Google Apps: is your organization ready to Go Google?
Google Apps is Google’s set of messaging and collaborative tools for groups and businesses. It is basically a customizable version of Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Sites and Google Docs for your own domain name. That means you can start enjoying all the benefits of Gmail (conversation threads, huge storage, great anti-spam, integrated Gtalk, etc…) with a personalized email address like <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Whereas the standard edition is free for up to 50 users, Google Apps also comes in a Premier Edition should you require Google Groups, Google Videos, more users and storage, as well as support and SLA. Check this page to compare both editions. It actually even comes in two more versions specially packaged for Educational and Government use.
I personally use the free standard edition as the emailing and collaboration platform of my mobile applications company (Bitsmedia Pte Ltd) and, despite a few frustrations, I simply love it. Make sure to read more to find out if Google Apps is the perfect tool for your organization.
Why I picked Google Apps
- Gmail: in my very humble opinion, I truly believe Gmail is a breakthrough of efficiency when it comes to handling tons of email messages a day. Conversation threads, built-in search, reliable webmail and full imap compatibility if you prefer to use your own native client, realtime push on all major mobile platforms (iPhone, Blackberry and of course Android), Gtalk and XMPP (think Jabber), Huge storage, great antispam, … all these features not only leave very little left to platforms such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes, they actually make Gmail (with a personalized domain of course) the perfect platform to handle emails in a professional environment.
- Google Calendar: there again, whether you prefer to view and edit your weekly planning on a web page or in the native calendar app of your computer (think iCal for Mac), Google Calendar is good for you: multiple calendars (to separate the weekly judo classes of your 5-yr old from your company board meetings), great compatibility in sharing events and handling invitations sent from other platforms such as Outlook and Microsoft Exchange.
- Google Docs: with its latest feature upgrade which now lets you upload any type of files, Google Docs is an easy and seamless way to share documents online and get your team to truly start collaborating. Forget the multiple versions of a single document accumulating in your inbox and make sure that everyone actually works off the latest budget spreadsheet that you’re supposed to present to your board tomorrow I personally still use Microsoft Office (or Keynote for presentations) to edit documents locally on my computer and then upload on Google Docs those few files which are meant to be shared. You could however very well decide to limit yourself to the sole Google Docs for all your word processing, spreadsheets (I find that presentations are still too far behind Microsoft Powerpoint or Apple Keynote).
- Universal Access: web, mobile or native applications on your PC and Mac. All your Google Apps information seats on the cloud and becomes available anywhere, anyhow. It just works.
- Easy Administration: if you have ever used Microsoft Exchange or similar products before, you certainly know that you do need an IT guy (at least one, call him a support technician or network administrator as you wish) to properly configure and maintain such tools. And don’t forget offsite backups if your entire business depends on those thousands of email messages that have been accumulating on your server. Well, Google Apps not only allows you to forget about the backups (Google does it for you, in their very own way) but they also provide you with a very intuitive administration console to easily create new accounts and set the all thing up. No IT guy needed! Or get the IT guy work on something more productive And if you are the IT guy of your own company (I am), don’t waste your time setting up messaging servers.
- Cost: I picked the free standard edition and for a young tiny startup company like mine, every single dollar counts. In just a few minutes and at zero cost, the company was all set with a full-feature emailing, shared calendar and collaboration platform.
Despite being a great platform, Google Apps still has a few caveats that can sometime lead to frustrations:
- Once you’re all set with Google Apps, your <email@example.com> email address becomes your Google Account. And you use it as a single sign-on to all Google services. Well, not quite actually. Your Google Apps account allows you to login into services which are made available to the Google Apps platform: gmail, calendar, sites, groups, and few others. But if you also wish to use Google Reader, Google Finance, Picasa or the latest Google Buzz for example, you’ll need another regular Google account. And if you wish to share a picture via email on Picasa (or a news article from Google Reader), well the address book that Picasa and Reader will have access to is independent from your Google Apps address book. That gets very frustrating if you really want to use the entire suite of Google products and I hope Google will address this issue soon enough.
- A work around to the above caveat is to set your second Google Account with the same email address and password as your Google Apps account. That allows you to only remember one set of credentials but that will unfortunately not address the fact that they are still two un-syncrhonized accounts.
- Blackberry: Accessing your email, contacts and calendars from an iPhone or an Android mobile device works perfectly with Google Apps. Blackberry phones will be good enough for your calendar (install Google Sync from m.google.com/sync and you’re all set). When it comes to email, things are not as simple as they should be. You can either decide to use the Gmail app for Blackberry (m.google.com/mail) or the advanced Gmail plugin for BIS. The first is a separate application, not really integrated with Blackberry messaging tools and which does not offer realtime push mail. It actually has a default refresh rate of 20 minutes (very long) and you’ll need some technical knowledge to reduce those 20 minutes (read this). The second solution (just set your gmail address on your BIS web page) will give you the full Blackberry experience (push mail, integrated menus and contacts, etc…) but will not reconciliate deleted and read items from Gmail to your Blackberry. Very annoying as far as I am concerned although the next release of BIS (3.0 rumoured to be launched this month) is supposed to address this.
Whether you opt for the free standard edition or the Premier Edition (USD 50 per user per year), you should truly consider Google Apps as an alternative to traditional communication suites such as Microsoft Exchange. Peace of mind (no backup, no administration, etc…), productivity (great emailing and collaborative tools) as well as cost savings should certainly convince a few of you to Go Google