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Keep your stuff in sync: A guide to online data syncing services

July 17, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Yahoo Mail

Yahoo Mail is one of the older Web-based e-mail services on the Internet. As part of its suite, Yahoo includes contacts, calendar and notes features built into the Yahoo Mail interface.

Yahoo has always relied primarily on a Web interface (and a fairly basic one at that) for these services. The company doesn't offer POP or IMAP access to e-mail via an e-mail application on a computer except as a paid add-on or through the use of third-party tools for Outlook, Outlook Express and Mac OS X's Mail.

IPhone and BlackBerry users can configure direct access to Yahoo Mail from the e-mail applications on their devices without the need for a Web-based interface. Other mobile users can rely on their device's built-in Web browser to access a mobile-specific Web version of Yahoo Mail provided by the company. And for iPhone users, Yahoo Mail offers the only free push notification of new e-mail messages. (Paid services such as hosted Exchange and Apple's MobileMe do offer this and other features.)

While the lack of direct e-mail client support is a problem for some users, a Yahoo application called Yahoo Autosync for Windows allows you to sync other data, including contacts, calendars and notes, with Outlook, Outlook Express and Palm Desktop.

As with Google, Mac users can rely on Address Book itself to sync contacts with Yahoo. Such synced data can then be synced from the computer to a mobile device, though direct access isn't available.

Overall, Yahoo represents a decent solution for many people -- particularly those who rely primarily on Web-based interaction and/or don't need over-the-air syncing with mobile devices. The service is somewhat stronger for Windows users; Yahoo's tools provide more advanced sync capabilities for Windows than they do for Mac or Linux.

At a glance: Yahoo Mail

Works with:
  • OSs: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • Devices: the iPhone and BlackBerries (directly); other devices through a Web interface
  • E-mail apps: Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express (with paid add-on or third-party tool)
  • Contacts, calendar, notes apps: Outlook, Outlook Express, Palm Desktop
Pros:
  • Free (unless you want direct POP/IMAP access)
  • Native support for iPhone and BlackBerry e-mail access
  • Some sync options for Windows users
Cons:
  • Largely designed for Web access
  • No direct or over-the-air sync tools for native contact, calendar and notes applications on mobile devices
Best for:
  • People who work primarily on Windows PCs and/or those who frequently use different computers to quickly check e-mail and calendars
  • iPhone users who want free push e-mail service

Plaxo

Plaxo is a free service that is, at this point, largely focused on integrating a diverse range of social networks (including Facebook, Flickr, Delicious, Digg, YouTube, MySpace and a variety of blogging tools) into a single interface.

Although Plaxo is primarily designed as a content aggregation service and social network in its own right, it also includes contacts and calendar tools that can sync with Yahoo and Google services. It can also sync contact and calendar data automatically with Outlook and Outlook Express on Windows or with Address Book and iCal on Mac OS X through the use of additional tools, which are free. Also available is a tool that lets Windows users know when social-networking-related information changes.

On the mobile front, Plaxo doesn't directly support sync to the iPhone (though the service does provide a Web interface that is optimized for the iPhone's Safari browser) or BlackBerry, but it does offer a Windows Mobile application that can directly sync contacts and calendars with Windows Mobile phones.

If you're already in the market for a tool that lets you manage your social networking accounts, and if you would welcome the added bonus of being able to integrate them with contact and calendar systems, then Plaxo is a choice well worth considering. For sync options alone, however, you might be better off with another tool.

At a glance: Plaxo

Works with:
  • OSs: Windows, Mac OS X (Linux is supported for Web access, but downloadable sync tools are available only for Mac OS X and Windows)
  • Devices: Windows Mobile devices (directly); iPhone through Web interface
  • Apps: Apple Address Book and iCal, Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express
Pros:
  • Free
  • Wide range of content and social network integration options beyond sync
  • Direct support for Windows Mobile
  • Integration with other online services
Cons:
  • No direct support for iPhone or BlackBerry
Best for:
  • Windows and Windows Mobile users who use a range of social networking tools and want to integrate and sync data between their computers/devices and those tools


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