24 May 2011

Musings on Google Apps

Some months ago, my employer switched from the seemingly ubiquitous Microsoft Exchange server to the trendy "cloud" services of Google Apps. After many years of MS Outlook daily dependence, legions of employees, myself included, loathed the switch to Gmail and Google Calendar for work. It naturally took some getting used to the different user interfaces.

The benefits of Google hosting our corporate email and calendar are pretty obvious. I like being able to easily check my work emails from my mobile iOS devices and my Mac at home without relying on a cumbersome VPN login process via my heavy work laptop. Haven't really scratched the surface yet of Google Docs and Google Sites. Having a work specific Google Voice account is a nice option.

The search function within Gmail seems to be pretty powerful with relevant results.

The real trade-off seems to be in some system performance and reliability issues.

Probably the most frequent issue is an occasional server lag of a few seconds when switching between the Inbox and, for example, a page of email search results. Had I been switching between folders within Outlook, I wouldn't have experienced any lag.

While the Gmail server seems to be up nearly all the time, the servers that provide the Calendar and Contacts seem to be down every once in a while. When they are down while trying to get something done with them, that can be frustrating.

The browser cookies for Google Apps are sometimes flaky, resulting in random session timeouts.

I do miss some of the email functions of Outlook that simply aren't available in Gmail:
- color coded categories
- forwarding messages en masse
- inline images and tables
- scheduling emails for future delivery
- indicating high or low priority to a message
- integration with a full fledged tasks management tool

Overall, I agree that the switch to Google Apps has been a good thing for the company. But I never expected to say that I actually miss some bits and pieces of Microsoft Outlook.