Google has installed and managed to make a great service available for free on the net. Google apps as they call it, is a set of the usual collection of applications that they already provided (calendar, mail, contact, docs) and adding a new one called “site” which I haven’t used yet.
These are all combined and made accessible on a common portal that can be used as a collaboration platform to share document, exchange contact information and organize meetings. The best thing is that you can do all that using your own domain name. So that is what I did, and as of today this site is on Google apps and benefits from all those wonderful tools.
Stepping on Exchange’s turf
Google makes it obvious that they are looking to build an alternative to the current main actors on the market when it comes to this collaboration platform, Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes. By providing a central data center that can be used to consult your account on multiple devices, Google is probably hoping to build a first level of consumer that will become accustomed to their services and will either recommend or use it professionally after trying it out.
I have to admit until recently I was using outlook at home to collect all the emails from all the accounts that I have created over the years. It works brilliantly and provides a great way to have all the information in one place available at any time. But, and that is a big one, when it comes to backup solution I have nothing comparable to cloud computing. To retrieving information on my iPhone I already had changed the settings to leave the mails on the server for at least 3 days to be able to consult them when I am on the go.
I had the chance to use exchange in a professional context and I must say it is brilliant to be able to book a meeting on your phone and find it back in whatever calendar application you are using at the time. It prevents you from having to manually sync your device and makes the information available for your co-workers immediately (ever tried to be at two meetings at the same time due to double bookings?)
The free version of Google apps is missing a couple of very interesting features, like the possibility to export all Outlook content on your newly created mailbox or the possibility to benefit from the complete automated synchronisation tools (calendar, contact, mail, notes, …) that is provided by Google.
This premium package also includes 10 gigabytes of mail storage, 99.9% uptime guarantee for email, APIs to integrate with the existing infrastructure of a business (single sign-on, user management, email gateway) and 24/7 phone support.
Clearly directed towards small business the price of 50$ per year is reasonable in a professional context. If you consider that an Exchange server will cost you around 100$ for the license only with no infrastructure or maintenance cost. But for a simple blog, it is clearly not necessary.
I hope there would be some and I was right, but some of them surprised me. I will only describe the main ones that I have witnessed myself and maybe add some more if it comes to it at a latter stage.
First, the contact sync and management is a bit poor, as far as I am concerned Google really missed the common user requirements when it comes to this subject. The fields are all present but the synchronisation with other software is not accurate e.g. the date of birth ending up in note area. However the most annoying one is the name field, for the most critical contact information; Google is only providing one unique field for first, middle and last name.
The information in the “Name” field is interpreted by the application according to a very simple rule: 1 First x Middles (optional) 1 Last. So if a contact name is Charles Herry de Clichy en Loire, Google will consider that “Loire” is the last name and that “Charles” is the First while the rest of the name is considered as Middle. Looking at it on your blackberry or iPhone you will see it filed under “L” (assuming you are sorting your contacts by last name) with a very strange structure Loire Herry, de Clichy en…
Even better, if you have by any chance a program such as Outlook that is using the current structure (sort by Last Name) to send the information to Google, the above contact will be send with a coma between the last and first name i.e. de Clichy en Loire, Charles Henry. This will give you a very weird result once it is entered in the Google apps name field and consulted afterwards:
- Last Name: Henry
- First Name: de
- Middle Name: Clichy en Loire, Charles
Google has been saying that they are looking at this issue since the end of last year but nothing seems to be changing and communication is very slim to absent.
Second, the calendar is synchronizing with other application on single events but not recurring ones. However this is only one way when synchronizing from the application to Google. So if you create a recurring appointment in outlook it will not sync with Google, but if you create it directly in Google, then there is no issue.
At the moment I will be mainly using the mail application, due to those hiccups in the contacts and the calendar but once Google fixes them (and I hope for their sake that they will) I will be doing a full transfer and sleep better at night knowing that even if I fry my hard drive I will still be able to work.