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.?