December 20, 2007 – 12:56 pm EST was the last time in 2007 I used Microsoft Outlook, Exchange or any Microsoft Office application. For the next month I’ll forgo them, instead using only the free online suite of Google Apps – and sharing my experiences. The good (new features discovered), the bad (features I’ve given up) and the ugly (resulting chaos). Want to play along at home or in your office? Share your experiences in the comments section.
In my opinion, Google Apps is a rough around the edges entry level program which just may knock Microsoft and their Office dynasty for a loop. And I’m not the only one thinking this way. Consider what Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider had to say in his article “Microsoft in Denial: Google Threat is Classic Disruption“
In part, Henry Blodget writes in a December 16, 2007 article titled “Microsoft in Denial: Google Threat is Classic Disruption“:
To understand why Google is such a threat to Microsoft–and why Microsoft’s pooh-poohing of this threat is, at best, a smokescreen–you need to understand how technology disruption works.
Disruptive technologies do not destroy existing market leaders overnight. They do not get adopted by the entire market at the same time. They do not initially seem to be “better” products (in fact, in the early going, they are often distinctly “worse.”) They are not initially a viable option for mainstream users. They do not win head-to-head feature tests. Initially, they do not even seem to be a threat.
For someone who processes words for a living, Microsoft’s software would seem to be an indispensable tool. But when one of the least expensive versions of Office costs $150, or 25 percent of the price of my new notebook, I needed an alternative.
Google let me slip Microsoft’s monopoly. Its Google Docs is a free suite of office applications. You can find it at docs.google.com. It works just like Office, but you use it online. The software that makes it work isn’t on your computer, but on one of Google’s.
Interested in trying this along with me? For the next 30 days, you cannot use any of the products included in Microsoft Office. That means no: Microsoft Outlook, Excel, Word, Powerpoint. For some of you that won’t be a problem. Others will find it a challenge.
I’ve made some exceptions to the rule of “only Google Apps”. I’ve retained my Blackberry 8320 which is connected via Blackberry Enterprise Server to my outsourced Microsoft Exchange host. So in effect I do have one remaining tie to Microsoft’s application stack. There are ways to connect my Blackberry directly to GMail. For the purposes of my testing I’m going to maintain the Blackberry Enterprise server as my “lifeline”.
Also, it’s ok to use Microsoft Office. However any use must be documented in this review (comments section) – explaining exactly why the Microsoft application had to be used instead of Google applications. Already once yesterday I loaded Microsoft Excel because a client sent a spreadsheet with an embedded screen image – something that Google Documents won’t display in their spreadsheet.
As the month progresses I’ll keep an updated list of the Google Apps features that are missing (or awkward to use) – as well as those that I’ve fallen in love with. At the end of the month we’ll try to answer the question – just how easy is it to give up Microsoft Office?
Google Apps VS Microsoft Office
Definition of Google Apps:
Any of the programs that available when you sign into your Google account:
Gmail, Calendar, Documents, Photos, Groups, Reader, etc.
New Google Apps Features Found
- Cost: Google Apps are free for up to 5 GB of space. If I want to use them for everyone in my company, I’d pay $ 50 per person per year. This is in contrast to my monthly outsourced Exchange Hosting which is approximately $ 60/mo (5 mailboxes) including Blackberry Enterprise Server hosting.
- Gmail – One of the things I’m excited about is email. I live inside of email. Gmail lets me easily integrate my geardiary email and my company email. What I’m hoping will happen is I can eliminate all the hard drive thrashing that happens when I need to search for older messages. Since Google maintains all your information on their servers, I can access my email from anywhere (which for full disclosure purposes I was already doing by virtue of my outsourced MS Exchange host). Primarily I’m looking forward to easier searches of emails. Already I like that with Gmail I do not have to file emails (a task that took me about an hour every day). Instead of using folders, Google provides an easy way to search your entire email inbox. Nagging issue – privacy. I’m not sold that I like having my life stored off-line. Not that it’s particularly interesting, it’s just something I’m not sure that I’ll be totally comfortable with.
- Gmail Filters – I’ve set up a dozen filters to color code email that arrive. I have one color to tell me that an email is urgent and requires a response. Another color flags me to routine chit chat between consultant friends of mine. Very cool and helpful.
- Gmail groups are snap to setup. Today I setup a group of my clients who are payroll users. This will make it easier for me to email the group. I know I could do this in Outlook but I never did it because the process was slightly cumbersome on my Exchange setup – and the feeble attempts I made to create groups didn’t work out well.
Missing Google Apps Features
- Gmail is collecting my email from both my corporate account and geardiary via POP. There is no other option that I’ve seen to connect my email. The problem is that the frequency with which you poll for email cannot be controlled from your main screen. If you want to tell Gmail to check your POP email immediatly, you must go into setup and tell the system to poll. There is no way to change the polling frequency. At a minimum the should be a button on the outer menus to initiate polling for one or more of your POP email accounts.
- Google spreadsheets becomes the first application to have a big missing feature. A client sends me a spreadsheet with a screen capture embedded. Google spreadsheet opens this without a problem (and quickly too) – however the image is missing. I have to resort to Microsoft Excel to view the image (or tell my client that they cannot use their computer for 30 days until my testing is over). I enjoy eating and my kid enjoy having hats and mittens for the winter — so I decide to use Microsoft Excel in the interest of continuing to earn a living.
- Gmail won’t let me sort my mail by size. This is handy when you want to know which emails are taking up the most space (typically those with attachments). I’ve looked around and find lot’s of Firefox add-ins. Soon I think I’ll be downloading one or two of them.
- Gmail doesn’t contain any option where I can tell it not to include the original message when I reply. This may be a candidate for another Firefox add-in.
- Google Sync is working well on my calendar. I’m realizing though that for Google to be a replacement for Microsoft Exchange, it must additionally sync contacts. Without this feature I am nearly sure I would not be happy with the Blackberry portion.
- Google Docs lacks any ability to add headers or footers to pages. Searching the online help doesn’t even bring up a “sorry but you can’t do that”.
Not Quite A Missing Feature – Just annoying
- If I’m in Gmail and want to open up documents – Google pops a new window open. As I use more of the Google Apps – each of them open in their own window. For now it’s cluttering my screens and annoying. Perhaps as I grow used to using them it will become apparent why Google behaves in this way.
- 12/24/2007: This morning I read about numerous people being locked out unexpectedly from their GMAIL. If this is true, my hopes of adopting Gmail as a primary email provider are officially dashed. I live inside email, and having no access to my account would be tantamount to a going out of business sale. The initial lockout complaints seemed to originate in April 2007. I’m now reading the Gmail help group and noticing people reporting more lockouts today (12/24). I have no way to know whether the people complaining are Nigerian spammers or simply innocents caught up in a glitch. I’m making a mental note to check the Gmail “uptime guarantee” . I seem to recall seeing that the $50/year paid version guaranteed support and uptime.
- Google Docs -It’s December 27, 2007 and I’m tackling my first Google Docs project (I told you I’m a light user). What I want to do is make a simple table with three columns. I am able to make just that – a simple table. Once I try to do anything more to the table I’m dead in the water. I decide to change the width of one column. No can do. Or at least “me no can do”. Every menu option that looks like it will help either doesn’t work or doesn’t work. There is no drag and drop column resize. Big show stopper to me. I change the column from fixed width to size to content and it just sits there staring back at me unchanged.
Features In Google Apps That Aren’t Missing – Just Annoying or Different
- Gmail is fetching my geardiary and s-consult emails perfectly (although about 4 to 6 minutes slower than Outlook would) – unfortunately as my email is fetched, it’s marking the messages as read so that when they’re forwarded to my Blackberry they appear as if they’ve already been opened. I can already see that if I were to adopt Google Apps, that I’d have to transfer my domain to Google and integrate my email totally.
- Gmail has a quirk with contacts. The general rule is (Source: Google Operating System) (a) anyone you reply to is automatically added as a contact, and (b) if you reply more than 2 or 3 times the contact is added to your Google Talk.
- Gmail: I sporadically am having problems with Gmail not recognizing all my contacts. Usually when I start an email when I type the addressee, it pre-fills with their email address which it pulls from my contact list. On some occasions Gmail doesn’t seem to recognize my contact list unless I close my browser and start it again.
Potential (or true) Showstoppers
- Mobile Sync - There’s only a partial sync (as of 12/25/07) available for syncing the Google Calendar to Blackberry. This has worked great in my testing. What’s missing is the ability to sync another other smartphone (such as my Sprint Mogul). Also missing is any sync for contacts, tasks and notes. This makes me wonder whether it will be possible to replace my Microsoft Exchange/Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) with Google Mail and just my Blackberry (w/o BES) .
- GMAIL offers lookups for Google contacts. But there is no way to ADD a new contact. BOO. And the Google contacts (as noted above) will not sync to my Blackberry (or any other smartphone that I’m aware of).
- Customer Service: Several people have chatted informally online about their . This scares me senseless. Quite a few people are posting about not being able to get in touch with anyone at Google to speak about this. I’m not sure whether these people are spammers hoping to have an account re-activated or really are innocent users. More than a few seem to be innocent users. I am unsure whether the paid version of Gmail would protect me from such account problems.
- Security: While browsing the web I about how his Gmail account was compromised. In essence there within Gmail which would allow a aweb site to create filters to forward your Gmail outside your account – without your knowledge. He has this documented very well here. As I read I learn that these exploits have since been fixed. It still is scary to read about how easily someone manipulated his account.