Friday, July 27, 2012

Google still winning cloud race

I now have firsthand experience with various cloud based email services, and Google still remains firmly in the lead.

My life is pulled in (at least) three directions when it comes to cloud-based (aka hosted, aka SaaS) mail services:

  • This month, my employer (a Microsoft shop) decided to migrate from an Exchange server to the Office 365 hosted services. I guess as an IT-knowledgeable employee, they made me one of the guinea pigs. So this week I'm trying to reconfigure my Mac and cellphone to work with the new servers.
  • Meanwhile, on July 1, my wife was forced to migrate from (aka to iCloud. As the household IT support desk, the task fell to me, and we still haven’t been able to get it to work with her Mac.
  • Finally, my teenager and I are loyal users of gmail and other Google services. My teenager won’t use a client app anymore, while I use my various gmail addresses with my Eudora client. Both of us also use Google Voice.
(I also have an old Yahoo web mail account, but since they don’t support client apps for free, I only give that email address for website registration and other spammers.)

From what I’ve seen so far, Google remains far ahead for web-based services. This is not to minimize the advantages Microsoft and Apple have for their locked in proprietary client customers.

A few years ago, Google and MS were warring over providing hosted mail and office apps to the 23-campus California State University system, America’s largest university system. Google won and at SJSU we were migrated in mid-2010..

However, before that the SJSU business school was an Exchange shop, as was my previous b-school and my current employer. So despite being a Mac user since 1984, I was forced to deal with Mac/Exchange interoperability issues (which as much better than when I was researching my dissertation 15 years ago).

Microsoft Outlook Web Services are not very impressive so far. The web client seems slower than the old MS web app.

It was terrible — absolute pits — for explaining how to configure a 3rd party client (cellphone or whatever). First off, can’t find that help starting from scratch in the online help. I could only find it because my employer provided a link. Secondly, they don't publish their POP/IMAP/SMTP server settings on a web page like normal web services. Apparently the settings are client-specific (which suggests their DNS load balancing technology is inferior to Google’s) Third, if (after logging in) you want to find the mail settings, the steps are so complicated that they want you to watch a video. Since I was on a lousy airport WiFi connection, I figure out how to get through the various windows (also buried in their web page) to find the answer.

On the Apple front, the iCloud migration is going badly. and supported Internet standards, but iCloud deletes POP support and their IMAP implementation is incompatible with my wife’s Eudora client. So we are stuck on webmail until we find a replacement for the client or iCloud.

Meanwhile, Google has a huge lead in features and design. The gmail server supports all the protocols, multiple desktop and mobile clients. And if you find the mail server or client too limiting, you can forward to any other server.

Yes, Apple is going to get customers from their iPad lead and iPhone sales, and Microsoft is going to pick up all the firms that run all-Microsoft shops. But if an IT manager is try to pick the best solution, Google seems to be winning both on its execution and its standards-based approach (allowing third-party integration).

1 comment:

jason said...

Initial setup hasn't been a decision point for me. You are right about the Office 365 stuff partitioning users by clusters - and requiring cluster URLs. For what it's worth the Microsoft clients (Outlook, windows Phone) autodiscover these settings based on email address. On the syncing front though - most devices/services prefer ActiveSync to sync contacts/calendar/etc. over POP/IMAP nowadays too.

My general feeling (although I'm biased) - is the Google stuff seems very much ahead than the Office 365 stuff - primarily on simplicity, overall reliability of running a service, and clean integration across all the services. They also don't suffer from the problem of splitting their efforts across dueling services (hotmail/skydrive vs. exchnage/sharepoint online) targeting different audiences.

However - and I have been using the google mail stuff daily for years for my personal email - the google mail user interface is dismal and it's use of labels rather than folders still hasn't caught on with me nor any of the clients that I use that insist on creating additional trash cans regularly.