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A guide to syncing Outlook and Google Apps

Business users have got very used to Outlook. The email client for the more than one billion Microsoft Office users on the planet has become second nature. However, some companies are finding that it saves them money and maintenance time to let Google host their email, calendars, and contacts. If you could use Outlook with your Google Apps Mail (really just Gmail), you'd get a preview panel, inbox sorting, rich formatting, right click options, a social connector, and most of the other tools Outlook offers.

Thankfully, Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook lets you take advantage of most of Outlook's tools — but only for Outlook 2010 so far. If you run Office 2013, you can still connect to a Gmail account through IMAP, but this will only get you mail; no calendars, tasks, or contacts.

Using Apps Sync, Gmail emulates a limited version of a Microsoft Exchange Server. You do get most of the important stuff — your contacts, calendar events, tasks, and Outlook notes. But some things won't be synced, like drafts, follow-up dates and reminders, rules, signatures, rich-text formatting, delivery receipts, calendar attachments, task reminders, and Journal entries. There's an exhaustive list of what is and isn't synced in this PDF from Google.

If you can live with those limitations and your company has made the move to Google Apps, then using Outlook with your new communication service is a simple matter of installing and running Apps Sync. It's compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, and Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010. Note that it hasn't been updated for either Windows 8 or Outlook 2013, the version included with Office 365.

And Apple Mac users of Outlook 2011 are quite out of luck. We've contacted Google about this and will update this article when there's progress. You can get Google Apps Sync here. This download actually delivers two utilities — in addition to Apps Sync, you'll also get the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Outlook, which as its name suggests, lets you move your existing Outlook data to Google Apps. You can download the migration tool separately, from here.

Once you've downloaded the utility, make sure Outlook isn't running, and then hit the Download Google Apps Sync button — it will install the software automatically after you OK a User Account Control dialog.

Next, you'll see a small dialog box asking you to sign in to your Google Apps account. This is the same login you use for Google Apps or for your corporate Gmail account.

After successfully signing in, you'll see a rather more complicated dialog with checkboxes for specifying what you may want to import. This one is actually a little confusing: The top of the dialog box says "Create a Google Apps profile in Microsoft Outlook" which is a separate issue from importing. If you have a pre-existing mail service you used with Outlook, you will want to tick the top checkbox to keep your previous messages, contacts, calendars, and notes.

You can separately check and uncheck any of these subcategories if you don't want to keep everything. In particular, you'll probably want to uncheck deleted and junk email, which are checked by default. The dialog optionally lets you send your usage data to Google to help them with their quality assurance. There's one more option, displayed when you click Advanced — Turn AutoArchive off. This is checked by default, and means that Google will keep copies of all your old messages.

Next, click the Create profile button. If the installation proceeded correctly, you'll then see a message box to that effect. The message box also shows you how the tool adds an icon to your Windows system tray, and offers a button that starts Outlook.

When you start Outlook, you'll see the Synchronisation Status message box, and your Outlook app will become populated with all your folders and new emails. Up to 1GB will be downloaded to your local machine, unless you change the limit from the tray icon's "Set mailbox size limit" option.

The Status dialog opens from then on every time you start Outlook, unless you uncheck the single checkbox at the bottom: "Open this window when Microsoft Outlook starts." I recommend unchecking this to prevent this distracting dialog from appearing all the time; you can always call it back up from the tray icon. You may need to do this if you notice missing mail, calendar items, or contacts. Each sync category includes a Re-sync link that may just cure your ills.

You're now ready to start using Outlook just as you always have!