So, this weekend I proceeded to migrate my email, contacts and calendar off of an Exchange server I have been using since 2001.  I loved it, but with the ever-tightening budget, I wanted to see if I could live on the services I am already receiving for free, rather than relying on a paid service.  Sure, it is only $8 per month, but hey, that can add up over time, especially since I have been paying for it forever.

The Pros for Exchange are simple.  They are all required by me to have a working setup.  I live by my calendar, especially during renfair season.  And my contacts?  Shit, I would be lost without them.  I know no one’s phone number, or even their email, for that matter.  Email is important, but not critical anymore; not like it used to be.  Exchange made it very easy to do this and have it duplicated on each of my devices.  And it would sync in the background, so one change on one device would replicate on all of the devices.  All data in one place and backed up.  Use a single client (Outlook 2011 for Mac) on the computer for maintaining email, contacts and calendar.  Compatible with my iPhone and iPad with no extra apps required.

There were 2 possible solutions for me to use once I decided to turn off the Exchange service: iCloud (Apple) and GMail (Google.)

To make a long story short, because there are too many nuances in dealing with having GMail stay sync’d up all the time without thinking about it, I decided to go with iCloud.  Besides, I get my Reminders and Notes as well.  As far as the functionality goes, for the iPad and iPhone, there was no real change other than turning off the Exchange account and turning on iCloud.  A bit more had to happen on the MacBook Pro and MacMini.  While I could still set up and use Outlook for email, I could no longer use it to maintain contacts or calendar.  I decided not to worry about it and just go “native” with Apple’s Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders and Notes.  Same as on my iPad and iPhone.

What did I notice immediately?  It was faster than going through Exchange.  Now, I filter my email through GMail via a forward in order to take advantage of their spam filters (and they are good) and then GMail forwards it to my iCloud account.  So, there are a couple steps on the email side that make it take a fraction longer than if I skipped GMail all together.  Doesn’t matter to me – I am patient when it comes to email.  Contacts and calendar entries were near on instantaneous.  I could edit on one device and see the change immediately on the others.

Because it is in the iCloud, it is always backed up.  I don’t have to worry about maintaining extra apps outside of the ones already provided by Apple.  It doesn’t cost me anything to use.  I can access all of my information from anywhere, including computers that are not OS X via the https://www.icloud.com website.  I still have all my folders and emails from before my change as it migrated over with ease through Outlook.

Would I recommend this setup for everyone?  No.  It all depends on their needs.  I would recommend it for probably 90% of the people I know so long as they are using an iPhone and/or iPad and computer (especially a Mac with OS X.)

So, if anyone has questions or wants advice on personal data management, let me know.

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