Outlook issue: duplicates everywhere
Once the Google Sync tool completes the first synchronization of the mailbox you will see a replica of your Google Mail inbox in the mail folders pane in Outlook. Aside from the built-in Outlook folders (of which Inbox, Sent Items, and Deleted Items are mapped to Inbox, Sent Mail, and Trash respectively in the cloud, there is also a new [Archived] folder created in Outlook mapping to All Mail online) you will see each of your Google Mail labels show up as a folder in the Outlook folder list. The Contacts and Calendar will also be synchronized with their counterparts in the cloud, all is well so far, until you start noticing duplicate messages.
Knowing that each label is equivalent to a folder is not a problem if you don’t use search folders (like Unread Mail) because you will see each message marked as unread in its folder at a time (read: a message with three labels will show as unread in three folders) and once you read the message it be marked read in every folder it belongs to automatically.
The problem for me is that I take advantage of search folders, specifically Unread Mail and For Follow Up to help me keep track of messages without having to switch from folder to folder. This is a problem because if, for example I sent myself an email and then marked it for follow up, it would show up twice in my For Follow Up search folder! Once for the message in the Sent Items folder and once for the message in the Inbox.
Another similar issue is when I send myself an email, before I mark the message as read it will show up as unread in the Sent Items folder as well as the Inbox. This too, was unacceptable because I am constantly sending myself reminders when I’m not near OneNote.
The final thing that bothered me was the task list in the To-Do Bar as it mimicked the For Follow Up search folder’s behavior showing multiple flags depending on where the messages were in the mailbox (ex. two flags for a message in Sent Items and the Inbox that was flagged for follow up.)
I tried to live with it for 5 minutes, then decided I needed to make some changes to mitigate this annoying side effect of the way Google decided Outlook should behave when dealing with labels. What I ended up doing was creating custom search folders to mimic the built-in Unread Mail and For Follow Up search folders and customized the Filter property of the task list view in the To-Do Bar.
Below are the criteria and display options I chose for the two search folders and the task list view.
Create your own custom search folders
I deleted the built-in Unread Mail search folder, for some reason the For Follow Up folder wasn’t created in the list of “Search Folders” when the Google Apps account was created, so that was one less search folder to delete.
I then proceeded to create my new custom search folders, starting with the Unread Mail search folder:
- Right click on the “Search Folders” item in the mail pane and select “New Search Folder…”.
- When presented with a dialog asking for the type of search folder you want to create, go all the way down to “Create a custom Search Folder” and click on “Choose…” to choose the criteria.
- In the “Custom Search Folder” dialog name the new search folder “Unread Mail” (make sure to delete the built-in search folder to avoid a name conflict) and click on “Criteria…”.
- When presented with the “Search Folder Criteria” dialog, click on the “More Choices” tab, then click on the “Only items that are:” checkbox, and make sure that the drop down reads “unread”.
- Click on the “Advanced” tab, then click on the “Field” drop down, navigate to the “All Mail Items” sub menu and click on “In Folder” from the menu that opens up.
- Set the condition to “doesn’t contain” and the value to “Sent Items” and click on “Add to List”.
- Click on OK twice to go back to the main Outlook window. The search folder just created should be in the “Search Folders” section of the mail pane.
- Right click the Unread Mail search folder and select “Add to Favorite Folders” to show the search folder in the “Favorite Folders” section of the mail pane (all the way at the top).
- NOTE: This method will not remove any duplicates resulting from multiple label assignments in Google Mail, you will still see duplicate messages in the Unread Mail search folder if a message that is unread has been tagged with multiple labels in Google Mail.
The procedure to create the custom For Follow Up search folder is similar, see below:
- Follow steps 1, 2 and 3 above, but name the search folder “For Follow Up” instead of “Unread Mail” and click on “Criteria…”
- When presented with the “Search Folder Criteria” dialog, click on the “Advanced” tab.
- Click on the “Field” drop down, navigate to the “All Mail Items” sub menu and click on “In Folder” from the menu that opens up. Set the condition to “doesn’t contain” and the value to “Sent Items” and click on “Add to List”.
- Click on the “Field” drop down, navigate to the “All Mail Items” sub menu and click on “Flag Status” from the menu that opens up. Set the condition to “exists” and click on “Add to List”.
- Click on the “Field” drop down, navigate to the “All Mail Items” sub menu and click on “Flag Completed Date” from the menu that opens up. Set the condition to “does not exist” and click on “Add to List”.
- Follow steps 7 and 8 above, right clicking the For Follow Up search folder instead of Unread Mail to add to favorite folders.
- One additional step to completely mimic the built in For Follow Up search folder is to right click on it (from the “Favorite Folders” section or under the “Search Folders” section in the mail pane) and click on “Properties”, then in the properties dialog for the search folder about halfway down the dialog make sure the “Show total number of items” radio button is selected as opposed to the default “Show number of unread items” and click OK.
- NOTE: This method will not remove any duplicates resulting from multiple label assignments in Google Mail, you will still see duplicate messages in the For Follow Up search folder if a message that is flagged has been tagged with multiple labels in Google Mail.
One thing you should know about the search method above is that if you have messages which had been flagged for recipients or show with a flag status represented with that icon previously and they did not show up in the default For Follow Up search folder, they will show up now. The corrective action I took on these messages is to search for all flagged messages in “All Mail Items” (from Outlook 2007) and for each message that was flagged for recipient or had that icon I right clicked on them and from the “Follow Up” menu, clicked on “Clear Flag/Delete Task” (or similar, I don’t quite remember). This only kept the messages I had flagged for follow up myself (identifiable by the sole Flag icon) in my For Follow Up search folder.
Modify the view of the task list in the To-Do Bar
The final thing that was bothering me was that if there were any items (like messages I had sent to myself) that I had flagged, they would show up as duplicate items in the To-Do Bar’s task list. I had fixed the issues above by creating my own search folders, but this view wasn’t created using a search folder. Instead, it uses a filter, which can easily be modified by following the steps below:
- Right click on any empty space in the task list and click on “Customize Current View…”.
- In the “Customize View: To-Do List” dialog, click on the “Filter…” button.
- In the “Filter” dialog, click on the “Advanced” tab.
- This should look familiar, click on the “Field” drop down, navigate to the “All Task Fields” sub menu and click on “In Folder” from the menu that opens up. Set the condition to “doesn’t contain” and the value to “Sent Items” and click on “Add to List”.
- Click OK twice to go back to the main Outlook window. You should no longer have duplicate task items for any messages that you have sent to yourself.
- NOTE: This method will not remove any duplicates resulting from multiple label assignments in Google Mail, you will still see duplicate messages in the To-Do Bar task list if a message that is flagged has been tagged with multiple labels in Google Mail.
It is important to remember that Outlook works with folders as while Google Mail works with labels, in my opinion labels are vastly superior to a traditional folder hierarchy, but you have to use what is there. With this knowledge, you should be tolerant and try to avoid assigning multiple labels to a message if you normally work in Outlook and rely on search folder functionality as you will often see duplicate messages in your views if you don’t, possibly throwing off your counts.
This following statement is my assumption based on my observations, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong: Google Sync takes care of making sure that each labeled message is physically located in each folder on the PST file that locally holds your mailbox, so the PST file will be larger than your mailbox size as reported by Google Mail due to this.
As a side effect of my statement above, whenever a message is unread, or when a message is flagged, if it has more than one label assigned to it the message will show up more than once in your search folders, and Outlook folder in general. A big problem with this is sent items. When you send a message to yourself using Outlook, the message will arrive as “read”. I have only seen this behavior when a message is sent through Outlook, sending yourself a message from the web or a mobile device keeps the message unread as you would come to expect. The reason for Outlook’s behavior in my opinion is that the Google Apps Sync tool discards messages that would traditionally be copied to the Sent Items folder is deleted and instead is replaced with a message with the Sent label (or the message itself is applied with a sent label) thus moving it to the Sent Items folder. Google goes out of its way to ensure that the state of messages is kept intact for everything that has a label in Google Mail. A sent message is tagged with the Sent label, and if it arrives in your inbox it is also tagged with the Inbox label. So any message you send yourself always has more than one label, and by Google’s reasoning has to be kept in sync. This is why my custom search folders above worked for the messages I had sent myself (as reminders to myself which were subsequently flagged), there were no duplicates because I effectively filtered out the Sent label within Outlook by excluding the Sent Items folder from the searches.
So far, I feel content with the migration on the desktop side. My next and final post in this series will detail the steps I had to take to get around a ridiculous Google mobile sync “feature” that annoys many iPhone (if not mobile) users, including myself.