27 May, 2009
From MS Exchange to Google Apps, a breath of fresh air
Recently the company I work for has decided to make the move from an internally hosted Microsoft Exchange solution to a Google Apps hosted answer, and I couldn’t be happier. On a Mac, the Entourage client wasn’t entirely bad. But it did hog memory, disk space and processor and require at least one hard quit each and every day. Other than that it was just fine.
I’ve been a long time fan of GMail, and I have tried a bunch of the other ‘major players’ in the email game over the years: Netscape, Yahoo, .Mac, Hotmail and every silly @provider.com webmail account that they give you with your inet subscription. Those last have all been universally hideous pits where nothing but spam goes to die, BTW. GMail in general kicks them all. Put it together with Firefox and some of the excellent available extensions and you see where web apps can really shine. Enough touchy feely stuff, what I needed to know this week was how Google Apps could replace some of the key features I depended on from Exchange, and here’s what I came up with.
|Organize content||Folders||Labels, a superior alternative to folders in every way|
|Route incoming content||Mail Rules applied to incoming email||Filters to label and archive incoming emails|
|Search||Form style criteria, simple and advanced||Full text natural search and advanced syntax options – nobody beats Google for search|
|Conversations||Replies only||Nested ‘natural’ conversations – really shines for things like Crucible reviews or Wiki commentary|
|Startup time||60 seconds +||Under 10 seconds|
|Tasks||Good support, ‘My Day’ app kind of annoying||Good support, but UI components were more than little ugly and overlaid other view components on initial try|
|Document support||Download attachments to disk||Online edit or view of all common document formats, including ability to share editing live|
|Storage capacity||Regulated by Exchange server(less than a couple of GB is a guess in our particular deployment)||25 GB|
|Offline capability||Never noticed a problem working offline. Then again I’m hardly ever offline.||Gears, works for the majority if not all of Google Apps|
|Personalization||None?||Themes, browser adds-ons(Bless you LifeHacker!), lots of available configurability|
|Messaging||None||Browser based, jabber compatible – which means iChat compatible|
|Audio chat||None||Browser based, seamless and good quality with Macbook Pro built in speaker/mic|
|Webclient||Yes. Abysmal without any effective search capability||First and foremost|
|Thick client||Entourage, other clients available but less effective in my experience||Lots, Mail.app preferred IMO|
|Mobile||Never once had a problem using iPhone with exchange||iPhone Google app covers the spectrum, Mail application integrates pretty seamlessly|
OK, so I didn’t make a huge secret out of it with the blog title where I stand on this faceoff, but having managed to achieve in a few hours what it took me days and lots of Googling(irony intended) to do with Entourage is pretty compelling. I was able to transfer content, establish essentially the same organizational structure, and replace each and every Entourage/Exchange feature I care about with less than two hours of fiddling. Google Labs, Firefox extensions and just the general “hugeness” of the Google community promise me far better access to updates and enhancements than I could ever hope to get (at least for free) from the Microsoft alternative.
I will not say for one minute that Entourage and Exchange did not work for me. They did what they were meant to do, and in a lot of cases(especially on the iPhone) they did it very well. But even in just a pure browser environment, where a lot of the UI “bling” still doesn’t keep pace with a competing desktop application, the general functionality and usability of Google Apps just plain outshines Entourage – and a lot of other email clients as well. Exchange server VS Google for mail – well the one is only as good as the machine you host it on, and is subject to any availability problems that machine might have. Google is pretty much good everywhere, anytime.