Switching Outlook: Good

I’ve written about my poor, misguided in-laws before on Macworld.com. Despite their son’s standing in the Mac journalism community, several years ago they made the mistake of buying a Dell PC to replace their aging Performa.

The end result, of course, was an adware-infested PC. (Then there’s my poor brother-in-law, who I convinced to get an iMac, but was un convinced into buying a PC, which is now also infested.)

And so this Thanksgiving I was proud to reclaim the in-law’s household in the name of the Mac, unpacking a fresh new iMac G5, attaching it to my father-in-law’s digital camera, a new HP multifunction peripheral, and even setting up an ad hoc AirPort network so that I could check e-mail from my PowerBook.

However, the biggest workload of the weekend wasn’t the set-up: it was transferring all of my in-laws’ data from their PC to the Mac. Attaching them via an Ethernet cable was easy. Copying all of the digital photos my father-in-law has taken over the years was child’s play, and one quick drag got them into iPhoto. Moving their music into iTunes was a snap.

But the e-mail, well, that was troubling. My in-laws used Outlook 98, a Microsoft e-mail program that doesn’t store information in any readily accessible way. I looked at several different ways to get at their e-mail, including a circuitous method that requires stops in Netscape Mail and Eudora before finally reaching a format that Mac mail programs can read.

But I settled on Little Machines’ Outlook2Mac (   , www.littlemachines.com ), a $10 Windows utility that converts Outlook mail to Mac-friendly mbox format (complete with attachments!) quickly and easily. You point Outlook2Mac at specific Outlook mailboxes, and it extracts them. It’s that simple.

Yes, Outlook2Mac has its quirks. I’d advise turning off all antivirus software before using it, because otherwise Outlook gets quite cranky about that mysterious new program that’s trying to access all your mail. There’s no easy way to check or uncheck all Outlook mailboxes, which meant I had to click each of my in-laws’ zillion individual mailboxes by hand.

But I can’t argue with the results, especially for $10. Once I was done with Outlook2Mac, I was able to drag the resulting .mbox files into Entourage and get my in-laws up and running with the closest thing to Outlook that exists on the Mac. The beauty of the mbox file format is, every reasonable Mac e-mail program can import it: Eudora, Apple Mail, you name it. Once I was all done, my in-laws had all their mail, all their attachments, all their address book entries (Outlook2Mac converts them to vCard format), and all their calendar events.

Long story short: my father-in-law called last night. They're loving the iMac. It's got their mail, their photos, and their music. And best of all, none of their spyware or adware.

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