Google Apps: impressions after 14 months

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 (you@yourdomain.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.

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9 Responses to Google Apps: impressions after 14 months

  1. cowgod says:

    after following your lead and doing the exact same thing you did (except my google apps account is still the free one) i feel your pain as well. i have a feeling this pain will continue for each new application that they port over to google apps (google reader, hello?).

    to be perfectly honest, i'm a google fan boy and this is my only gripe with google. if they would just fix this one issue i'd have zero complaints.

    • Matt Jacob says:

      Same here. I've been happy with everything except this. Instead of rolling out new features and services left and right, they should fix the ones they already have.

  2. nerdtalker says:

    I completely agree with everything you've noted. Although I haven't had Google Apps Premier Edition for as long as you, I have noticed the limitations you've pointed out.

    The schism and lack of any connection between Google Accounts and Google Apps accounts is probably my biggest problem, as you've noted. It's a huge PITA that you can't simply upgrade a traditional Google Apps account to a domain and have all the "apps" and services come with it. I find myself reliant (still) on my old Google Account for all the things tied into it that don't port nicely over to Google Apps. It just doesn't make sense; considering how this should all be seamless.

    I think the best illustration of the platform disparity is, ironically, Buzz. There still isn't Buzz in google apps? Why?

    It's that kind of support-gmail/google accounts first, google apps sometime later methodology that puzzles me.

    • Matt Jacob says:

      The support for Google Apps customers (paying customers, mind you) is among the worst I've seen for any web app currently available. I'm amazed that businesses with thousands of accounts on Google Apps are satisfied with the level of service they're getting.

      I think it'll take an exceptionally squeaky wheel (i.e., a huge business customer) for this issue to even show up on Google's radar screen. Me moving my single Premier account to a different hosted email provider is a loss equivalent to what Google spends on food and massages for one employee every day.

  3. Matt Jacob says:

    Now that Gmail supports other outgoing SMTP servers, I could use my Gmail account with my Tuffmail account to send legit email from my domain. (Of course they added this feature after I switched. Of course.) The biggest thing for me would still be getting my Google Voice account moved over (currently under Apps Google Account, not Gmail).

    Ugh. Shoot me in the face with a Google phaser.

  4. Daniel says:

    What I've done is check emails from Google Apps account in my Gmail account, just using Google Apps Standard. Give Gmail permission to send as the domain address.

    • Matt Jacob says:

      I suppose I could do that, but then it wouldn't even matter if i had a Google Apps account. I could just forward stuff from my domain address to my Gmail address, which is what I should have done all along.

      I'd still have the problem of my Google Voice account being associated to my Google Account that's my Google Apps address instead of being associated to my Google Account that's my Gmail address.

  5. Daryle Tilroe says:

    I could have written this article! My experience mirrors your's almost completely. About a year an a half ago I transitioned the family to a google apps account (still the free one so I don't feel the pain of wasted $$). Back then I assumed it was only a matter of time before they fixed this crazy dichotomy between a regular account and an apps account. Flash forward to today and I'm still waiting. Sometimes I swear that google is a couple of brilliant but ADD guys in the basement. They seem to get things to 95% but then move on to something new and flashy leaving a host of small bugs and annoyances (wave anyone?).

    The number one annoyance it the crippled offerings and integration for apps accounts. E.G. I want Picasa and shouldn't have to sign into a "regular" google acount for that and to post to their help forums and to authenticate to or access other google offerings… Related to this is the ability to merge and move data between accounts.

    I also have a laundry list of small annoyances that will probably never be addressed. E.G.:

    -Picasa Web Albums does not obey the singly entity multiple lables, albums, etc. paradigm of local picasa or gmail.
    -Cannot select how often pop accounts get checked.
    -Cannot select different signatures to be used with different "reply-to" addresses.
    -Cannot select multiple folders in Picasa.
    -Cannot move Calendar app or labels to RHS.
    -When will we finally see hierarchical labels?!! (i.e. folders4gmail).
    -Finish off "multiple-inboxes" lab feature.
    -Allow proper wild card searches for things like labels.
    -My google apps account profile picture viewable to non apps account google users in chat.

    The list goes on. Now obviously google has to set priorities but but many of the annoyances they seem to ignore should be pretty simple to fix and at least it would be nice for them to listen and respond a bit more to their users.

    I would love to give them more money but they absolutely have to offer their "normal" features to the small time app accounts. E.G. I'd probably spend $100/yr to have an integrated apps account that could share 250 GB between email for all users, picasa photos, sites storage, etc. At some point I'm going to hit the wall on the 7-8GB of free email storage on my apps account and it seems ridiculous that I will then have to upgrade the whole apps account to pay $50/yr PER USER (I have another 4 or 5 family members who use almost no space). So I will then have to pony up ~$250/yr for just 25 GB of unshared space per user. Right now for $250/yr I can get 1TB of space on an individual account! ARGGG….

  6. Daniel says:

    Completely agree with everything that has been said above.
    This problem becomes even more apparant (in my case at least) when you toss in the notion of having two separate Google Apps accounts (i.e. DomainA.com & DomainB.com). I have a personal account that has been with Google Apps since nearly the inception, as well as a Gmail account since early on. Recently, I’ve started my own business (which would not have worked well under the older domain) and decided that I would host that as well on Google Apps….What a disaster that has become!
    3 address books
    3 docs sites
    3 email accounts and logins…
    I would love to re-hash it all, but as I’ve been fighting with trying to tie all of it together tonight, I am a little baked on the subject :D Just hit home and felt the need to get one more B session out!

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