More than a year ago, I decided to switch my personal email account from Gmail to Google Apps Premier Edition. The logic behind that move is laid out in a previous post, so I won’t rehash what’s already been said. In this post, I mainly want to reflect on what’s already been done and also point out some potential pitfalls for anyone else who’s considering making the jump.
Enjoying the status quo
My Google Apps mailbox is puttering along nicely, happily sucking down messages from two other accounts via POP. I originally had set my old Gmail account to forward to my new address, but after noticing that some new messages weren’t forwarded properly, I switched to POP, which seems to be more reliable. I changed all my important stuff directly at the source to point to my new address instead, so it’s really not that big of a deal—just something to be aware of. The other mailbox I’m checking is my Tuffmail account. I have about 30 or 40 addresses delivering to a single mailbox on the Tuffmail side, and then I just poll that single box.
Frustrations start to mount
Everything works pretty well in and of itself, but the problems start to pile up, in spades, when you throw additional Google services into the mix. It seems like there’s a strange dichotomy between Google Apps accounts and Google Accounts (notice the capital A). For those who don’t know, the distinction is this: a Google Apps account is simply one user of your Google Apps domain (email@example.com). A Google Account, on the other hand, is not related at all. That’s right—it’s completely and totally unrelated. Most commonly, a Google Account is also a Gmail account, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have a Google Apps email address (or any other non-Gmail email address), you can create a Google Account for it. Confused yet?
Google’s a/Accounts don’t play well together
The most notable problem—and my biggest gripe—is that email/Gmail-related functions of Google Apps don’t share data with other services that are accessed via a Google Account. I’ll give you the most prominent example: my Google Voice contacts are separate from my email contacts, even though my Google Voice account is linked to a Google Account that’s really just a Google Apps email address. Again, confused yet? The tasks for my Google Account are different from the tasks for my Google Apps account, and the contacts for my Google Account are different from the contacts for my Google Apps account. I know it seems minor, but the end result is an enormous pain in the butt. Gmail users don’t have this problem!
To further frustrate and complicate things, it looks like once a Google service is associated to a Google Account, it’s destined to be forever linked to that same account. The only exception seems to be Google Analytics, and it was fairly easy to move that over from my old Gmail Google Account to my new Google Apps Google Account. In my mind, you should be able to migrate a Google service to any Google Account you want. Just prove that you own both accounts, and off you go.
No longer a good value
Taking only storage space into consideration, Google Apps Premier Edition is no longer a good value for people using a single account for personal use. For organizations, it still makes a lot of sense, but Google’s recent price cuts on additional Gmail storage give you far more for your money. When I signed up for Google Apps, additional storage for Gmail/Picasa/Docs was $20 for 10 GB and $75 for 40 GB. Google Apps came in right between those with 25 GB for $50. In November of last year, Google started offering 20 GB for $5, 80 GB for $20, and 200 GB for $50.
Now, I’m only using 6% of my 25 GB at the moment, so talking about how I could get 200 GB for the same price seems a little silly. Even so, if Google is going to increase storage and decrease costs, they should do it across the board.
How to fix the mess they’ve made
There are two things that Google could do right now to resolve the sorry state of their Google Accounts. The first would be to link Google Apps accounts and Google Accounts that share the same email address. The behavior would be exactly the same as what already happens with Gmail accounts, except that the domain would be yourdomain.com instead of gmail.com. There would obviously need to be some kind of verification process, but there is absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t be happening. In fact, this is already happening—kind of.
When I’m logged into my Google Account that is also my Google Apps email address, and I try to visit Google Calendar, I’m asked if I want to use my Google Apps calendar or sign in under a different Google Account. Google Calendar knows that a Google Apps account exists with the same email address as my Google Account, or else it wouldn’t be asking!
The second thing Google could do would be to make services portable—and “mergeable”—between Google Accounts. If I want to move my Picasa or Google Voice account to a different Google Account, I should be able to. If Google detects that I already have a Picasa account in both places, it should offer to merge the photos and usernames and so on. Many other service providers have already built this functionality, and Google should be able to as well.
My advice to you
If you are like me and are only looking to host a single account (or a household of accounts) under Google Apps (Premier or Standard editions), think twice. After 14 months of using Google Apps and the corresponding new Google Account I had to create, I wish I had stuck with Gmail. The integration with other Google services is better, the additional storage space is cheaper, and the hassle of changing email addresses is nonexistent. The one benefit of Google Apps is that I get to use my own domain without having to resort to a half-hearted forwarding system that would never set From: headers properly, but it’s not worth it. Take my advice and stick with Gmail.
Update: Gina Trapani, of Lifehacker fame, has written a similar article with valuable input from a real Googler. Maybe that kind of write-up is what we need for this issue to get noticed and gain some traction at the Googleplex.