I recently transitioned our household to hosted email accounts with Office 365.  My wife and I are both Outlook users and like the benefits of working in that interface locally on our desktop and laptops.

The challenge in the past was how to effectively work on two different platforms and keep everything in sync between the two systems.  Over the years we have tried a couple of different things with varying results.

You see one of the limitations with Outlook and the PST file format it uses to store your data is that storing them on a network drive is unsupported and is known to cause file integrity issues.  PST files were created so users could store copies of their emails from the Exchange Server on a local machine or in the case of POP3 users have that file as their main message store for downloaded email.

According to the Limits to using personal folders (.pst) files over LAN and WAN links knowledge base entry there are three key areas that make this configuration unsupported:

  • All operations take longer.
  • Write operations can take approximately four times longer than read operations.
  • Outlook has slower performance than the Exchange Client.

So as you can see storing a PST file on a shared or networked drive is not an ideal solution although it can work.  This does however become an issue if we are travelling and need to access the accounts PST files on the Windows Home Server we have back at home.

One option we used for a while was to sync PST files between our desktops and laptops using a program called Easy2Sync and this worked pretty well.  The premise is that the local PST file on the desktop or laptop would be synched to a folder on our Windows Home Server.  The software would then sync that file down to the other machine using another installed copy of the Easy2Sync software.  In order to not overwrite anything we used the sync mode however, that caused a few issues with the same messages appearing on the other machine that had already been processed/removed on the first machine.  You would also have to sync every minute to make sure 100% that each Outlook instance matched the other.  I thought this was way over the top and it was having a detrimental impact on my local home network.

The other process we had in place for a long time was to manually copy the local PST up to the Windows Home Server and then copy it down to the machine we wanted it on.  Although this worked very well and ensured everything matched because we had the same accounts set up on each machine it was a decidedly manual process. 

The option we are now using, hosted Microsoft Exchange e-mail accounts under Office 365, gives us max flexibility and allows us to pick up our email on either machine without having to think about them being synched or copying the files back and forth.  It will work whether we are on the road visiting somewhere with our laptops or accessing the account using Outlook Web Access.  Everything stays perfectly in sync on all systems without any thought on our part and that is probably the nicest aspect of it all.

The accounts do cost $60 per year each but give us all these features:

  • Cloud-based email using your own domain name
  • Shared calendars
  • Configurable anti-spam filtering
  • Active Directory synchronization
  • Live 24 x 7 IT customer phone support

Many will ask why not just do this with the Microsoft Office Outlook Hotmail Connector, a free Hotmail account and accessing our current POP3 accounts through Hotmail to consolidate everything. 

One reason is the 24/7 tech support that my wife can use if I am unavailable for some reason and the second is that we have our main accounts on our own e-mail domain and no need to worry about using POP3 to access the main accounts that are on another server/host – one less thing to break in the string of systems/connections.

The process of getting signed up and sorting out our vanity URL was quite easy.  The only delay was introduced by me as I was trying to update the wrong DNS settings at my host when I should have been updating the DNS at CloudFlare which I use to vet bad traffic away from the main server.

So how do you keep all your email in sync between systems?  If you have any questions about Office 365 and the set up just let me know in the comments below.