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.