Gmail as a replacement for MobileMe Mail

There are three weeks to go until my MobileMe subscription is due for renewal. The service isn’t cheap at £59 so I thought I would look into possible free (and maybe even superior) replacements.

The only feature of MobileMe that I use on a daily basis is email. It has worked almost flawlessly for me and I love the way it integrates seamlessly with my Mac and iPhone. Deleting or moving an email on one it is almost immediately mirrored on the other.

I have had a Gmail address (or Google Mail as it has be called in Britain) for quite a while but have almost never used it. There didn’t seem much point when the MobileMe mail worked so well but I thought maybe now was the time to give it a try.

I spent hours (make that days) trying to get Gmail properly set up with my iPhone and with Apple Mail on my Mac. There were two reasons I had difficulties (and both were down to my own ignorance). The first is that I need IMAP Gmail for syncing between the server and my Mac and iPhone. Unfortunately Apple Mail sets up a POP account by default. Handy hint: Follow the directions on this Gmail help page – had I read this in the first place I probably could have saved myself an hour!

I then went on to set up my mailboxes as directed by this Gmail help page. And this is where I ran into my second problem. What was this “All Mail” folder? Why were my emails duplicated – one in the inbox, one in All Mail? Where were my deleted emails going to? Not the trash, that was for sure. After a day of tearing my hair out, moaning and fiddling with settings I finally looked at the Gmail help pages and all was revealed. All Mail is just a smart folder. The emails aren’t duplicated at all. (Why I didn’t read the help pages first I don’t know. I usually love instruction manuals. I won’t touch a new gadget until I’ve read at least half the manual.)

I have always downloaded all my MobileMe mail and stored it on my hard drive rather than leaving it on the server. With Gmail, the emphasis is much more on retaining all your mail on the server. You are given so much storage (currently over 7GB) that there is no need to delete an email. Just archive them all and they’ll still be there, in All Mail, should you ever need to refer to them again. Well, there has been much humming and hawing over whether I should carry on as I have been or should I embrace the cloud. I could potentially free up a fair bit of hard disk space by keeping all my email on Gmail’s server and just use Apple Mail as a more attractive interface. But I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with cloud computing. What if my internet was down? What if Gmail was down? After three days of pondering on this (with useful input from family and Twitter pals) and trying a multitude of different setups, I have finally decided to continue to download email to my hard drive for storage. I just feel more comfortable that way.

Advanced IMAP controls (in Google Mail Labs) has been very useful. It allows you to select which Gmail labels you don’t want to appear as folders in Apple Mail. So now I no longer have All Mail and Spam in my Mail sidebar. (Thank goodness. I didn’t much care to see how many spam emails I had building up.) I also mapped Sent Mail, Drafts and Bin to their corresponding folders in Mail. (Select the Gmail label in the Mail sidebar, click Mailbox (in the menu bar at the top), click Use This Mailbox For and pick the appropriate mailbox.) This makes everything look nice and tidy.

Now that everything is up and running properly I’m very pleased with Gmail and, assuming everything runs smoothly over the next three weeks, it is more than capable of replacing MobileMe Mail.

Apple fixes continuous playback of podcasts on iPhone

I listen to a lot of podcasts on my iPhone – when I’m doing housework, weeding, walking the dog. Something that has annoyed me is that when a podcast ends the next doesn’t automatically start playing in the same way that music tracks do. This is particularly irritating when listening to a series of short podcasts such as the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 where each item is only five to ten minutes long. Every ten minutes, gardening gloves off, iPhone out of pocket, choose next podcast, iPhone back in pocket, gloves back on. 

To get around this I have been creating an On-The-Go playlist. Which is fine so long as you remember to do it. The number of times I’ve set off for a walk with the dog and realised I’ve forgotten to create a playlist of podcasts. Poor dog – he’s desperate for a pee and I’m fiddling with my iPhone!

However, no more. I noticed yesterday the podcasts were playing through continuously. I can only assume this was part of the 2.1 software update. Goodness knows why it wasn’t like this at the start but I’m very grateful it’s fixed now.

Posted in iphone. Tags: , . 6 Comments »

Travelling with my trusty iPhone

Over the last few years I have become utterly reliant on the internet. I now rarely buy newspapers and read almost all my news online. I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds and blogs. All my banking is done online. I work with email every day. And of course, Twitter (which has become a bit of an addiction).

We have recently returned from a holiday visiting my husband’s family in Wales. Clearly I was going to need my regular online access to avoid withdrawal symptoms. My in-laws don’t have wi-fi and I didn’t fancy having to plug in the MacBook everytime I just wanted to check Twitter. Luckily I have an iPhone and what with the 2.0 software update a few days before we left, I was all set.

I was fully prepared – I had my mains charger of course but I also bought a car charger which turned out to be essential as the battery life seems so poor since 2.0. (It also doubled as a charger for the children’s iPod Nano. We filled it with Wallace and Grommet and Sean the Sheep episodes. Kept them amused for hours.)

For most of the time I was relying on the standard GPRS signal. I found the O2 signal to be patchy, especially on the motorways. I rarely picked up EDGE and the only time I found wi-fi (via The Cloud in MacDonalds) it didn’t work. So I was generally relying on a super-slow connection. But better than nothing.

The 10 hour drive was made much more pleasant than previous trips thanks to my trusty iPhone. I was able to read the news, check the weather, read blogs and keep up to date with Twitter and email. The Maps app also proved extremely helpful, especially as it was able to update itself to show our current location. Not as good as the GPS on the new iPhone but useful nonetheless.

I was disappointed to find that the O2 signal is virtually non-existent where my husband’s parents live in West Wales. I was however able to get 1 bar sitting sideways on the toilet and leaning towards the window! Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in iphone. Tags: . 2 Comments »

Yojimbo vs Together vs Evernote: a review

I have been trying to choose an information collector and organiser for the last few weeks. There are quite a few available for the Mac and I thought I would write about how I came to my final decision.

What exactly is an information organiser? Basically it is an application that can collect and store pieces of information as notes. Little bits of text, web page archives, snippets from a web page, photos, PDFs, all sorts. These applications are enormously versatile with as many uses as there are users.

What do I need it to do?

I have three main uses.

  • I want to be able to store little snippets of text, such as a reference number for something I just bought online. The type of things I could write in a notebook but could more quickly add to the computer if I’m already sitting here.
  • I buy loads of stuff online. Almost everything except groceries. (And the only reason I don’t do that is because the service isn’t available where I live.) When I’m researching something I want to buy I want to keep track of all the items I’m considering. For example, last week we bought a new TV. (It’s not arrived yet but that’s a whole other story!) I looked at multiple websites comparing plasma and LCD, features and cost. I could have bookmarked each page (or kept multiple tabs open) but I would have ended up with a large number of pages, flipping back and forth all the time. Instead, it is much easier to save relevant snippets of each webpage (or sometimes an archive of the whole page). I want to be able to save web archives, with a link to the original page and have the ability to add my own comments.
  • I need to keep track of reading material I use for work. I read a number of online journals and websites and need to record and archive anything I have read – a mixture of web archives, bookmarks and PDFs. They need to be kept well organised – I have an annual appraisal where I have to present evidence of what I have read with comments that I may have added.

Features I consider important

  • Add a URL or web clipping with only one mouse click (or an easy keyboard shortcut)
  • Preview a web archive or PDF within the application
  • Tags for organisation
  • iPhone or web access (only necessary to access my reading material at work)

Having looked at a few applications I decided to trial Yojimbo from Bare Bones Software, Together from Reinvented Software and Evernote. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m struggling with ubiquitous capture

There’s a very useful post today on gtdfrk’s excellent Getting Things Done blog that lists 10 tips to optimise ubiquitous capture.

This is something I have been struggling with for some time. Initially, when I used to use OmniFocus, I used my iPhone to send myself emails. I’m rarely without my iPhone so it was certainly ubiquitous. But it took too long to just add a quick thought. After a few weeks I found I wasn’t bothering anymore. I would try and save thoughts up in my head to add to OmniFocus when I was back at my computer. Which clearly was not going to work.

Then I decided to join the cult and bought a Moleskine pocket notebook! The trouble is it’s too big to carry around all the time. It’s not a problem if I’m out or at work – I can take it in my bag. But if I’m around the house (or I’ve popped out without my bag) it won’t fit in a pocket. Fine for men who have bigger pockets but us women struggle! So now I just use my Moleskine to keep my shopping lists.

For the last few days I have been carrying a pad of Post Its around with me in my pocket. I always carry a pen with me if I’m out. At home there are pens everywhere so there’s no need to actually keep one on me. So far it’s working okay and I have more hope for this system than the previous two.

I especially liked gtdfrk’s 10th tip: Tell other people why you are writing things down if they give you funny looks. I’ve certainly had plenty of funny looks – most of my friends think I’m bonkers with my lists and GTD. Maybe I should tell them I’m writing a note because what they’re saying is so interesting I don’t want to forget it – and then see what they say!

1Password and OpenID to speed up logins

I’ve just been reading an interesting post on The Weekly Review about OpenID. This is a service that allows you to use just one username and password to sign in to registered websites. (Nearly ten thousand sites are currently supported.)

I just don’t feel comfortable with this kind of service. Having someone else store my passwords, even if they say it is secure, makes me nervous. I would always be worried about someone gaining access to my data or phishing.

picture-1.pngHowever, a single login is very appealing as it is such a timesaver. I use 1Password and it is one of my favourite Mac apps. It stores all my passwords for me – but not on some distant server. All your data is retained in the Keychain app on your Mac. If you want, 1Password will generate strong passwords for you. You just need to remember your single 1Password password. Even easier, it can insert a button into the toolbar of most popular browsers so all you need to do is click it and it will log you in.

It can also store other information securely such as credit card details and serial numbers. The list of useful features goes on – 1Password also supports the iPhone.

I’m not doing it justice here – I suggest you try the free demo. And it only costs $30 to buy.

It’s time to apply GTD to my life

I have only finished reading Getting Things Done in the last week. I found the last three chapters a bit of a slog – too waffly for me. But now that I’ve finished it I really need to start applying it properly.

Actually, over the last two months I have gradually been implementing the principles. I started by maintaining to-do lists on the computer. Initially I used Omnifocus but ultimately I chose Things, having tried out virtually every other Mac GTD app along the way.

I spent three evenings with my husband doing an initial “collection”. Our dining room was the dumping ground for paperwork, journals, all sorts of rubbish. We filed loads of it and shredded and threw away even more. I have made three piles of “things to read” based on whether I think it will take under 15 minutes, between 15 and 30 minutes or over 30 minutes to read. Actually, I’m really pleased with my reading piles – I’m finding I’m actually starting to get through them as I can easily choose something to read that fits in with how much time I have to spare. (The idea for sorting my reading material like this came from Ready-Set-Do!, an app that I liked but ultimately discounted as it was too slow.) Read the rest of this entry »