Google Apps: Good for Consumers and Business

In February 2007 Google launched Google Apps, its email-cum-PIM-cum-IM-etc. system.

This is an attractive consumer offering. What's more, businesses of all sizes should seriously consider Google Apps as an alternative to their existing service.

The offering is new, and will improve substantially over the coming years. Right now, the main disadvantages we see are:

  • Offline email support is only available via POP, which will be inconvenient for many users. Google's working on browser-based offline support -- see Google Gears.
  • There's no IMAP support, just POP. So you can't use a rich client like Outlook and have a server-based hierarchical folder system. You could import IMAP folders and convert them to labels, but there's no regular synching mechanism.
  • There's mobile support for RIM and most J2ME (Java) MIDP2 devices, which is good. Other mobile devices have to use a microbrowser for access to the main client -- an uncomfortable experience given the small screens.
  • There are limited archiving/e-discovery/regulations compliance capabilities. A basic capability is available through the recently acquired Postini.
  • Google IM is based on XMPP/Jabber. This means you're outside today's major IM communities, which tend to be closed, such as AIM, Yahoo, and MSN. Nevertheless, the XMPP/Jabber-based approach is good, and presumably external connectivity will improve over time. There are also various third-party ways to patch together external connectivity; e.g., Numbuzz and Eqo.
  • There are no shared folders. For example, staff can't access a shared library of files for each client. Google does, however, have content-specific shared storage with shared editing and changed tracking in Google Docs and Spreadsheets for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can share images in Picasa Online.
  • Some people dislike being forced to cluster threaded emails together. However, the threading does a good job of hiding previous email text that you don't need to see.
  • A general point about hosted email: Email holds crucial corporate data. Many organizations prefer to have this on a server they own and control.
  • If you're tightly integrating internal e-commerce applications with your email systems, you'll probably need higher levels of control than a hosted system currently supplies.

In principle, it makes enormous sense for organizations of all sizes to look seriously at outsourcing their email services. It saves a lot of money, plus frees up IT staff for more valuable tasks. It's great to see a plausible alternative to Exchange, Notes/Domino, and GroupWise.

... David Ferris

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