Web Informant #397, 18 January 2005:

Moving Off Notes To A Wide Open Space




In starting up my new job at Tom's and leaving CMP, I have had to go through the painful transition of moving from one work laptop to another. It was painful not through any acts of omission on my own, but just because I had to switch email and contacts out of Lotus Notes and onto a more, ahem, open and politically correct platform. Thankfully, my new job is in a Notes-free zone. 


When I came back to CMP in 2002 (I had first worked there in the early 1990s, if you must know, and some of you even remember), I did a very foolish thing: I took the whole corporate mantra of Notes seriously enough that I spent the better part of a day importing all my thousands of contacts into a Notes address book. At the time I was using Outlook, and CMP was Outlook-free because of fear of airborne Address Book exploits and infections, uncertainty of future Microsoft compatibility, and doubt that it was a truly better program than Notes. So I figured, why make waves the first week on my job and just go along and befriend my IT support person and convert into the Notes canon. I regretted it immediately, but learned to love - or at least tolerate -- the quirky Notes address book. At least I didn't have to run any additional software with my primary email program. Of course, running Notes on Mac OS wasn't a picnic, and it didn't help matters that CMP didn't have a more recent Webmail client for Notes so the only way I could access my contacts was by toting around my laptop. But let's not get into that right now. 


As a side note, when I switched laptops last summer from Mac to Windows (still using Notes), I discovered that only a small portion of my thousands of contact records were being replicated by Notes on CMP's servers. Luckily, I had backed up my data on CD just in case this situation should ever happen. I still don't know why Notes wasn't replicating all of my data after all, isn't that one of the few things that Notes is known for? Anyway, I wasn't going to keep using Notes and moving jobs presented this huge opportunity to convert from Notes to something else. I just had to figure out what that something else would be.


My contacts have been through many different iterations over the years. My first love was a program called Dynodex on the Mac (those of you who are fans and find this reference over the Internet, don't call me, contact Brian Smiga at brian@preclick.com and bug him about resurrecting your data) it was fast, fun, and just enough fields to keep me happy with inputting data without being the overwhelming life-force that an ACT or a Goldmine can be. After Dynodex, I dabbled with an xBase clone from Lotus that my ISP had set up so I could access my contacts from a Web query form or from my Web-enabled cell phone. I was ahead of the curve on that one. Before Outlook became that infectious snake-pit, it was fairly decent for keeping track of contacts too. But now I have the open-source religion and wanted something more portable. 


First, I had to rescue my data and that required some special software. I settled on Transcend Migrator for about $50. It copied my Notes email folders into IMAP folders and moved them to my mail server, and it converted my huge Notes address book into an LDIF file of several megabytes. Now at least I had choices. By the way, those of you that go to transcend.com's site will need some patience and have to put on your secret decoder rings to try to navigate toward the eventual purchase of this worthwhile utility. 


I knew that I wasn't going with any Microsoft product. I feared infection, was uncertain of Microsoft compatibility, and was doubtful that anything they could offer would be the best solution. Geez, I was beginning to sound like the CMP IT department had it been that long since I was working there? Scary. But seriously, I wanted something that I could use on any system for the next several years. In between CMP and Tom's laptops, I was going to be using my Mac for several weeks. After doing some tests, I could import that LDIF file into the Mac Address Book applet that comes with the system. What I didn't realize was that I couldn't export anything once the addresses were imported.  


Once I did the import, I realized that I was going to have to clean up the data. Curiously, the converted address book has about 200 CMP listings. Now, I probably don't know 200 CMPers, and a quick glance through this list proved that the Transcend converter somehow mysteriously added the CMP affiliation to these entries. Was this to remind me of my previous employer or was it some other random act? Who knows. Since I couldn't export the addresses from the Mac, I just let them be until I got my Windows laptop from Tom's. 


So what am I running for my email and contacts? I liked having a single program for both, and after looking around I settled on Mozilla's Thunderbird. It took a bit of twiddling, but eventually I have all my email accounts set up the way I like them and all my RSS feeds that I want to read regularly and that monster address book somewhat weeded out with all the CMP entries properly accounted for.  


You would think that there could be a better way. Microsoft has an XP file and settings transfer wizard, but both computers need to fit very specific criteria for this to work, and you need a copy of XP or the XP CD handy as well. (I found out that a good way to transfer contacts if you are going to use this wizard is to temporarily use the Windows Address book, transfer the files, and then import them into Thunderbird and quickly get rid of the Windows software and data before anyone tries to compromise this from the Big Bad Internet. But that is for another time.)  


Of course, once I was done with the email, my real work began to keep track of my passwords, Web pages, and bookmarks, as well as moving the rest of my data onto my laptop. But at least I have access to my contacts now. This is probably too much information, but those of you considering moving off of Notes or Outlook can take solace that there are ways to get to a more open place. It just will take some time and elbow grease.


Entire contents copyright 2005 by David Strom, Inc.

David Strom, david@strom.com, +1 (516) 554-6290

Port Washington NY 11050

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