One of the questions I am asked most often is how small companies can ween themselves off of Outlook/Exchange. The reasons why a company might want to do so are as plentiful as the solutions. And with the rise in popularity and feature scope of Google Mail/Docs/Apps, migrating is almost painless. There are certain trade-offs, but the end result is actually a very powerful tool.

With Gmail, you can always hop into the browser-based solution, but when you take advantage of an actual email client, you have the option to include other email accounts and, in some cases, other features. In addition, when you use a tool that users are familiar with, it makes for a less stressful transition. The Opera browser offers a solid email client that can connect to Gmail and, with the help of a plugin, make connecting to your Gmail calendar a snap.

Install Opera

The first step for this setup is to install Opera, which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. We’ll examine this setup on a Windows 7 machine.

This process is as simple as downloading the Windows installer, double-clicking the file, and walking through the installation wizard. Once Opera is installed, you can start setting up the email account.

Note: If you’re already using Opera, it should be at least version 12.0. If you’re using an older version, you run the risk of all your Gmail being marked as spam by Opera’s spam filter. Download and install the latest version of Opera.

Email setup

You must enable IMAP in your Google account by following these steps:

  1. Log in to your Gmail account.
  2. Click the Settings drop-down and click Settings.
  3. Select the Forwarding And POP/IMAP tab.
  4. Select Enable IMAP.
  5. Click Save Changes.

Now it’s time to set up the Opera email client. You start by opening Opera, clicking the Opera icon in the upper left corner of the browser window, selecting Mail And Chat Accounts from the drop-down, and then following these steps:

  1. Click the Add button.
  2. Select Email.
  3. Click Next.
  4. Enter your name, email address, organization (optional), and click Next.
  5. Enter your Login name and password.
  6. Select IMAP.
  7. Click Finish.

Your Gmail account should start populating the folders and emails, and you can immediately start using the Opera email client with your Gmail account (Figure A).
Figure A

Spam, spam, spam, spam… (Click the image to enlarge.)

Calendar extension

By default, Opera has no built-in calendar application. Fortunately, there are extensions that can add  calendar functionality to the client.

For the most part, the calendar extensions for Opera aren’t that great except for one that works directly with your Google Calendar and works in a popup window. This extension offers a fairly straightforward Google Calendar experience.

To add this extension, do the following;

  1. Open Opera.
  2. Go to the Google Calendar extension page.
  3. Click the Add To Opera button.
  4. Click Install in the resulting popup window.
  5. Restart Opera.

Once installed, you will see a small Calendar icon on the right of the Opera web browser address bar (Figure B).
Figure B

The date always appears as the 31st. I haven’t found a way to change it. (Click the image to enlarge.)

If you click the Calendar icon, a popup will appear with all of your Google Calendars available (Figure C).
Figure C

The standard view of the Google Calendar in the Opera extension. (Click the image to enlarge.)

You can now use your Google Calendar from within this popup. The only caveat is that you cannot access the popup from the email client window — the address bar must be present. If there was a way (and I wish there was) to access this popup from the email window, it would take this setup one step closer to being a Google-flavored take on Outlook.

If you want to make this change company-wide, the process would be very different, and you’d probably use a Google Apps Business account. I think it’s better to do this migration on a smaller scale.