A couple of weeks ago while discussing the release of Google’s Gears browser persistence mechanism, David Berlind took the opportunity to ask James and myself whether the day would arrive when “no IT pro ever gets fired for buying Google?”
My feeling was that while that day might indeed arrive – as it did for IBM decades ago and Microsoft in more recent years – Google would have to be patient, for the simple reason that enterprises don’t turn on a dime. While the value proposition is increasingly compelling, and Google’s attacking the barriers to adoption one by one, it’s not what enterprises have been buying for years, and it’s Software-as-a-Service. For a certain segment of the buying population, one of those would be enough to disqualify it from consideration. Both is a non-starter.
RedMonk, however, is not an enterprise. While we have our organizational shortcomings, a lack of agility when it comes to embracing new technologies usually isn’t one of them. Free to consider any and all available solutions, then, the question is how Google Apps stacks up as a potential solution for our needs. The answer is very well now, and better every day.
Reasons to Migrate to Google Apps
Everyone knows by now that Google has a Calendar offering, and that it’s predictably sleek and sophisticated. It’s not going to differentiate itself for its use of Ajax; that’s simply table stakes. What it does do, however, is leverage one of the least heralded but simplest and most ubiquitous technologies today: SMS. Why most collaboration providers have ignored this mechanism, which just about everyone has access to – unlike Crackberries or Smartphones – is beyond me. But to their credit, Google hasn’t. You can receive notifications of meetings, or create them, or retrieve your calendar for the next day. A small thing, perhaps, but highly useful. Not an SMS person? Don’t sweat it, it’s available via the mobile web as well. As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time traveling or at conferences, Google Calendar’s the best scheduling option I’ve seen yet.
Compared to a few of the other providers in the field, Google’s got something of an unfair advantage in the community department, because they’re…well…Google. Searching Firefox’s Add-ons page for Google, I return 20 pages of results. Granted, many of them are for plugins that are either useless or trivial, but there are those like Gmail Manager – one that I use currently – that can be productivity enhancements. A query for Google Calendar alone returns 2 pages of plugins.
I’d switch for this alone, and am more than happy to pay the premium for Premier Edition to get it. As many an AR or PR representative has heard from me, scheduling meetings is the bane of my existence. As I wrote in 2005 (and it’s little changed):
The situation with scheduling is pretty much ridiculous. It’s 2005, and I can get satellite images of virtually any location in the world with a browser, but to schedule an appointment I have to exchange 3 to 5 emails, then manually create calendar entries. Nor can I get reminders of that appointment via the mobile phone infrastructure that’s been mainstream for what, a decade? This makes sense, how?
Fortunately, Google’s tackled this one as well, with available Free/Busy scheduling. Shortly, I hope to have available a more sophisticated solution, but as an interim measure having my free/busy availability would dramatically shortcut the time it takes to schedule meetings, which is one of the more significant drains on my personal productivity. Given an inbound meeting request, rather than a.) lookup some available times, b.) paste them into an email and send it, and c.) await a response, I’d simply be able to forward a link saying: this is my schedule – pick something open.
This one’s selfish, I admit, as neither of my colleagues are Linux users, but as an Ubuntu user I’d like to have some support for my platform from a client side perspective. Zimbra gets points here for making their Derby based offline solution available for Linux, and the fact is that Google does not do a whole lot in the way of client side development, but still, things like this make Linux users like me happy. And supposedly there are more on the way.
One of the barriers to entry with respect to Google Apps originally was the migration story. Or, more accurately, the lack of one. Cutting over from Zimbra, despite the ready availability of our data there in open formats, would be non-trivial. Fortunately, in the latest update, Google Apps now has a tool that will import from IMAP accounts. Which we have. Calendar and Contacts, as well, are readily available via Zimbra’s REST interface, so migration shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.
Nearly every collaboration vendor you speak with will brag about their mobility story. Unfortunately, once you dig under the covers a bit, their mobility story is usually restricted to a certain class of mobile devices – the aforementioned Crackberries (which none of us @ RedMonk have) and Smartphones. Google’s apps, however, are available to pretty much any device. Have J2ME? Great, they have a terrific email client for you. Just web access? Mail and calendar are readily available and more or less usable even on phone browsers. Neither? There’s always SMS.
- Open Standards:
One of the things I find most compelling about the Google Apps offerings is the adherence to established formats and standards. While I might prefer IMAP to POP, at least POP is a standard. As is iCal. And XMPP. And ODF. And so on. Google’s done a very credible job of building an infrastructure that offers me what Simon Phipps might term “the Freedom to Leave.”
- Service and Support:
One of the original reasons Google was disqualified when we moved off Exchange was the lack of paid, supported versions of the products. Obviously that has changed. While it remains to be seen how well Google’s support is delivered over time, my expectations for service support are so low at this point I don’t think that Google could do much worse.
Google’s spam filters are not perfect – and when they let bad mail through, they seem to let a lot of it through – but they’re better than anything else I’ve used. I know a number of people, in fact, that have created Gmail accounts simply to filter their mail through. This feature is of particular interest to me, since one of the spam filters I’ve been forced to implement on Zimbra to handle spam is incorrectly handling incoming email with attachments over a certain size, routing them to the trash.
- URI Mapping:
This one I wasn’t even aware of until Cote mentioned it today, but apparently with some fancy URI mapping we’d be able to share documents with each other – and clients – at a simple docs.redmonk.com address as opposed to some Google.com address with a unique identifier. A small thing, to be sure, but one that would be welcome and potentially beneficial for us and our clients; I hate having to hunt down the address for our Google Docs space.
This one’s speculative, but if TechCrunch is right and Google has indeed acquired GrandCentral – a service I use now and am quite pleased with – the integration could be very compelling. Sharing voicemails as easily as documents? Transparent redirection to my colleagues lines or voicemail? The possibilities are intriguing.
All of that said, there are legitimate objections to using Google Apps.
Reasons Not to Migrate to Google Apps
I’ve heard varying accounts here and there of Google Apps downtime, specifically the mail components, and it’s a concern, of course. But a.) every email provider I’ve ever had has had downtime, and b.) it’s similar to the 5 9’s question. If I needed email to be up for 5 9’s, I’m sure it could be arranged, but the cost simply isn’t worth it. Email downtime might even be a welcome development at this point.
Tactically, this is a weak spot, although over the longer term Gears will presumably have some impact. Email, of course, can be archived to a local client fairly easily via POP. If you have a local iCal client, you can probably get access to your calendar as well. But apart from that, the offline story for Docs and Spreadsheet is largely manual. Not a showstopper for our usage, I don’t think, but worth mentioning.
The ability to migrate from IMAP accounts is welcome, as mentioned above, but the inability to provide that on an ongoing basis is inconvenient. The justification I’ve heard in the past is that IMAP maps poorly to Gmail’s notion of how email should be handled, and that might be true, but the fact is that it’s a more robust protocol than POP. Currently, I subscribe to a number of listservs that are automatically routed into IMAP folders; I’ll have to set up some sort of auto-archiving rules so that these don’t flood my Inbox.
This is the big one for many people, very likely including one of us internally. Google’s machines will be crawling your information, make no mistake about it, and ultimately what it will come down to is whether or not you care. As someone who’s always thought VPNs were overkill for email for those of us not negotiating $50M deals (read: most of us), I can’t say that I’m terribly concerned that a person from Google is going to read my email – let alone take action on it. If anything, I think the risk of this behavior is higher at the types of smaller hosting providers we’ve frequented in the past and reside on now. But YMMV, as always.
What Do Others Who’ve Migrated Think of Google Apps?
I’m sold. I’ve been in favor of a migration for some time now, and the addition of migration assistance features only seals the deal. As far as I’m concerned, then, there’s just one question left to answer: will I be fired for buying Google Apps? Tune in Friday to find out (we have a staff meeting in the morning).