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Opinion: Smarter than a smart phone

How to get rid of Outlook, move all your PIM info online and use any phone you want

October 11, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Until this week, my setup was pretty typical. I used Microsoft Outlook for e-mail, calendar, contacts, to-do lists and notes, which I synced with my smart phone.

I've been doing this for many years and with many phones, and have always had a love-hate relationship with the arrangement.

I loved (and needed) to have all this personal information available on both my phone and my desktop, synced together. But to make it work, I needed two big, bloated, ugly and expensive things: Outlook itself and a massive smart phone.

Here's what I hated about it:

  • Outlook: I've always found Outlook problematic, bloated, unstable and nonintuitive. I've never used 90% of its features and I've long wanted to dump it. But for years, I've felt locked into Outlook because whatever smart phone I was using -- first Palm Inc. phones, then my current BlackBerry Pearl -- supported Outlook and little else. I need my contacts, calendar, to-do list and notes available both on my desktop and on my phone. And I needed these two to be synced together.
  • The size of the smart phones: There are dozens of smart phones out there, and almost all of them are far too big and bulky to fit in a pocket inconspicuously.
  • The experience of typing on a smart phone: Even the best smart phone keyboards are slow and awkward. Some are better than others, but all of them are vastly inferior than full-size keyboards.
  • Syncing: I've always had problems with syncing phones. Sometimes the contacts are all duplicated, sometimes the dates on Outlook tasks are reset to hundreds of years in the future. Right now, my BlackBerry sync app crashes every time I sync.
  • Lack of handset choice: I find myself tempted sometimes by hot, new phones, but so many of them are incompatible with Outlook, don't have serious keyboards or in some other way are knocked out of consideration by my longstanding addiction to Outlook, mobile PIM (personal information manager) data and the need to type on the phone.

In the past year, meanwhile, hardware and software companies, Silicon Valley start-ups and wireless carriers have been innovating like crazy. New phones, new online calendaring and contact solutions, and new ideas have been tantalizingly close to improving upon the old Outlook and smart phone combination. But I just couldn't figure out how to take advantage of all the new goodies, while still retaining the control and power of Outlook and mobile PIM data.

I couldn't figure it out, that is, until I figured it out.

Free at last

Using a combination of online services and enabling certain features on those services, I have freed myself from Outlook, smart phones and the need to sync my phone.

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