Sunday, May 27, 2007

MS Entourage and Google Desktop

I'm using my Mac for everything now. I'm also being forced to use Entourage, along with an Exchange server, for all my work Email. As nice a tool as Entourage is (I certainly like it better than Outlook), it still pales in comparison to the power of Gmail. What to do?

I tried forwarding all my Email to Gmail like I did at my last job. That played havoc with our internal mailling lists and calendaring system. But at least it got me what I liked best: easy archiving and searching. The joy of Gmail is that, because it has no folders, you can never struggle with the question of "which folder should I file this message under?" No confusion about what to do when a message might belong equally in two places at once. Just archive it all and search for it later. Once you get over the mental hurdle of trusting the search engine, much of the pain and mental confusion of dealing with Email simply goes away.

That's what I loved about Gmail.

So how could I create the Gmail experience inside Entourage? I knew that Apple's new Spotlight technology was capable of searching Entourage Email. The problem was that I was once again using an Email client that supported hierarchic folders and I was trying to use them. Big mistake. I needed to remember the lessons taught by Gmail.

First I downloaded and installed Google Desktop. This integrates with Spotlight's searching of Entourage Email, plus it makes a few more things accessible than Spotlight alone. (However, I have noticed that Spotlight still finds some documents - though not Emails - better than Google Desktop can.)

Second, I create a folder in Entourage called "Archive" and stored it on my local disk. It's important that this folder NOT be on the Exchange server, because I planned on shamelessly sticking just about everything into it.

Third, I created an Entourage AppleScript that would move all selected messages into this archive folder. Once in that folder, I could simply forget about them like under Gmail and use Google Desktop to find them when they were needed.

The AppleScript I used was a simple one:
on run
tell application "Microsoft Entourage"
set selectedMessages to current messages
set destFolder to folder "archive"

if selectedMessages is {} then
display dialog "Please select a message first" with icon 1
return
end if

repeat with theMessage in selectedMessages
move theMessage to destFolder
end repeat
end tell
end run

So long as you have a folder named "Archive" on your local computer, it all works.

Now I'm using Entourage with my exchange server while still avoiding the challenge of figuring out where to file (or find) all my Email. If I need something, I just press the Command key twice and use the same search phrases I know from Gmail.

It's almost the best of both worlds. The only problem now is that my archived mail isn't available if I'm at a web-browser in the local library or if I'm using my Treo instead of my Mac. But it's sure a step forward.

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