Hacking my Exchange Data onto my New G1

I’m the proud owner of a new T-Mobile G1 – UPS delivered it yesterday. The G1 is the first phone to use Google’s open source Android mobile operating system, and it rocks. This is the first true competitor to the iPhone, with a large touchscreen and a desktop-class web browser on a 3G network with WiFi, GPS and a flip out, full QWERTY keyboard. The G1 is particularly compelling if you use GMail, GTalk and Google Calendar – the integration, particularly with GMail, is phenomenal. The email is pushed to the phone, and the application for reading it is on a par with the standard web client – insanely easy to archive, label and delete messages. This is much better than the GMail for Mobile App that runs on other phones. The other compelling thing about Android, which I’ll blog more about at Idealware, is the open source OS and open programming environment. Android reeks with potential.

But, if what you’re looking for is a cool phone, it’s important to point out that this is brand new, and, as an early adopter, I’m paying some early adopter dues. If you aren’t the pioneering type, you’ll do much better with an iPhone. The Android environment is open, but the number of apps available is pretty slim, with some glaring holes. Missing on G1 Day 1 (which, officially, is today, October 22nd), there is no Notepad/Text Editor; limited video playing, no secured storage (for passwords and the like) and very limited connectivity with Microsoft Exchange/Outlook. There’s no desktop sync program for Android — you can mount the phone as USB storage and drag files to and from it, but the only synchronization available, so far, is the built-in sync with GMail apps (Mail, Calendar and Contacts) and a couple of brand new apps that can sync contacts with Exchange, given the right conditions.

My situation is this: I work in a Microsoft environment. We run Exchange 2007. I have an active extra-curricular professional life that lives in GMail and Twitter, primarily. So the G1 handles the latter beautifully — there are already three Twitter apps available — but the web site works great as well. It handles GMail phenomenally. But what about my work email, calendar and contacts? Solutions should pop up eventually. Funambol is promising an ad-based service that will start with Contact Sync, then grow to include Calendar and Email. A Google ContactSync app is available at the Android Market (you can install it from your phone), but it requires Exchange 2007 with the Web Services Extension enabled. We’re not doing that at Earthjustice, and I made a vow not to ask my Sysadmin to reconfigure the server for me (she’s got enough to do!). Finally, Google does have a Calendar Sync app, but it only works on Windows; I’m on a Mac, and while I have VMWare Fusion and Windows installed, I only boot up Windows when I have to, not often enough to keep the calendar up to date. So here’s what I’ve done, which is immensely kludgy.

Email: I used an Administrator-only feature to forward a copy of my mailbox to GMail. If you aren’t, like me, an IT Director with admin rights to your Exchange server, you’ll have to buy the System Administrator a healthy Amazon gift certificate and grovel a bit, most likely. On the Gmail side, I created a filter that labels each message from work with “earthjustice” and set up my EJ email address as a valid one to reply with, along with the “reply to address sent to” default. Now all of my work mail arrives twice – once in Outlook, once in GMail. I am hesitant about replying in GMail, because the Sync is only one way, and those replies won’t land in my Outlook Sent folder. But I get all of my mail pushed, so I don’t miss anything, and I can always jump to Outlook Web Access if I want to reply “in country”.

Calendar: this was a real kludge. Again, if I used Windows daily, I’d use the Calendar Sync. But I use my Macbook at home and work and generally log onto Outlook over Citrix, which I can’t install the sync on without installing it for the whole company. I worked out a complicated solution by publishing my calendar in icalendar format to iCal Exchange, a free server for storing calendars, then subscribed to it at Google Calendar, only to learn that either iCal Exchange is not sending the proper refresh headers to GCal, or GCal is inept at refreshing them. I couldn’t get it to recognize an update in three days, so I ditched that plan. But then I noted that, when I received Outlook appointments at GMail, they came with “Add to GCal” options. Since my Calendar was synched (via Google Calendar Sync on my Fusion WinXP desktop), I realized that I can just accept each appointment twice to keep both calendars in sync. Again, kludgy, but suitable until something better comes along.

Contacts: As mentioned above, there’s a contact sync app available, but it requires Exchange 2007 with web services enabled. I’m going to hold off. I have about 200 work contacts, and about 350 more personal/Nonprofit contacts, so my GMail contacts list is much larger than the one at work. I’m going to maintain them separately for the time being. So, no definitive answer here, but keep your eye on Funambol, who promise to have this going quickly.

It’s only a matter of time before someone licenses and resells Microsoft Activesync for Android, and other sync options will pop up like crazy. But, if you’re like me, and couldn’t wait for this phone, I hope there’s enough here to get you going. Please be sure to leave additional and better ideas in the comments.

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