Monday, August 3, 2009

"Going Google" (Apps) Not All Rainbows and Sunshine


Today Google is pushing their Google Apps service on their blog in an article entitled "Going Google." While I love Google's services and I'm a relatively happy Google Apps customer, this seems like the right time to point out that Google Apps isn't smooth sailing all the way.

First, let me be clear on the benefits. I ran my own mail server for 10 years. I loved the control it gave me, but when Google started offering their Gmail service along with Talk, Calendar, Docs, Site, and a few other services re-branded to your domain as Google Apps, I took note. Spam filtering was an ever-larger time sink and every time my home network had a hicup, I'd have to play sysadmin. Having someone else take that over required that I not have to switch mail clients, but Google was offering IMAP access, so that much was fine... so I switched over and mail was never the same. These days I mostly use the Web interface because it's just so darned nice. Gmail truly is a well designed mail system. However, this isn't exactly Gmail. Sure, it has much the same features, but it's your domain, and Google keeps it strictly separate. For businesses, this is fine. For personal domains it feels kind of wrong.

For example, any Google service not offered through Google Apps is not connected to your Apps account. This means that if you want your friends to follow you through Google Reader or Latitude, you need to use a separate GTalk/Gmail account to add them as friends. This then exposes that email address to them, and at least some of them will start using it as your primary address. That's not strictly horrible, but it's not ideal either.

Other things are less serious, but still grating. Apps has a really lame mailing list management system. Google could fix this tomorrow by adding a subscription feature and archiving lists to a private Google Groups group, but they've not done so for a fairly long time now. Then there's the calendar which looks like Google Calendar, but lacks SMS notification, certainly a key feature of the public version.

Overall, Google Apps is a good service, and I would not give it up. The fact that it's free is a major bonus, but I'd consider maintaining my account even if it wasn't. Check it out but don't expect perfection.