On the value of patience (and multiple tools)

MS Outlook 2011 for Mac is a great teaching tool. Pretty much every time I deal with it, I learn about something else annoying it does. I may even learn a new curse or two.

Today, though, it’s teaching me something I actually value: patience.

I’m sitting in a client’s office, staring at her iMac while Outlook’s Database Utility chugs away at a rebuild following a restore from backup. Not that you’d actually know it’s doing anything. The progress bar is still. Has been for most of half an hour. The console isn’t showing me diddly, except that spindump is monitoring the DU’s process.

Activity Monitor’s entry for the DU is blazing red at me, and telling me that DU isn’t responding. At first, I nearly gave in to the temptation to drop the process and call it crashed. And then I noticed that CPU usage was steady at about 30%.

Disk activity was similarly steady, showing a ton of reads. So I wait. Like magic, a few minutes later the rebuild completes, and DU springs back to life to notify me. Outlook starts normally, and we’re back in business.

There are two lessons here for any tech worth their salt. First, be patient. Not everything answers the system’s monitors as it should (are you listening, Microsoft?). Second, look in more than one place to see what’s going on. If I’d placed my trust solely in the DU GUI, or even in the Finder, I’d have believed that the process was hung and static. But a quick look at two further measures of activity showed me that it was running, just not being very nice about telling me so. So I remind myself once again of the value of multiple tools.

Converting Exchange to Address Book/Mail/iCal/anything

One of the more annoying facts of living with Microsoft products is their preference for/corporate reliance on proprietary data formats. If they’re not tying your information up in a file nothing else can read, then they’re hampering you with half-assed or nonexistent export tools. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just an annoying roadblock to moving your data to a non-MS app (which is, of course, the motivation…maybe not the only one, but it’s in the top 5 I’ll guarantee).

Last night I found Outport, an open-source project designed to extract all kinds of information from Outlook and convert it to standard formats. So programs like Apple Address Book and Apple iCal — which use standards like iCal and vCard — can get access to your previously Outlook-bound data. Presumably, since Outport converts to widely-used standard formats, lots of non-Apple stuff can read the output as well. I just happened to be chin-deep in a Windows-to-Mac conversion, and desperate for a way to move a huge calendar.

So far, I’m very happy with what Outport does, and grateful to the developer for building it. Pity it seems to have fallen by the wayside.