Help me take my work on the road
April 3, 2008 5:45 PM   Subscribe

PortableApps? Portable Outlook? What's the best way to access a robust set of data from multiple PCs?

I've got a fairly chock-full Outlook, with tons of folders and sub-folders, carefully designed for my homebrew time management system. Now, though, I'm finding the need to be away from my desktop PC a couple of days a week, and still need to Get Things Done.

I can access my POP mail from the road if I quit out of Outlook before I leave ... but that doesn't help me much, because so much of my work is stored in the Outlook folders.

I've looked at PortableApps, but frankly, I'm more than a little bit apprehensive to have my entire livelihood stored on a thumbdrive. I lose sunglasses within a day or two of buying them, so the idea of my entire digital life being on one little device is horrifying.

What's the best way to take my data mobile? My company does not use an Exchange server (they use Squirrelmail for web-based email access). I've looked at Gmail but hate the whole lack of a folder structure. I need some kind of cloud-based system for checking my mail, dragging and dropping things into folders, creating new folders, etc. And I need it to play nice with the days when I am at the home PC.

For the record, I only use 2 computers - my desktop and my laptop. It's not like I'm doing work at a public library or anything - I just need a way to access all of that structure while on the road, on my laptop.

Totally demanding and ridiculously convoluted, I know, but I've gotta believe there's an answer. Should I be looking harder at the thumb drive solution, but with some kind of integrated backup plan?
posted by jbickers to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
If you have good bandwidth on the road, I think you should just use Remote Desktop. My situation is similar to yours and that works well for me.
posted by springload at 6:09 PM on April 3, 2008

clarify, please: Do you want something OTHER than Outlook, or are you just looking for a way to keep your Desktop and Laptop Outlooks in sync, without an Exchange server?

If yes, then it's just a matter of transferring the file that Outlook stores its data in (.ost or .pst) from one to the other. Imagine Outlook as just a "viewer" for that file - whatever that file contains is what Outlook will display; so move that file to another computer and you've moved all your Outlook stuff (except if you Archive, which would be another separate file, but with the same principles). Transfer that file from the desktop to the laptop, go out on the road and make lots of changes in Outlook on the laptop, then take its Outlook file and move it back to the desktop. Hey! It's the same!

There are lots of ways and products out there to do this, depending on what your networking is like and what you're comfortable with. Googling around or staying tuned to AskMeFi -and seaching AskMeFi for Outlook and sync - should get you one that works for you.
I haven't used this one myself, but you might want to take a stab at EZ Outlook Sync, which is made by folks that make a different portable-Outlook-without-the-email-part product that I have found handy (EssentialPIM).
posted by bartleby at 6:34 PM on April 3, 2008

oh, and a thumbdrive attached to your keyring would a) be perfect for this as your method of transferring/swapping b) be hard to lose, unless you're on your 5th set of car keys because you lose those too.
posted by bartleby at 6:43 PM on April 3, 2008

Does your office email server allow IMAP or POP3 through its company firewall, so remote users can access it? If so, one suggestion: Use Portable Thunderbird. If you explore this route, you can also read up on synchronizing mail between two computers (using Thunderbird).
posted by Jubal Kessler at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2008

Looks like I can't read the OPP very well, sorry about that. Your office seems to allow POP access, so you're golden. Configure your email client of choice to "leave mail on the server", and you won't lose any mail on the company server until your return to the office.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 8:14 PM on April 3, 2008

Outlook is the devil. You may think you want Outlook to go everywhere you do, but you're wrong.

My prejudice aside: if you put Portable Thunderbird on your thumb drive, and get a Gmail account, and connect Thunderbird to it via IMAP, then Thunderbird will let you create nested folders in your Gmail account. If you look at these in Gmail's web view, they will show up as Gmail labels like [imap]/folder/subfolder.

Create a Google Calendar for yourself while you're at it, and wire that into Thunderbird as well.

Now you have a portable device that gives you instant access to everything, backed up on the web to make it washing-machine-survivable, all done with free software.
posted by flabdablet at 12:45 AM on April 4, 2008

By the way, Portable Thunderbird doesn't have to run off a thumb drive - it works just fine from a folder on your laptop, or even from a folder inside your profile on a corporate Windows box. It's a better pick for a road warrior than the standard Thunderbird, because if you ever do want to take your digital life somewhere you can't take your laptop, you can just copy the entire Portable Thunderbird folder onto a thumb drive, and either run it straight from there or copy it into some other folder on some other computer. No fartarsing about with installers is required.
posted by flabdablet at 12:52 AM on April 4, 2008

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