My Conversion from Outlook 2007 to Open-Source

I wanted to convert my use of Outlook 2007 to an open source option. The problem was determining which one to select.

Problems with Outlook 2007

Outlook 2007 is so blasted slow, I nearly pulled my hair out nearly every day. My “trial” version expires Saturday, so I’m busy converting my stuff over to an open source alternative that will easily follow me when I discard the Windows operating system for a Linux model.

I’m tired of using Microsoft products. I despise what they have decided to do with Vista and the more I read, the more determined I become not just to avoid Vista, but to avoid all Microsoft products as much as possible.

Rather than buying a program to do the conversion from OL2007 to opensource, I was convinced I could find a way (even if it’s a multi-step process) to make this conversion myself. I wanted to share my findings with those of you interested in going on the same path, and hope that I save you time, research effort and frustration in the process.

Evaluating My Opensource Calendar and Email Program Options:

The first thing I did was review a number of opensource options to replace Outlook. There are more options (with great reviews) once I make it to Linux… but for now, there aren’t that many that work in both Windows and in Linux.

I considered Sugar CRM, with plugins for Thunderbird and FireFox and other cool plugin options. After fighting with it for a couple hours, I decided that I didn’t need anything quite so comprehensive or so frustrating. I may tackle this again at some point in the future, because it looks pretty interesting — but I think that it’s more than I’m willing to deal with at the moment. (Compier was also considered briefly — VERY briefly.) Both these look like more than my small business really needs.

Chandler looks like it will be a great PIM option soon, but the current version isn’t quite ready for me to use with my live data. I will be keeping an eye on this option for later – when it grows up a bit. (It’s currently in version .7, Alpha4)

I finally settled in on ThunderBird with the Lightning (calendar plugin) option. I skipped Sunbird calendar because I really wanted it linked to my email program. I look forward to the scheduled inter-activity between the two programs slated for later versions, but I think this will work fine as is for right now. And, it will convert with me over to Linux.

Later, when I’m not under such time constraints, I’ll probably download and give SeaMonkey a test run for more Mozilla-goodness! (not a CRM or PIM, but looks good enough to take for a spin).

Score! Decision made! *whew*

Besides, I have used Thunderbird in the past, so that fact should truncate my learning curve. Since I’m learning so many new software packages this year for this opensource project, I’ll take my breaks where I can. 🙂

Converting Email Messages from Outlook 2007 to Thunderbird:

Although there may be a quicker, easier way to do it… I found a way that worked. I tripped across the ability to import email, etc., from Outlook Express while installing Thunderbird. I had forgotten about that!

Now, you can’t convert from Outlook… but you can open up Outlook Express and convert from Outlook into Outlook Express. So I paused the final portion of my Thunderbird installation to “quick like a bunny” go and convert my stuff to OE.

It sort of worked.

I did manage to convert my emails and my calendar information. It balked about my contacts and told me NO! I needed to convert the address book format.

I completed the import of the information from Outlook express and when I pressed the “+” beside my “local folders” icon…. Low and Behold… all my stuff was there, all in the folders and subfolder trees exactly as it had been in Outlook 2007.

Only one minor annoyance was notable… when I clicked on any folder or subfolder, all the messages were immediately flagged as unread. No biggie, I just had to go through my dozens of folders and subfolders and “select all” (shortcut=control A) and mark as read (shortcut=R). With these keyboard shortcuts, it didn’t take more that a few moments, once the “summary file” was built in Thunderbird for each folder (happened automatically when I clicked on each folder for the first time.)

Then I went back into my Outlook 2007 (since I’ve not yet uninstalled that) and highlighted the handful that I still need to handle. Easy, even if not exactly quick.

Pulling Archive Files from Outlook 2007 into Thunderbird to Re-index and archive:

I’ll have to go in and wipe out the current information in Outlook Express and pull in My Outlook 2007 archives separately, but that too can be done using this same method.

Converting Outlook 2007 Address Book information to Thunderbird:

I temporarily abandoned the Outlook 2007 to Outlook Express project (I’ll get back to the archive conversion in a bit) and went to find a way to convert my Outlook 2007 address information.

This is where it got kind of sticky…

The direct import contained in Thunderbird didn’t work for Outlook 2007. It gave me the error message that Outlook (meaning I’m assuming OL 2003 which is no longer on my machine) is not the default email handler and that I need to correct this and try the import again. Been there, did that (a couple times) before finally giving up and hitting Google again.

According to my initial research, the first thing you do is to convert your Outlook address book to a .PAB (personal address book format). Microsoft is kind enough to lead you through the conversion from Outlook contacts to Personal Address Book (.PAB) format…The problem is that there’s no .PAB option in Outlook 2007. The instructions given by the Microsoft site will only work with Outlook 2003.

So I went back to the drawing board. Several dead-ends later, I found that there is a freeware product called Dawn (albeit not an opensource one) that will convert Outlook 2007 address book information directly into Thunderbird.

NOTE: Be sure you exit and reboot Thunderbird before trying to get this to work.

SCORE again! *whoo hoo!*

Steps For Using Dawn to convert are to import from Outlook 2007 (intuitive interface). Go to: File/Open/Address Book/MS Outlook –> then highlight “Contacts” and hit the Next button. (It may take awhile, so be patient.)

Then (and this part took a couple trial and errors for me because simply importing into Thunderbird didn’t work)…

Click on the address book division from your Outlook you want to import (I have seven of them!) and Go to: File/Save/Save as a file/.

Keep the default .ldif (LDAP) file format and select your desktop as the destination.

Go into Thunderbird, Click on the Address Book Icon, Go to Tools/Import/

Select the Address Books radio button, click next and select the text file option.

Click next and navigate to your desktop where your saved file resides.

Rinse, Lather, Repeat

Again, maybe there is an easier way, but I know this way works… and I was getting tired of hunting for a faster way. The downside I find is that my notes section in my contacts is now missing. Not a big deal for me (I keep all my important notes elsewhere), but it may be for some people.

Note: this program method does not capture all information, it loses notes and custom fields, etc. It’s just for basic, down-and-dirty last minute conversions, in my experience.

Converting your Outlook 2007 Calendar to iCal format for use with other programs:

This macro to convert Outlook Calendar items to iCal format is a free download and will do most of this job for you. Be sure to read the instructions for what doesn’t transfer over (like exceptions to recurring appointments). I did not use this macro, but wanted to provide the option for others. Use at your own risk and/or peril — I have not tested this one.

You can also transfer your calendar over (if it’s not too big) by using the Outlook 2007 calendar conversion to an .ics file. I tried to convert the entire calendar that way, but it was too large. I finally settled on converting just this year. Then you can import using the calendar drop down from the Lightening plugin.

Warning: This does not pick up on recurring appointments at all. You will lose your birthdays, recurring business appointments, personal recurring events, etc if you use this method. There were also several errors in the transferred (especially repeated) events/appointments. Requires alot of hand clean-up and may not be worth the effort.

I pulled my account settings over by hand. It was easier. Now, all I need to do is recreate my Thunderbird signature lines (which as I recall is kind of a pain), if I don’t find them in my customized folder and I’m ready to use Thunderbird full-time. This will give me a couple days to grab anything I may have forgotten from Outlook before the trial ends and I have to fly solo with Thunderbird.

For now, the lion’s share of the conversion work is complete. I’ll blog more soon on the details of getting everything to work as it should. For now, I’m giving it a rest!

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