In order to make great (information) soup, start with the right (data)base.
As promised, this is the first in a short series on how to leverage available software technology to sync Calendar, Contacts, Email and more on virtually all (or most) of your devices. Now, we all know there are many different ways to accomplish this, however, this is aimed at the individual – or small business or law firm – who can't afford expensive hardware or software, is nervous about the cloud (for good reason) but would like a robust, alternative method to manage their data dependably, automatically and securely. In other words, they don't want to be up at night worrying about it nor spending the day trying to figure out why it doesn't work!
What do most individuals and businesses in this 24-hour-a-day world want from their technology, anyway?
- Access to my data 24-hours-a-day! (That was a gimme)
- Rapid auto-sync (I enter/modify a contact on my smartphone and within five minutes, it propagates to all of my other devices)
- I reply to an eMail message and it syncs everywhere without having to cc: myself at other locations/accounts (I hear complaints about this all of the time)
- I receive a calendar appointment and can seamlessly add it to my device's calendar, then it propagates…
- I generate calendar appointments that others may seamlessly process as well
- If my server/cloud connectivity is severed, I have access to – and can process – all of my data up to that moment, modify it or generate more, then sync it when connectivity is restored (this is also important while traveling, isn't it?)
- Ability to mirror/archive/backup the database (if this isn't on your list, it should be)
- Ability to access the data securely
…and more, of course. Many products provide some, or all of these features – the problem is, many of them do it in completely different ways, including for each separate function (e.g. calendar or contacts) and don't 'talk' to other devices very well. The goal is to make the process as seamless as possible.
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I'm hitting for averages here, folks. There are a lot of Operating Systems and hardware out there. On PC, we have Windows, MAC, Linux, etc. With tablets we have MAC, Blackberry, Android, etc. Smartphones? Well, there are four primaries; iPhone, Android, Blackberry & Windows.
We know that most PCs are Windows-based (no knock against Macs, it's just the way it is) and the majority of businesses use them. iPhones and Androids are duking it out, with Blackberries still in the hunt and the new version of Windows phone making a splash. We also know that a majority use Microsoft Office-based products (even many Mac users). So, there's no way I'll make everyone happy.
The example I'll use for our purposes is a Windows-based PC, hosting Outlook 2003, 2007 or 2010. You'll also need a Hotmail/Live Mail cloud component; however, this doesn't mean you'll be changing your existing email setup; you'll be supplementing it. Last, you'll install the Outlook Hotmail Connector, which allows you to create a virtual database within Outlook. This will serve as our primary device. For security, I recommend that it be static, if possible. Any mobile device, from laptop on down, runs the additional risk of being lost or stolen with your entire database living on it. Not a pleasant thought.
Is there a method to my madness? Yes. The more one can accomplish under a single vendor, the better the results. In this case, all database components are Microsoft, which makes the process seamless (remember, we're going to be communicating with a lot of devices). Also, SSL capability was implemented in 2011, meaning your connection to the cloud will be much more secure, whether via Outlook, the Web or your secondary devices.
Once you have your components up & running, you have a choice:
- Use Hotmail to "fetch" your emails from your existing database, or,
- Forward your emails from your existing database to Hotmail.
Both methods are fine, but I recommend forwarding your emails. With fetch, Hotmail must make an inquiry and "pull" your messages over. There will usually be a time delay, which won't be sufficient for those of us who need our messages in real-time. Forwarding doesn't normally cause a delay; emails are forwarded as they arrive, so this is preferable. The good news is, you'll have another backup of your messages with your service provider.
As for contacts and calendar, you'll want to import them into your Outlook database as well. Once completed, you can customize your settings in the cloud. I recommend disabling as many 'bloatware' features as possible. After all, you're looking to create a slick, business-like database. What you do want to enable is your SSL functionality. One way to verify this is to make sure you may only access it online via https://. If it works via http://, your security isn't properly configured.
I know this is a lot of detail, but if you're willing to take some time and make the effort, you'll have an excellent base. In Part II, I'll examine how you'll exploit various flavors of ActiveSync (Corporate Sync on some devices) to sync your data over mutiple platforms.
That's when the fun begins…