I’ve been testing Google Apps Premier Edition for the last month and this note details my likes and dislikes about the service offering. Overall, while I think Google Apps holds promise, its smartphone support is lacking and might not be the best choice for all companies.
- Multiple calendars – while at first I thought the lack of category capability was a bit of a pain, I’ve started to warm up to the concept of multiple calendars for tracking different types of appointments/events. The best part about the multiple calendars is that you can view them all on the same calendar view. Different calendars are represented by different colours on the same view.
- Interesting calendars (sports teams, holidays, etc) – as part of my experimentation with multiple calendars, I noticed that there are numerous public interesting calendars available that can be easily integrated into Google Calendars. Once you’ve subscribed to them, adding them to your calendar view is as easy as clicking a checkbox.
- Easy to setup – the Google Apps Setup Guide is detailed and easy to follow.
- Integration of your domain name – you can set it up with webmail.yourdomain.com, docs.yourdomain.com, calendar.yourdomain.com, etc.
- Conversation views in Gmail – I’ve used a lot of web-based email programs over the years, and while it is not as sophisticated as Outlook Web Access, it is very intuitive, easy to use and I actually enjoy using it more than Outlook Web Access.
- Gadgets that support Google Apps – there is a lot of third-party interest in Google and some of the innovations are fun and productive. Vista and Windows 7 Gadgets are loaded with Google Gadgets, even though most of them don’t support Google Apps. One of my favourites that does support Apps is the Google Calendar Agenda.
- Additional third-party apps that integrate with Google Apps. Products such as Manymoon and Solve360 extend the power of Google Apps to address some of its shortcomings such as task integration.
- The price is right (free!) for the Standard and Education Editions – unless you absolutely need some of the features available only with the Premier Edition, the Standard Edition is an easy decision.
- Google Docs is very impressive. Google brings the power of their content engine to spreadsheets, documents and presentations. It certainly gives Microsoft a run for their money.
- Google Labs – demonstrates how Google is constantly innovating and adding features. You can add Google Labs features to your GMail and Google Calendar views as well as use other Google Labs products as stand-alone applications.
- Privacy concerns – ’nuff said.
- Nothing seems “finished”. Once you begin using the products, you find that many features are perpetually in beta or not properly completed. Calendar, Docs and Gmail (three of the cornerstone applications among dozens of other smaller apps) feel like completely separate products as opposed to part of a suite. At best they feel like they are held together with twine and duct tape. Task integration feels like an afterthought and is very rudimentary.
- Some of the currently unresolved problems with Google Apps include:
- Task integration – you can’t forward or assign tasks
- Public calendar integration with gadgets, etc
- Google Apps Sync doesn’t seem to be complete
- Synchronization issues:
- Tasks don’t synchronize with Outlook or mobile devices
- Multiple calendars don’t synchronize – this is necessary, since the only workaround to the lack of categories is separate calendars
- Blackberry Connector calendar synchronization is one-way only (from Google to the Blackberry). This is very weak for an enterprise application.
- Windows Mobile integration – you can’t search the Gmail server from within Windows Mobile Outlook. This is a show-stopper. I can’t keep 3 GB worth of mail on my phone. The only way to search old emails on my phone is to use the painful full browser version of Gmail since there isn’t a mobile browser version or a Gmail application for Windows Mobile.
- Many functions that work with Gmail don’t work with Google Apps. e.g. Google Buzz.
- The pricing for Google Apps Premier Edition is annoying. If you have only one or two users (out of dozens) that need full Outlook/smartphone integration only available with the Premier Edition, you have to convert your entire domain over to the Premier Edition and pay $50 per user even for those who don’t need it. Other solutions, such as hosted Exchange, are much more granular in their features/pricing that could make a more complete product less expensive.
In summary, even though I see a huge potential for Google Apps in the near future, integration with my Windows Mobile phone is too important to give up. After working with it for a month, I found that I missed the stability of the Exchange integration and the ability to search the server. Moving back to Exchange seemed like a much more natural fit.
When it does come time to upgrade my smartphone, I’ll re-consider Google Apps and it might just be ready for prime-time. Until then, if you don’t need Windows Mobile smartphone integration or if you’ve already got an Android phone, Google Apps might be worth considering.
Update 3-25-2010: It appears that two-way BlackBerry sync might now be available.