In my previous life in corporate IT, I looked for a way to synchronise my growing Outlook address book between work and home. I was therefore overjoyed when I discovered Plaxo, and took advantage of my prized Windows admin privileges to install the Plaxo Toolbar for Outlook on my company desktop.
I’ve remained a fan of Plaxo through thick and thin ever since, despite countless Outlook hangs and crashes over the years, and even having my address book synched into oblivion on at least one occasion.
According to one of the latest announcements from Plaxo, the Plaxo Toolbar for Outlook will shortly become part of their premium service:
Important service alert regarding the Plaxo Toolbar for Outlook
We’re making some changes to our service in the coming weeks. The Outlook Synchronization feature, which has been a free feature of our service, will now become part of Plaxo Premium, effective July 30, 2009. This change will allow us to continue to invest in the development and support of this valuable (but high-cost) feature.
Outlook Synchronization will join other “power address book” features in the updated Plaxo Premium, alongside the Contacts De-Duper, Automated Backup and Recovery, Unlimited eCards, and VIP Support.
To ease the transition, we’re offering all current users of the Plaxo Toolbar a 20% lifetime discount on Plaxo Premium. You can upgrade to Plaxo Premium for $47.95/year, a $12.00/year savings off the $59.95 annual subscription. Sign up now to lock in your discount.
Do I find the Plaxo Toolbar for Outlook useful? Yes indeed. To the tune of USD60 per annum? No way in hell! Not even with all the other features of Plaxo Premium (most of which I’d have a hard time finding a use for) thrown in.
Generally speaking, suppliers of these cloud services tend to either:
- Create a free product, plus additional value-added services packaged as a premium or paid service, or
- Create a paid service, and then package a subset of the features as a free product.
Plaxo has found a third alternative: gradually cannibalise the free service by stripping out all the good stuff and moving it to the premium service. Way to go guys!
I’ve criticised Plaxo’s pricing and revenue model before, and I was extremely critical when they did away with the one, single, only unique selling point (USP) of their eCards; the fact that the e-card was sent as the body of the e-mail message, instead of as a link to a dodgy site (especially as I’d just recommended it to a family member).
Like many, I’m still tied to the old paradigm of desktop computing, where your software and data reside on your own hard disk drive. Also like many, however, I’ve started to trust my backups (and even original data) to various cloud computing services. Apart from synchronisation, this is where I saw the value in Plaxo.
So what are the alternatives to Plaxo Toolbar for Outlook?
- Because my main e-mail account is on Gmail, I would have preferred to use Google Apps Outlook Sync for Microsoft Outlook. Unfortunately it’s only available for Premier Edition, not Standard Edition. I’m not aware of any plans to make it available to the great unwashed, and certainly not anytime soon.
- I’ve already downloaded and installed the Microsoft Office Outlook Connector, which enables me to use my synchronised Hotmail (Windows Live) account from within Outlook. Now I just need to find out how to make the Windows Live calendar and contacts my defaults, while keeping Gmail as my default e-mail account.
- Something like Live Mesh (Beta)? That’s another whole new learning curve.
- Switch completely to a webmail interface. But I don’t think I’m ready for that “cold turkey” step yet…
If anyone else out there has any other suggestions, please leave a comment below.
In the meantime, I’ve just entered my first reminder in my Windows Live Calendar:
30 July 2009, Uninstall Plaxo Toolbar for Outlook!
- Plaxo fails to impress
- Plaxo Basic and Plaxo Premium
- Plaxo eCards scraps its unique selling point
- Postlater: Please Can We Have The Free Version?
Another (offline) suggestion from a reader was the LinkedIn Outlook Toolbar, for those who are registered on LinkedIn. I haven’t evaluated the tool, but it might do the job, at least on the Contacts side. Here’s what LinkedIn has to say:
Manage your LinkedIn Contacts from Outlook
* Update your Outlook contacts with LinkedIn profile information
* Receive notifications when your contacts change their LinkedIn profiles
* See when people you e-mail frequently are not in your network