An Alternative For The Mac Address Book App?

I’ve been all Mac for the past six weeks and in general I’m loving everything about it.  I am, however, starting to bump into a few things that are stinky.

The Mac Address Book is one of them.  Mail and iCal are good, but Address Book just sucks.  I’m constrained by an Exchange server on the back end which is nicely abstracted away across all my devices (multiple computers, iPad, iPhone).  My actual contact database is just fine, it’s just that the Address Book app is incredible weak.

Is there a known alternative out there other than using an entirely different mail client such as Entourage, Thunderbird, or Zimbra?  I just want a better Address Book – I don’t want to change Mail and Calendar.

No, Ross, you can’t have your $100 back.

  • i don't know the answer to your question, but i can maybe ask a related one — why are you using mail on the mac, rather than google apps? surely google apps can link into your exchange server on the backend? i left outlook behind several years ago for google apps and never looked back.

    • I like Apple Mail. I'm still in happy client side email land.

    • John Minnihan


      Can't speak for Brad wrt his choices, but I used GMail for a few years (two maybe?) and switched back to self-hosted email some time back because GMail was dropping messages. Not many, but *some* and I was able to reproduce the case often enough to prove (in my case) it truly was GMail.

      So… GMail isn't perfect by a long shot.

    • Jamie

      I'm not Brad, but another reason many of us won't is that we're paranoid old farts, and don't want a third party in possession and control of our email. I've been running my own email server for 20 years, and only use gmail for throwaway addressing, for instance when I'm replying to a blog post like this.

      Another reason for the control freak aspect is that I have 20 years of email customization that I'd also be giving up, including some complicated automation that would have to be completely rewritten.

      Plus, as Brad said, Apple mail isn't a bad client for GUI use. I use it in conjunction with Mutt, and they play quite nicely together.

      • Jamie

        Whoops, posted too soon – meant to try to answer Brad's question, too.

        As far as I can tell, there really aren't many good alternatives. Some folks like Bento, which of course is a fair amount more, being a general conumer-oriented database. It also feels heavyweight for just addresses, and lightweight as a database. I'm not fond of it. If you happen to already use Filemaker, there's that.

        Simson Garfinkel wrote a nifty free-form app called Sbook that was really quite nice, but that seems to be abandonware.

        Now Software imploded, so Now Contact is gone.

        Aside from what others have mentioned, I'm not aware of others. (Market opportunity!) You don't say what specific shortcomings you're having issues with, but you might check this site – it is a blog that focuses mainly on Apple Mail, but has a bunch of stuff related to Address Book as well – add-ons, scripts, etc. that tickle various pain points.

        Finally, this probably won't work for you, but there's Daylite, which is a full-on CRM/project management app. It is nice, but if you're not going to have multiple people using it to run projects, don't bother.

  • I noticed you posted this only a day after Gmail announced an overhaul to their Contacts page:

    It's a shame that Apple's contacts app isn't more powerful. On the bright side, it could be a business opportunity for someone!

  • Hi Brad,

    My general recommendation is to use as much web-based services as much (for back up, computer independance, speed, etc), incl mail and avoid slow apps such as, Entourage, Thunderbird, etc. I have been using them all but nothing comes close to the functionality and interface of Gmail.

    Also if you customize your Gmail using Labs you can really make it an outstanding email app. I have set up my email, and try to live according to the "Inbox Haven" rules ( plus some personal tweaks and it has truly made my email life easier.

    Carl Fritjofsson

  • Brad,
    I can understand your dislike of Address Book. As an OS X user, I spent my first six years missing Outlook almost every day. I am a heavy email / contacts / calendar user so native apps are just the way to go for me because of speed and reliability. I personally don't care much for Gmail's contacts even after the redesign. Worse yet is Apple's MobileMe contacts which doesn't even officially support contacts that have ever been synced with Exchange.

    If you're an ex-Outlook guy, my recommendation would be to wait a few months until MSFT release's Outlook for OS X for the very first time and retires Entourage which wasn't even good enough to have the Outlook name. I don't think it will be perfect, but I bet it will address many of your concerns. On the downside, knowing MSFT, Outlook for OS X will probably take forever to open once launched within OS X.

    • So far I've been Microsoft-free on this computer. I'm fantasizing that there is a better client side address book out there somewhere.

  • George


    Google Apps has been amazing and has eliminated the maintenance headaches around Exchange. It’s worth the effort to convert. Once you do, AddressBook works just fine.

    • Address Book works fine with Exchange. It's just a crummy client side product. I want a better client side address book / contact manager!

    • Will

      Ditto on the Google Apps. Syncs perfectly with the address book and your mobile so you don't have to sync them directly. Use Cal as well and you'll be in OCD heaven.

  • I have the same thoughts. Been a Mac user for years. The address book feels simple at best. The one advantage it has over others is the 1:1 synchronization with iPhone, iPad, Mobile Me, etc. I always know that fields will not get sync'd to the wrong field in another application. I know of no alternative, but would love one.

  • I think it’s funny that you’re using desktop software for email. Just go with gmail as your back-end (and front-end, for that matter). After a week of labels, well-designed message threading, and a highly tuned development organization improving the app almost daily, you will never go back. It just works.

  • tylernol

    what exactly,”sucks” about the contacts app?

    • It's slow. Even though the fields are customizable they are messy to navigate. It's not very smart about dupes and it's not dynamic (eg no link to skype or im data.

  • I am having trouble answering your question without knowing what you are looking for – agreed the address book app is weak but what features do you actually want?

    • Less crashing.Faster.More flexibility with fields.Dynamic fields (eg skype / im links)

    • Tim

      Right now, when you add a contact, it shows up in your entire active list. There doesn't seem to be a way to add contacts that are archived away out of sight (e.g. business contacts that you may need one day, but don't want to see showing up in the drop-down when you are composing an email to a family member, let's say.)

    • Anon

      Ability to put all those groups *in folders* like every frackin’ other Apple app: iTunes, iPhoto, iCal – who ever heard of a source list that wasn’t hierarchical?

  • Hi Brad,

    I suffered through the same situation a few years back, although I gave up on Exchange as well and just went with Google for my hosted mail via the Apple Mail Client and iCal for Calendar. When it came to Address Book, I had the same issue. I couldn’t keep my same info in the notes field, etc. My compromise was to use Entourage solely for the Contacts portion (no mail, no calendar), and if your a converted Windows Outlook user, this works reasonably well. You have categories for contacts, etc. Entourage Contacts sucks much less than Entourage Mail and Calendar IMO. We’ll see what happens with the release of Outlook for OS X. By the way, haven’t you found using the Mac versions of Word and Excel to be a step backwards in time about 5-10 years? Mac Excel in particular is the most frustrating part of my Mac experience. The fill down keyboard shortcut doesn’t even exist! Really poor job by Microsoft on the Mac side, which is pushing me more and more to Google Apps. Good luck!


    • Edward Reynolds

      I think you can use just the address book in Thunderbird and it will sync really well with Address Book and allow you to continue to use Apple Mail for your email application. Not completely sure though.

  • Mike Hart

    Having converted to Mac and iPhone in the home 2 years ago while continuing on my standard issue PC in the office I share the frustration. Apple could do a much better job of providing solutions for their users stuck in similar situations. And if a techie like you is having a difficult time making it seamless just think of the rest of us. I just keep them separate to the extent I can. I use Yahoo Mail as the common bridge between Mac/PC. Would like to use Mac Mail, but deleting an email in Mail will not delete it in Yahoo Mail. There is a business idea here some where.

    • Anon

      Are you using IMAP to connect to Yahoo Mail? If not, you’d need to – to have changes made via Apple’s reflect to/from Yahoo Mail on the web… Last I checked you have to pay to use Yahoo mail with IMAP, it’s only POP/SMTP that’s free.

      Compare with Gmail which is free for IMAP access… Then again, if it’s free, then you’re the product… Pay for privacy. Pay for your own hosted domain.

      Connect to whatever email account with Apple’s, using IMAP, and you should be fine.

  • Hey Brad – You've just discovered one of the primary challenge of owning Macs (and I'm a Mac owner): little parity between PC and Mac apps for primary office tools. Bought and used Entourage – it's terrible. Google contacts: terrible. You may want to take a look at Chronos. I haven't used it and I'm not sure if it connects to Exchange, but might be worth a look.….

    If everyone in your office is on Mac you could take a look at Daylite.

    Good luck!
    Scott O.

    • Thanks – I'll take a look at both.

  • Brad:

    Since you use your own domain ( as the foundation of your email activities, you might consider the following:

    1. Create a Standard Google Apps account (free of charge) for
    2. Go into Settings and in the Accounts section configure any additional email addresses you might use (e.g.,,, etc.) to
    a. "Fetch" email messages from those other email Inboxes (uses POP3)
    b. Set-up multiple return addresses so you can choose which of your email addresses people see
    3. Check-out MailPlane ( This is a desktop app for Macs, which lets you, if you want, to edit and write emails when you're not online.

    While I do not currently use any desktop client for email, calendar, or contacts, I have in the past used MailPlane and really liked the application. The development team is solid there too.

    Sorry not to have an exact answer to your question (looks like nobody does))) but at least MailPlane gives you options.

    PS: One fantastic option when one uses Google Apps is that you can activate a "Catch-all" feature. What this feature let's you do is use any prefix before the @ sign and when someone/company sends an email to that address it will forward to an email address you specify. In your case, to [email protected]

    Why this is cool is that when you register with a new web service (I have over 400 logins in my 1Password app) you can use a custom email address for that service. So for example, if you sign-up an account at Gist you enter YOUR email as [email protected]. Same for any other- like [email protected]

    Now if that company/person/web service sells/leaks/gives your email out to someone else, you'll know it. I still get tons of junk/spam email from the Business Week email of [email protected]

  • hmm.. intense debate failed to load for some reason after I logged in, losing my original reply but here was the basics..

    less crashing and faster I cant help you with.. though with about 800 contacts mine doesnt crash and isn't slow compared to outlook at all suggesting there might be some other underlying issue.

    For flexibility on fields – you can edit the card template and add fields for skype (i also added twitter) and that adds fields for all contacts.

    I ended up sticking with apple address book and managed all my contacts through google apps – I sync that on my iphone and also with my address book so having my exchange account empty is no big deal for me. I still miss outlook contacts though. Maybe with Office 2011..

  • Jim Patterson

    Are you connecting to the iPhone? We are focused on contact information (mobile, Skype, home, business, email) for groups and individuals across devices. Leverages the existing mail and calendar capabilities. We are testing through Safari and iPhone and so far, so good. Interested?

  • you can try syncing your address book with your gmail contacts and using a droid which syncs with gmail's contacts pretty well…though it does have limitations and issues of it's own.

  • Everyone has opinions… that much is sure reading this thread.

    I cannot imagine any Mac user of more than 90 days suggesting using any mail client other than the mail app in Mac OS. Which in my mind, leaves us with the Mac address book. Combined with Spotlight on my Mac and my iPod touch, covers 95% of my requirements. I use SugarCRM for joint applications. Yes, there is a great biz case for all what, 2% of the world's computer users, for a replacement for the Mac address book?

    I guess I have learned to live with those things that I cannot change.

    P.S. Once I took the Zen approach with it, I have found the address book quite robust. Of course, I am a free-form kind of guy that had been using Sherlock for years (the precursor to Spotlight for those non Mac folks tuning in).

  • Couldn't you use Gist for this?

    I agree that AB isn't a great app. It's got APIs and some of the things mentioned below sit on top of it … but actually try and do a bunch of other things as well.

    I don't really "use" Address Book — it's just a local sync point to other sources of data. Most notably, Google Contacts, which syncs acroos to Batchbook (social CRM — sort of like Gist, but more CRM focused than info focused).

    Talking about live connects and so on makes me think BB or Gist could make a desktop client and do really well on the Mac.

    • Indeed – that's where Gist is quickly heading.

  • StartupTrekTV

    Brad, i think the answer for you is about to arrive, from Redmond. Microsoft is close to releasing a new version of Office for the Mac, which will include Outlook; replacing Entourage. Others monitoring this thread may know more specifics about the timing. Here's an article about it on Mashable:

    In the meantime, as others have mentioned, Contacts for GMail just received a major upgrade. I've been using GMail contacts as my central repository for contacts; then sync utilities to keep those contacts in sync with Address Book on the Mac. But I have never liked the OS X contact app, so am looking forward to Outlook on the Mac, too.

    As an interim solution, you could also utilize Microsoft's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) — and use the address book component. It's hosted by Microsoft; not client-side; but if you're used to Outlook on the PC, the hosted Exchange address book would make for a decent interim solution, until MSFT's OS X / Cocoa Outlook client arrives.

  • Thanks Steve – all good suggestions that I'm aware off. We'll see if Outlook for Mac is as good as the expectations are around it. I was underwhelmed by the Gmail Contact upgrade – it's fine – but nothing special. And – I've got no interest in moving Exchange to BPOS – blech.

    • StartupTrekTV

      the question is how good of port MSFT will do, with Outlook. They have been hammering on it for 15 years, so if they bring the whole thing to the Mac it should be the best PIM going. But if they just create another "Entourage"-like PIM, then forgettaboutit…

      BPOS may look like a blech, but it's very successful – MSFT has 40M seats deployed — it's already a half-Billion dollar business for them. $10 per seat for hosted Exchange, SharePoint, Live Meetings, and OCS. Second only to SharePoint as their fastest-growing product. But most SharePoint deployments are in-house, while BPOS is a 100% hosted (SaaS) offering. The press spends all it's time talking about Azure, but MSFT's real traction, to date, with hosted apps is actually happening with BPOS.

      Yep, on the Mac address book – with such a robust developer ecosystem for OS X apps, it's amazing that no one created a decent replacement for "Address Book". You would think that someone like Omni Group, Panic Software (etc) would be all over that.

  • Hi Brad – I happened to catch this article on my 'address book' rss feed. I recently launched an online app called conXt (con-ext), which is my first attempt to solve this address book problem. conXt is a free, private address book that lets you (optionally) connect to other users on the conXt platform in order to share contact info. The idea being that over time your address book will become self-updating. conXt also lets you choose which parts of your contact info to share with whom, so you aren't forced to share your home address with a bunch of people you just met at a conference. Privacy is a big deal to me, so we are very respectful of that concept.

    I'm sure that at this early stage, conXt will not provide all the functionality you are looking for but it does have some early integration with things like skype and links for IM, social networks, etc. Over the next several months, funding allowing, we will be building out conXt in many of the ways that have been mentioned in the comments. If you would like to see it in action I would be happy to give you an overview of it (we're still working on getting support docs/videos in place to make it easier for people to use).



  • I just tried Outlook 2011 on the Mac (Beta 6). It's much better than Entourage, but I'm unimpressed in general as Mac Mail and iCal feel much tighter.

  • StartupTrekTV

    Wow, I did not know that there was a Beta version of Outlook for the Mac available. That is a MAJOR bummer.

    If Outlook for the Mac truly sucks, that is huge news and might even send APPL shares down Monday. There is a built-in expectation that MSFT has finally realized they should get serious with Office Applications on OS X, and that Outlook (plus updated Word/Excel/PPT) will be the proof in the pudding.

    How and why is Outlook for OS X so bad? I will find the download myself, and check it out too. Bummer.

    • I didn't say that it sucks, just that it's not an amazing piece of software. I'd put it in the “good” not “great” category (and they've still got plenty of time between Beta 6 and RC to buff it up). But it wasn't compelling enough at first blush to get me to switch to it.

  • StartupTrekTV

    Looks like Boy Genius came to a similar conclusion about the Outlook component of "Office for Mac 2011":

    In that article there is this link to a 53-screenshot gallery / overview of the new OS X Office package:

    Seems that the entire Beta 6 was leaked on a Torrent, and people are checking it out.

    I'm still optimistic that they'll get Outlook squared away by the time it becomes a real product. In the meantime, i'm downloading the Torrent and will put in some hands-on time with Outlook for Mac Beta 6.

    • StartupTrekTV

      OK, I'm running Microsoft Office for Mac Beta 6 now…. have been using Outlook for the past 45 minutes. This is a BEAUTIFUL implementation of Outlook! What's not to like??

      I'm going to move everything over into Outlook… now I can return to my Outlook-based GTD system… Outlook is the one thing from Microsoft that I've missed. OK, Excel too… Excel in Mac Office 2004 was buggy and limited.

      By the time they release this and I can purchase a production version, should be even better!

      • StartupTrekTV

        OK – after 8 hours with Outlook – beautiful interface; actually nicer than Outlook for Windows. Very useable.

        But three early functional limitations that I see, right away: #1 it cannot create VIEWS, one of the most powerful features of Outlook; and the essence of a PIM – looking at your data from different perspectives. And #2, it cannot (e.g.) "drag and drop" transform emails into todo items; which everyone loved about Outlook a few years ago. Calendar, Task, Email, and Note items should all be "draggable" to other categories, to convert them into different types of PIM objects. Cannot due (yet), in this Beta version. And #3, it does not allow displaying data by "Groups".

        But the interface/GUI is beautiful, it's fast and very usable; those sorts of things could be easily fixed.

        Hopefully Microsoft will not create another dumbed-down version of Outlook – an "Entourage II". This is much slicker than Entourage, but the jury is definitely, still out.

        I was heavy into Outlook for years, had probably a dozen books on it, programmed it in VBA for GTD, used a lot of add-ons, used to hang out at (Sue Mosher, an Outlook MVP's site), and i spent a huge # of hours optimizing Outlook for my GTD setup. So i have a love-hate relationship with Outlook.

        I was a fan of Arabesque Ecco before NetManage bought it, when it was the #1 PIM and Outlook was just an upstart – i came up to Redmond to interview the founders, it was so compelling. The NetManage acquisition killed off the only other truly great Windows PIM, and it took Outlook many years to catch up. There are still several things that Ecco was great at, that Outlook can't touch.

        I hope that Microsoft is truly serious about this new Mac version of Outlook! I can understand where they might not be, since this one app might double the market share for Macintosh computers – or even more.

  • StartupTrekTV

    Here's a related option, Brad — DayLight Productivity Suite for iPhone and Mac. It's an enhanced address book / PIM for the iPhone (and companion Mac applications) that has some CRM functionality:

    I'm about to give it a workout…

  • StartupTrekTV

    agree – Mac Mail and iCal are better apps than their corresponding apps in Outlook for Mac.

    But the Contacts application in Office for Mac 2011, looks to me to be much stronger, than Address Book. It's a cleaner GUI, with a tabbed interface.

    Outlook for Mac 2011, the more I have used it, the more I am disappointed in Microsoft. I have a circle of friends in the UK who are Outlook Gurus. They reached the same conclusion – Microsoft may be about to create an "Entourage II" because they are afraid to bring the full power of Outlook to OS X.

    That's logical… if MSFT builds an Outlook application for OS X that is as good, and as fully-featured as Outlook for Windows (aka Office 2010), then they will likely give up at least 10 points of market share, from WIndows 7 to OS X. So you can see why they are dragging their feet with Office for Mac 2011, and Outlook in particular.

    Despite all that… in my experience, after using it for a few days, the Contacts application within Outlook, kicks AB's tail. And there's no reason not to use JUST the Contacts application within OL. Just launch it, then hide the left sidebar, and never think about Outlook email/notes/etc again… just use OL as a contacts client.

    I still prefer using Evernote, as an AB replacement. Despite it's lack of integration with other apps, the fact that it OCR's everything fed into it, and allows access from any browser/platform, makes it more useful to me.

    I just read through all the comments on this thread… a lot of good thoughts and ideas. I have been seeking "the best PIM" since about 1995, and the frustration continues… both in OS X, and on the Windows platform… the app that everyone uses the most, every day [sigh].

    I interviewed Mitch Kapor about this "PIM quandary" at his HQ"s in SF in 2004… he's been trying to resolve it, with the Chandler project, for at least 5 years… to no avail. Mitch and his partner Jim Manzi invented Lotus Agenda, to address this very problem, before creating Lotus 123. He still considers it his greatest invention, even compared to Lotus 123. But PIMs are tough to commercialize and get through the channels; you have to go up against the biggest players.

  • Brynn Copron

    My biggest problem with Address Book is simply not being able to add family grouped contact information. Does anyone know of some sort of application that can list the individual info, along with the family. For example say I have separate contact information for the Smith family, but I’m want to print labels for all my contacts in a group to send postcards, but I don’t want different labels for Bob & Sally, I just want one for the smith family. Maybe I’m missing it, but I’ve search a lot for anything that can do this but it seems my only option is massive programs that have membership fees & are much bigger than my needs. If anyone has suggestions or insight I’d appreciate it until we see apple amp up their contact management. Thanks!

    • Dave Price

      Brynn — Here's how I solved the family problem using AB. I make a separate card for each member of the family with their own unique info, so John and Mary Smith each get their own cards with their own name, job title, company info, email address, birthdays, etc. But I also create a card with firstname John & Mary and lastname Smith with their common info including home address, home phone, anniversary, children's names, etc. I have a group named Christmas Cards that uses the family AB cards so I can print labels. BTW, one thing I really like about AB is that EVERYTHING gets searched! I have a collection of 3,996 cards… it started with a Sharp Wizard OZ-7000 back in 1988, and I kept migrating the data every time I got a new device (Sony Magic Link, Palm Pilot, Psion, and many others). I struggled through the last 22 years trying to keep these devices in sync with my Macs. I used the original FileMaker, Touchbase (acquired by Aldus), ACIUS 4D (tried to write my own back in the Guy Kawasaki days), ACT (do you remember that ACT was an acronym for Activities-Contacts-Time?), Palm Desktop, Daylite. At work on a Windows system I even tried Lotus Organizer, Ecco, Goldmine, Franklin Planner, and Outlook. I've purchased many syncing sofware products over the years. I was never happy with Apple's iSync so I used Missing Sync from Markspace. I learned to always backup my data before syncing because there so many times when various fields were duplicated with each sync, sometimes causing a dozen instances of the same field. The iPhone changed all that. I have never had a problem syncing Address Book since I purchased my 3G iPhone in December, 2008. Like I said, I love the search capability in Address Book and I like the fact that it's integrated with a lot of products. (But I will try Outlook 2011.)

      • christine

        First it s good to have company. The address book sucks . why?
        there is no way to figure which groups a name belongs to or that it has not been assigned a group,
        the spreadsheet like presentation in outlook is immensely useful to sort and create mailing lists.. seems that it would be a cinch to create the same in Mac ..
        and to top that, you cannot even export the damn thing to excel. and then import back . the import ignores the groups …

        • Anon

          Actually, when you hold down the option key, all the groups that the selected card is in, light up – yello highlight

  • MacMH

    the best PIM was the Palm Desktop – it allowed you to link contacts to calender events to notes, you can 'mark' contacts and create groups from them, you could view in list mode with all the info (not just the name) like a spreadsheet, it auto formatted all the fields including caps at front of names etc. Apple Address Book is just a storage device not a useful PIM – OSX is now in it's 6th version and that they have done nothing to improve Address Book is scandalous!