appear on the other devices (usually within seconds).

There are various options for storing and sharing your data online. Windows Live Hotmail or Google Gmail can do it for individuals though the connection into Outlook isn’t as smooth as you’d like. Apple’s iCloud works from Outlook but is tied to Apple portable devices and is clumsy.

Google Apps and Office 365 is available for anyone (ideally with their own domain name), has plenty of storage and for a modest annual fee (roughly $70 a year).

Google Apps comes with a piece of software to sync Outlook data with online storage.

The best way to share your Outlook email/calendar/contacts around is, no surprise, using more Microsoft technology. In the past that was only for businesses prepared to invest time and money in Exchange Server or Small Business Server. Now the same system is available via Office 365. Naturally, Outlook connects to Exchange Server / Office 365. Most mobile devices work with Exchange Server, including all Apple devices and many Android phones. On top of all that, you can login from any web browser if necessary.

In Temple’s case he’d run Outlook on each of the two or three computers.  Each Outlook would connect to the online storage (Google or Office 365) and cache a copy of the data.

There are downsides to any of these options. Privacy concerns are always a consideration (another favorite topic for Office Watch over the years – we’ve even written the only book about privacy in Office).

The annual fee isn’t high for what you get but admittedly, it’s hard to get used to paying for something we’ve become used to having for free. We believe that the benefits of moving to online storage is well worth the fee.

It’s a bit of work to setup but not too hard. The biggest hurdle is getting used to a new concept of personal data storage beyond Outlook alone …  but once it’s done you’ll never go back.

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