I started experimenting with Google Apps for a story I wrote about a month ago. For those who have never used Google Apps – think of it as Google’s version of Microsoft Office – only there is no software to load because everything runs in your web browser.
Here are my summarized first impressions after a solid month of use. If I’m off base, take me to school in the comments.
After I started testing Gmail about a month ago – I found that I never went back to (or remotely misssed) my old Microsoft Exchange inbox except to look up historical emails (which I’ll soon transfer into Gmail).
Google apps also includes a spreadsheet, word processor and RSS reader (awesome and free and great for reading either online or via your phone). There’s a bunch of other apps that are accessible. The one that I used the most was email – so my feedback is primarily about Gmail (which I think is the most heavily used as well).
Google offers a service called Google Apps for Domains (Here’s a link to a cool training video that tells you more about the service).
What Google Apps for Domains does is host your email using your domain (ie. companyname.com ). You don’t have to transfer your web site to use this service – all you do is point your email server over to Google. The cost is $50 per year per user for 25 GB of space (which generally goes up while the price remains the same). It includes email, word processing, spreadsheet, calendaring and more. After testing Google Mail for a solid month I took the leap and everything seems to be working out very well.
I use a Blackberry 8320 from T-Mobile (a great combination because it can use WIFI to carry voice/data calls — and with the right plan from T-Mobile your voice calls are unlimited so long as you are within WIFI range) and this was my biggest area of concern. I need reliable email delivery to my wireless. Not to fear, the Blackberry WILL deliver push email via GMAIL and you don’t need to sign up for the more expensive corporate type email (BES) from T-Mobile — a simple and cheaper BIS (Blackberry Internet Service) will do. Not all email sources will push automatically to the Blackberry — so the ability of GMAIL to do so is a big plus.
For those of you who may be considering email options — take a long look at Google. I happen to think (and I’m still being roundly ridiculed and heckled by all my techie friends for this) that Google Apps (within the next three years) will be a Microsoft Office killer.
Believe me, I realize it’s not there yet but I believe ultimately most users will abandon their desire to maintain desktop apps in favor of cheaper and easier off-site solutions.
Summarized Pros and Cons of Google Apps for Domain:
- Inbox indexing without that extremely annoying third party software (whether its Google Desktop or X1) grinding (and grinding and grinding) away at your hard drive – as your inbox grows this annoying indexing gets worse and slows nearly everything on your desktop and causes Outlook to freeze or stall. Good riddance.
- Calendar and Email sync beautifully to the Blackberry — you need to download free software from Google to sync your calendar (http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/topic.py?topic=13640) – when you setup your email to sync via Blackberry BIS (I use T-Mobile) it may take a day or two for your email records to become well known on the Internet – once they do you get instant Blackberry email with no difference in delivery speed from the more expensive BES option.
- One of the best Spam filters available – there’s no third party solution to log into or add to your desktop – all spam filtering happens in Google
- Easily integrate other email accounts into your inbox – yes Outlook lets you do this too – but I don’t think it’s available via their web access (Outlook Web Access – aka OWA).
- Instant access and searching to all your past emails – from any Internet computer – (Yes, Exchange lets you log in remotely via OWA but I was NEVER able to search ALL past emails – typically only a very small subset
- Massive increased storage – I was paying $ 55/mo for 3 email boxes from an outsourced MS Exchange provider — and they only gave 500mb TOTAL for all my boxes – with the Google Apps for Domains – every paid mail user has 25 GB (the free version offers over 6 GB)
- Calendar sharing – this is simple – unlike the Exchange calendar that I never got working correctly – and the support techs who I asked for help seemed as bewildered about how to set it up as I was
- Easy email group setup – I have created a group for my MAS90 payroll clients, a group for my biggest client (where everyone insists on a cc:) and my next group is going to be all my accounting software support subscribers – it’s just a little easier (fewer steps) on Google
- NO FILING of any incoming emails! – This is a bit of a change – I was used to standing around and filing all my emails into a myriad of folders via my Blackberry — I don’t do this anymore. If I need an email I search for it – for frequent emailers I create labels and have them automatically attached to an email (you can then use the labels as a quick search – sort of the same thing as folders)
- Integrated IM via Gtalk messaging – I’m not a big IM fan – but I think we’ll start to use this in my office.
- Auto add of contacts that you reply or write to (for some reason Microsoft took this out of Outlook 2003 which is the version I kicked to the curb) – yeah there are third party add-ins to bring this type of functionality to Outlook but then that’s another piece of software to hang off (and slow down) Outlook. Blech. I want it all integrated. Gmail does it all natively.
- Great mobile phone client — you can access from virtually any mobile phone – search your entire mailbox using your phone if you have the patience to tap out the search terms.
- Everything you print from Google Apps (word processor or spreadsheet) first gets output to PDF (which you can save or email or print)
What’s Not So Good:
- Gmail via the Google Apps for Domains is not exactly the same as the free Gmail – meaning some features are different or missing (and there’s no real definitive list) – one thing I found is that some third party programs that work with the free Gmail balked when I tried to use them with the Google Apps for Domains email. It’s tricky to get a handle on exactly what’s different. Many times you’ll hear people talking about Google Apps (the free version) and you assume that the feature they’re talking about is included in the paid version – which is not always the case.
- No contact sync to Blackberry (or anywhere else) – I’m hoping that this is coming in 2008 (this is the biggest missing feature for Blackberry and other mobile users)
- Calendar sync is only available for Blackberry users
- Missing the Google Reader (RSS feed reader) – to use Reader you need another Google account
- No task (to do) integration — I’ve started using rememberthemilk.com which is lots better than what I had in Exchange – but it’s still another outside app to use. (Note: Our good friends at jkOnTheRun have an article that talks about the Firefox Extension which will integrate RememberTheMilk into Gmail so long as you are accessing it via the Firefox web browser. Worth noting that this extension works equally well on the Mac)
- Lack of third party software to integrate to Gmail – using the Firefox Extention- BetterGmail2 – you can have your mailto: links automatically use Gmail.
- Gmail won’t allow you to paste images into emails — at first I thought this was somewhat of a show stopper – then I started to miss it less and less — still this has become one of the features I keep needing to work around since pasting screen shots into your email has become a standard way of communicating with support departments
- Privacy and security concerns – I was using an outsourced Microsoft Exchange provider (exchangemymail.com) – so the privacy and security is not as big a deal to me as to someone who may be hosting their email internally.
- Obvious issue of needing an internet connection to access your inbox and contacts
- Lack of third party integration to contacts (apparently this is all done via programming interfaces and Google hasn’t yet released one for the contacts — making me wonder if maybe they have a mini-crm coming?)
- All the macros and integration software you use with Microsoft Office – won’t work with Google Apps for Domains
- At this point my biggest missing feature is the lack of ability to synchronize contacts. Oddly it doesn’t seem that Google has released an API to enable contact synchronization. My best guess is maybe they are working at beefing up the contacts area (maybe CRM — Customer Relationship Management ability ala Salesforce.com?).
Check out Google Apps for Domains and let me know your thoughts If I uncover any serious downfalls, I’ll come back and update my initial thoughts.