I'm a Christian, a designer, and a gadget fan who lives in Cheltenham, UK.

This is my blog, a creative outlet to mess around and play with as well as a place that logs my thoughts and inspirations.

Two Mac Nightmare: Email & Contacts

If you’ve only just found this series of posts explor­ing how I keep my two Macs in sync you might want to look at the intro­duc­tion of the series to help set the scene. In this post I want to explore the issue of keep­ing emails and con­tacts in sync.

Now I’m sure the major­ity of you are aware of the a well known pro­tocol to help with this issue. The Inter­net Mes­sage Access Pro­tocol or IMAP, as it’s more com­monly known, allows you to access your email through a web inter­face or a desktop email cli­ent and have the data appear identic­ally in all places. Delet­ing an email on your desktop will mean the email is deleted on your laptop as well as on the web inter­face. In essence it provides everything you need to keep your mail in sync across mul­tiple devices.

For my email I use the same Google Apps account that I use for my cal­en­dar syncing. I’ve found gMail to be extremely effect­ive in solv­ing the prob­lem many people deal with regard­ing email. It enables me to have a cent­ral hub for all my email addresses. I cur­rently have 3 emails addresses for­ward­ing to my gApps account mean­ing that I effect­ively have a desktop cli­ent on the web, I’m able to view incom­ing mail and reply/send using which ever address I want. This setup mir­rors my Mail.app on both my Macs adding the con­sist­ency I require. Any rules that I want to apply to me email are applied in gMail and so are the same in all loc­a­tions, mean­ing I don’t have to set up the same rules on my Macs, it’s all done for me.

Now ini­tially gMail’s IMAP imple­ment­a­tion was not very well thought through, for­tu­nately that was fixed with the addi­tion of a gMail Labs item called Advanced IMAP. This allows very use­ful fine grained con­trol of which labels appear as folders in Mail.app, you can turn off all mail boxes with the excep­tion of the inbox if you so wish. Most import­antly it means I can turn off gMail’s “All Mail” folder and in the pro­cess elim­in­ate all the duplic­ate emails that appear in Spot­light searches with­in Mail.app.

At this point I’d like to take the oppor­tun­ity to explain why MobileMe is not suit­able for me1. I have many email addresses which I send mail from, on the Mac using Mail.app this works per­fectly I can send email using any of the addresses I’ve set up. Unfor­tu­nately this is not the case for MobileMe. Whilst you can use email ali­ases they always end with @me.com and you can not use a cus­tom domain. This is pretty much a deal break­er for me. I can­’t jus­ti­fy pay­ing for a ser­vice in which I won’t use one of the key fea­tures and whilst I could use gMail for my email needs and MobileMe for my oth­er items it just does­n’t work in my mind. Integ­ra­tion of Web Apps is just as import­ant to me as integ­ra­tion of desktop apps. The whole reas­on I use Mail/Address Book/iCal is because of their integ­ra­tion, and the idea of hav­ing to go to sep­ar­ate sites for dif­fer­ent ser­vices would in my mind be like using oth­er non-stand­ard soft­ware on my Macs. I like everything to be as con­nec­ted as it can be.

Now unfor­tu­nately this leads me to the bane of my syn­chron­isa­tion night­mares. Con­tacts. For a while I had some syncing of my con­tacts between Macs using the Yahoo sync built into Leo­pard’s Address Book, but this did­n’t fit with my integ­rated Web Apps and excluded some fields that I put to use.

I need a sync with gMail. So when Apple added the abil­ity to sync Address Book with gMail I was pleas­antly sur­prised. That was until I dis­covered I needed to sync my iPod touch through iTunes. I don’t plug my iPod into my iMac very often so this presen­ted anoth­er unsat­is­fact­ory “solu­tion”. I went in search of oth­er meth­ods and found Syn­c­man a small app being developed to provide syncing of Address Book with gMail. Sadly it too lacked the con­trol I wanted, and on closer inspec­tion I found it has­n’t been updated for sev­er­al months. Again anoth­er unsat­is­fact­ory solution.

All of this seems rather odd. We have a very good, widely used pro­tocol for keep­ing our email in sync across mul­tiple cli­ents but no way of keep­ing our con­tacts in sync. I find it hard to under­stand why there is not a pro­tocol that works hand in hand with IMAP to provide this. Both sets of data are so heav­ily reli­ant on the oth­er it seems illo­gic­al that there isn’t a widely avail­able meth­od of keep­ing everything in sync. Whilst I could get a work­ing solu­tion in MobileMe, because of it’s email short­falls I would­n’t be in bet­ter pos­i­tion than I am now. I’m left frus­trated, along with many oth­ers, with my hopes rest­ing on the guys at BusyMac to provide a solu­tion. I’m told they are devel­op­ing a new ver­sion of Busy­Sync which brings Address Book sync, hope­fully it will come soon and be just as effect­ive as their cal­en­dar sync.

  1. In my open­ing post a foot­note high­lighted that MobileMe was­n’t suit­able for me so I’d like to answer that here.?